Photography by Brian A. Petersen at

We have a few good phrases we say in our house a lot, little catchphrases or sentences that carry a lot of meaning in just a few words. They are the phrases that distill a lot of conversation into one sentence. For instance, we say “calm your heart” and “we use our words to love each other.”  This is another one: Guard your gates.

It was Halloween and we were at my parents’ house helping to hand out candy. We aren’t really into Halloween and so we hadn’t made a big deal out of it. At the time, Anne was barely two and Joe was only a month old so the idea of trick-or-treating was more daunting than delightful. So we stayed inside and handed out candy with my parents. Anne was off and about, playing here and there but she happened to wander past the front door right at the moment that I opened up the door to a gaggle of teenagers decked out as zombies and witches. We can talk about whether or not teenagers with beards should be trick-or-treating another time perhaps but I’ll tell you this: Anne was terrified of them. She didn’t even scream and cry, she just froze in absolute fear, her eyes swallowing her face as the colour drained.

My mother saw her reaction and quickly scooped her up and away from the door. After I finished with the teens and shut the door, Anne was perched on my mother’s lap. I was privileged to overhear my mother helping my daughter learn how to deal with fear. As best I can remember it – it’s been six years and more babies since then – this is what she said:

“Annie, that was scary, wasn’t it?” Anne nodded, her mouth quivering. “Well, you know what? You don’t have to let that fear into your mind and into your heart, sweetheart. Just because there are scary things, it doesn’t mean you need to invite them. Let’s pretend your heart and your mind have a gate, okay? And we can either open the gate to scary things or things that make us bad or do bad things. Or we can shut that gate. Sometimes we still see things over a gate, right? But we don’t have to open the door and invite them to come in and set up forever. If scary things come into your mind and heart, it’s hard to get rid of them. Your eyes and your ears are your gates, Annie. So if you ever see something that makes you feel really scared or makes you want to do bad things, you just shut your ears and your eyes to it. You need to guard your gates, baby. If you guard your gates, then nothing will come into your mind and heart that you don’t want in there.

You want to open your gate up to the good things, sweetheart. You open your heart and your mind up to the things that make you laugh or make you good or make you think.

Annie got it. Since then, all of the tinies have gotten it. In her childlike trust, she believed my mother and the thing is, I did, too. Tinies are so sensitive, so easily influenced, so perceptive. Of course I wanted to guard her gates and teach her how to do the same thing. We are careful about what we allow the tinies to watch and experience and listen to – we know that it can become part of their very selves.

In a way, it’s become a bit of a family joke. If we’re watching Hockey Night in Canada and a commercial for a horror film comes on (seriously, HNIC, why do you do this? you know kids are watching), someone – often one of the tinies themselves – will holler “GUARD YOUR GATES” and then the tinies clap their hands over their ears and screw their eyes shut. They know that if they see that terrified girl or that blood dripping down an arm, it will become part of their mind and their heart, haunting their dreams.

I’m sure that when the tinies are all grown up, they’ll laugh themselves silly over how we used to holler “guard your gates!” during the commercial breaks of Chopped on the Food Network because an ad for a primetime show came on. Whatever. What’s parenting for if not to give them a few ways to laugh at you later on?

Confession time though: I still guard my gates. I’ve admitted at long last that I’m not immune either. I’ve learned to guard what I watch or listen to even in movies and television and music. Not because I have some weird legalistic thing about it, but because I’ve finally admitted what most everyone who loves me has known for a lot longer: I’m very sensitive. The tinies come by their sensitivities quite honestly. I take these things into my mind and heart and they latch on. I’d rather not open the doors of my heart wide to fear or lust or violence, for instance. If I believe those things are antithetical to life in Christ, then why am I flinging wide my own gates to them?

It’s funny how much I’ve tried to pretend that I’m beyond being influenced. Like I’m supposed to be so past it, so over it, that it doesn’t bother me or impact me. Like what I listen to or watch doesn’t affect what I think and how I speak and how I move through my life, how I view humanity and violence, sex and God.

Brian and I tried to watch a show recently that everyone was raving about. We made it through two episodes before we realised we were both sitting there with a cringe-y look on our faces. “It’s just not us to watch this stuff, is it?” he said. “It makes my soul feel sad,” I admitted. So we turned it off. Maybe we can’t keep up with 99% of pop culture references but I’m okay with that. Lesson learned. And yet I watch my fair share of crap, too – I can’t figure it out either. Somethings just make me a worse version of myself. I can admit that now.

But as the tinies grow up, the simplicity of that instruction has shifted. As we deal with friends and challenges and new influences, we’ve had more conversations about what it means to guard your gates beyond just slapping your hands over your ears.

