For many Valentine’s Day can be bittersweet. After all, Cupid does have a bow and a very sharp arrow. Some believe he dips the point in “memory glue” and it pricks you every so often to remind you of your mistakes. This in turn explains why nearly every year I hear one of my students say, “I cannot stand Valentine’s Day!” It also stands to reason the lyrics of this Bon Jovi classic could be the holiday theme song, “Shot through the heart and your to blame, you give love a bad name.”

While the road to romance is littered with chocolate turtle wrappers and is sometimes problematic, family relations and interactions with friends can also present challenges to the heart. We wear the pain of past relationships like a stick pin that is continually pricking our heart. Others walk around wounded, with fragmented hearts, totally clueless that this affects their physical heart health. Many understand the importance of nutrition and lifestyle choices for good heart health, but do they know that your physical heart is impacted by what and how you are thinking?

Proverbs 4:23 addresses this heart topic. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Obviously if we are to guard our heart, it must be subject to attack. But how you say? For example, I was recently tested on guarding my heart. The attack from the enemy was surgically precise, calmly and skillfully carried out when least expected. The enemy’s arrow was sharpened by the years of pain and hurt from their damaged heart. Remember, hurting people hurt people. Thankfully God had shown me to guard my heart and to not receive the piercing hurtful blow. Preventing the enemy’s plan to harm me took years of training and conditioning on life’s battlefield. The battle is never over; we should always be on guard.

These strategic attacks from the evil one can lead us to react in ways contrary to God’s teaching. Lack of a forgiving heart causes blockages to our heart which restricts His blood flow to other parts of the body. Yes, it is true; a heart filled with un-forgiveness will wither and take the rest of the body with it. The Bible also reminds us “you shall know them by their fruit.” If you watch their actions, and how they treat others, their heart will be revealed. We should be in prayer for their hearts’ healing. Matthew 6:14 tells us “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” If you continue reading verse 15, paraphrased it says, “There will be consequences if you do not forgive.”

Perhaps it has never crossed your mind that you could be your biggest problem. Maybe you are the very thing blocking your heart from loving others and loving yourself? Do you love yourself? I am not talking about being conceited, or narcissistic, there is plenty of that walking around. Do you realize God created you in His image, and He wants to engage with His creation? He is pursuing you because He loves you. Are you hard on yourself, always pulling yourself up by the bootstraps? Isn’t it exhausting? Did you know that you do not need to do that anymore? God longs for you to come to Him with all of your hurt and pain. He will remove the poison tipped arrows, mend your wounds, and heal your heart, once and forever.

Spending time with God has taught me the importance of noticing when I am out of spiritual alignment. One of my heart exercises is to ask God to search my heart on a daily basis and expose anything in my heart that does not honor or serve Him. Although no expert on forgiveness, I have learned it is important to my heart health to forgive others quickly.

What some of you may not know is I have experienced open heart surgery, twice. I was born with three holes in my heart, and strange as it may sound, the blood was actually running backwards through part of my heart. Long story short, my holes have been patched (seriously), the blood is running in the right direction, and I praise God for allowing me to live and tell others what He has done for me. Maintaining good heart health requires exercise most days of the week, eating healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, and taking good care of our mental health.

God gives us the best advice for our hearts in Proverbs 4:23-27, “Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts. Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead, ignore all sideshow distractions.”

Establishing good habits, cultivating forgiveness, and focusing daily on God’s plan for your life, are all signs of spiritual progress and essential for good heart health.