Guard your gates now means that we get to decide who influences us – how we think, how we feel, what we do.

As in most things to do with parenting, I find I’m learning right along with the tinies.

One of the tinies recently asked to listen to some quiet reinterpretations of old hymns after our bedtime prayers. “It feels like someone is still praying over me as I go to sleep, it keeps the gate open to good things,” they said. Another time, we had to have long talks about the influences of certain friends and how these friendships had opened up the gates to some unacceptable behaviours and habits. It was time to practice guarding the gates against those influences while still being kind and friendly.

When we have the agency or choice (which we don’t always have), we want to be careful about who and what takes up residence in our minds and our hearts.

I think this is the hard thing about parenting – okay, who am I kidding? one of many hard things –  this whole “finding a way to help lead and teach and model nuance and wisdom” thing. When the tinies were toddlers, it was as simple as “shut your eyes and shut your ears” to scary things. Done and done.

But now that they are getting older, guarding one’s gates has to become an act of Holy Spirit lead discernment. 

Because there are times in our lives when we damn well better open our minds and our hearts to things that make us uncomfortable. In fact, I think sometimes that a lot of good Christians take the toddler approach to “guard your gates” – they just don’t listen to or hear anything that might be difficult or complex or heart-breaking. They go through life with their fingers in their ears and their eyes screwed up tight against anything that might challenge them.

Indeed, I have been thinking a lot lately about the importance of listening to the stories that make us uncomfortable and challenge our peace. Just because something is terrible to learn, it doesn’t mean that I need to guard my gates against it. As Christians, I think it’s our responsibility to carry each other’s burdens and be a part of restoring justice for one another. Sometimes that means being able to carry truly terrible truths without letting it bury us whole. We grow in these places of challenge and hardship. Guarding my gates doesn’t mean shutting out the cries of our brothers and sisters.

Sometimes the most holy work we can do is listen to each other’s stories and take their suffering into our hearts, carrying each other’s burdens and wounds to Christ.

So, no, I don’t guard my gates against simply terrible or scary things anymore. Instead, I want to guard my gates against what diminishes wholeness and holiness in me.

I guard against the influences that make me the worst version of myself, the influences that feed my natural tendencies towards sin and bitterness, rage and cynicism, seeing the worst of people and being quick to offence.

This is a hard thing to write about without sounding like this is an exercise in boundary-marking and legalism. I’m not really into policing anyone else’s standards. I tend to trust the Holy Spirit in you. But it’s also a good bit of common sense to me now.

Sometimes it is this simple: is this influence – whether it’s a book or a movie or a friendship or a Facebook page – bringing life and wholeness and the fruit of the Spirit to me and others? Is it challenging me to be fully alive, to be more compassionate and human, to be more wise and loving?

It doesn’t have to be pleasant, oh, no sometimes the things that bring compassion and wisdom and wholeness into our lives are the very things that break our hearts or make us angry or challenge us.

Even in the face of terrible and terrifying things, I want to open my gates to the influences that will help make me whole and holy. I want to grieve and lament, push back against evil and darkness, challenge injustice while still, as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8-9,”filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

And I want to open wide the gates of my heart and my mind to the influences that bring life and light, goodness and holiness to me.

I want to fill my heart with those things because then when I encounter the terrible and the terrifying, my true life will brim over into true words and deeds that bring life (Luke 6:44).




"Fear is a superpower" :: a response to Doctor Who, Listen
"Come on, then, Team Not-Dead!" :: a response to Doctor Who, Time Heist
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  • Crystal

    This really makes sense to me. I so appreciate you attempting to put it into words. It’s hard to navigate all the grey areas in life and sometimes it’s good to just have something verbalized. I’ve been struggling with this a bit lately – deciding what “gets past the gate.” “Guard the Gates,” is a great phrase to hold onto, and use as a bit of a touchstone.

  • Excellent!! Such wisdom, and such an understandable way to explain it to kids. Thank you for articulating this so well.

  • Sarah GK

    So when you started I didn’t agree. I worry about over-sheltering our children in their privilege. However as the post continued yes, yes, I fully agree! I love that you bring up the nuances, how the gates metaphor will change, and I love that you have thought it through in advance of your children reaching those tougher ages.

    Can I ask then how you talk about letting yourself be uncomfortable with your older children? I want to protect, and part of that is preparing them to face those uncomfortable things in the future. Giving them the instincts not to close off their ears and hearts, but to steel themselves up. To recognize the boundaries they need, and those they draw up out of fear that might need to be softened. [I have 2yr olds now so we are very much a “shut your eyes” stage, even if that really means “hit skip chapter on the Disney DVD” b/c they will not allow themselves to miss anything lol]. But I think about these things.

    Final thought — the gate metaphor is a great one to work through all ages. As toddlers they shouldn’t see over the gate, and physically if you envision it they can’t. As they grow taller they can see more — when they’re older they can control the gate itself. Good job, Sarah’s mom, and good job Sarah in continuing it.

    • We try to be age appropriate but we don’t want them sheltered from the world or from heartache or from their response to it. But the conversations are ongoing and not just one-offs. But we try to have the convos without terrifying them or filling their minds and hearts with fear, too – so hard to do.

  • Alissa

    Every section of this rings true for me. I want to have your mom’s conversation with my own kiddos. I so relate to that evaluation of our own media influences and deciding where we need to close our own gates. And yet, when it comes to ISSUES, to learning, to seeking knowledge about the world’s beauty and injustices, we need to be willing to open our gates to what it uncomfortable for us… how else will we fight what is fearful for others?

  • This is an amazing post, Sarah, and it’s really comforting to me to know that I’m not alone in being sensitive. I learned to guard my gates as a teenager when I started developing depression. I had an English teacher with really morbid taste and the books she recommended to me made my heart cry and filled me with anger at the human race. I learned then that there is no point in “entertainment” that brings me down. If I do spend my stamina, my evil resistance points, on entertainment that is full of hurt I don’t have any energy left to deal with the hard and scary things in real life, so I have to hide from my loved ones’ hurt and from the hurt of the world. To me, no entertainment is worth that. So I have never read or watched Game of Thrones and I’m never going to. I ask my close friends to do an “Emma check” on things they know about that I don’t, to see if I can risk it. A lot of people look down on me for it because to them a violent movie is just entertainment. To me, people hurting others – even in pretend – is never entertaining.

  • Kiran Page Singh Lotay

    My wife would really appreciate these words, Sarah, because she has exactly the same experience as you in terms of the things she watches going particularly deep and affecting her understanding unless she is careful with them. That, for her, means strictly limiting the kind of stuff she can watch, and also being careful not to watch too much. So it makes a lot of sense to me. It’s easy to do simplistically so you’re right to be cautious, but the truth that we have to guard our hearts isn’t something that disappears just because we think we’ve grown up in the faith a little. Thanks for posting this – try not to worry too much!

    Love in Christ,


  • aricclark

    As a matter of personal choice of course you can and should choose what media you want to partake of or want your children to see. Since this is a blog post which isn’t just a personal diary, but also social commentary I would like to offer a different perspective.

    At the deepest level I believe that God’s heart is not guarded toward the Earth and neither should we guard ours. I think that beginning from a perspective of “guarding” is a mistake in many ways. It metaphorically frames our relationship to the world as if our interior were separate, and separable from the world around us. It imagines each person as a city or fortress containing “things” and that we don’t want these things to be damaged or degraded by the world. It treats the world as inherently dangerous or suspicious. Basically, there wouldn’t be a gate, there wouldn’t be a wall if the world wasn’t understood to be a place that necessitated walls and gates.

    I’m in no way denying darkness, tragedy, sin, and evil in the world. Of course these things exist. But there are at least three theological reasons why guarding ourselves against evil isn’t the right approach:

    #1 – God calls the world good. There is more beauty and light than darkness and evil and even within darkness there is virtue to be found.

    #2 – God doesn’t flee from the darkness, or banish the darkness, or ignore the darkness. God goes directly into it and explicitly calls his disciples to do the same. When the clean and unclean touch it isn’t the clean that becomes dirty it is the unclean which is purified. I just can’t ever imagine Jesus putting his hands over his eyes and saying “guard your gates” to anything. I can definitely imagine Jesus pulling peoples hands off their eyes and saying really look at the world. Look and let your heartbreak where it is heartbreaking and even more importantly delight in it. Enjoy what is fun, and beautiful, and surprising.

    #3 – The end of the story is a city with no walls and no gates, or gates standing permanently open, or a day with no night etc… All the metaphors that describe God’s coming kingdom describe a world of complete openness and vulnerability. The icon of God we have is a naked, vulnerable, dying man.

    Beyond the theological reasons there are historical and ethical reasons:

    I just don’t think Christians guarding themselves has ever led anywhere good. Censorship, repression, self-righteousness, isolation… I can’t see any outcome that looks holy to me which starts by protecting ourselves from influences we don’t like or don’t approve of.

    Now, there are only so many hours in a day. Of course, no one should feel any pressure to engage any entertainment they don’t want to. No one is required to watch True Blood or Sopranos or Duck Dynasty or American Idol. Similarly, I find great value in media and cultural criticism like what Anita Sarkeesian is doing. Just because we choose to play a video game or watch a movie doesn’t mean we shouldn’t analyze it and be critical of its message. As a Christian an important aspect of what I do is to always be reflecting on my engagement with the world and being self-critical. That kind of thinking is helped, not hurt, by exposure. It only becomes harder to be a thoughtful critic when you’re not actually engaging, when you’re guarding yourself.

    I also cringe from this a little, because Christians have such a terrible history of this. From the Inquisition to the Satanic Panic in the 80’s when D&D (one of my favorite hobbies) was the scare dujour, to hating Harry Potter… I have no doubt there are plenty of Christians out there who think you should be guarding your gates from Doctor Who. Ultimately, I am convinced that the world is chock-full of things which are “true, noble, reputable,
    authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful,
    not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” including the kinds of entertainment many of my fellow Christians stay away from due to violence, or cursing, or sex. I find more to object to morally in something like “God is Not Dead” than a show like “Breaking Bad” which aims to explore moral decay.

    • Wow, just wow. What you wrote makes absolutely no sense at all, aricclark! Jesus could do many things that we cannot wisely or safely, especially not alone, do because He is God!

      For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. ~1 John 2:16

      You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. ~ James 4:4

      In Genesis, God called all that He created “Good.” All the filth that man churns out is definitely NOT good for, when held up to God’s holy standard, both His written Word and His Word made flesh, it turns us away from His holiness, and the righteous life He created us to live in Him. There is nothing good, fun, beautiful, edifying or righteous in pornography; art, literature, TV, film or musical lyrics that oppose His nature: alcohol, illicit drugs, abortion, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, immodest dress, etc. Just because something is available for us to view or listen to does not mean we have the liberty to do so, as canon-minded individuals. We are not free to turn our freedom we have in Christ into license to sin. We are called to guard our eye gates and our ear gates in reverence and obedience to our Almighty Creator.

    • I feel like you’re not saying anything I didn’t say. You may have only read the first few paragraphs about my children and how we handled this for toddlers.

      • aricclark

        I read the whole thing. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you in some way, but it seems to me the entire post is about “guarding” or censorship even if you nuance what that means for an adult versus what that means for a child. I think a basic approach of embrace is more noble.

      • aricclark basically this. Trying to keep love pure always moves against love, in my experience. Whereas when we abandon trying to keep love pure and get dirty we bring love into dirty places and find those places redeemed. Again, really not trying to tell you how to parent (as a parent myself I hate that!). I’m more talking about the general orientation toward the world and the metaphors we use to relate to the world.

    • Rose

      I get what you’re saying and sure agree with the theology here, but I agree with Sarah in that we do often need boundaries around things that we’re extra sensitive toward. I came to the conclusion I was just too sensitive for Game of Thrones, although watching it 24 hours after my sister got in a scary car accident could have something to do with it. But, and this is basically what sarah said, I’m not saying someone else shouldn’t watch it or that it doesn’t have value. The show simply deals with issues that I can experience enough of in real life, so I want a break from it in my entertainment choices. I don’t think personal boundaries are wrong or censoring at all. My theory is that everybody has a deal-breaker when it comes to television.

      • aricclark

        I agree. Nothing at all wrong with saying “this show isn’t fun for me to watch, so I’m gonna stop.” That’s different than saying “guard your gates” which to me implies “this show is morally bad and I shouldn’t watch it or it will corrupt me spiritually”.

    • Laurel

      The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to teach us wisdom and discipline and in Prov 4:23 we are told quite clearly to “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life”. Three of my 4 boys are now teenagers and I tell them often to “Guard your heart”. Teenagers (and all of us really) are bombarded with influences and temptations that
      would seek to draw them and keep them away from God. They absolutely need to guard their hearts. Like Sarah said, not necessarily against the pain and heartache in the world but against those things that would pollute and pervert their minds and hearts. If they (or myself) allow in music lyrics full of perversion and cursing, movies full of sexual immorality, pornographic images, or surround themselves with friends living a destructive lifestyle, it will definitely influence their thoughts and choices. It will “determine the course of your life”

      Luke 6:45 says

      “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

      • aricclark

        Cursing. Sexual Immorality. Porn. It always comes back to Victorian morality doesn’t it? Jesus said it was wealth which would most entrap our hearts and lead us astray. Are you protecting your sons from the dangers of comfort and privilege? A middle class lifestyle is far more likely to doom them spiritually than some porn.

        Good social science research has been done on exposure to media and it simply doesn’t support the idea that people who watch violent movies or play violent video games commit violent more violent acts. The same goes for sex. Rock and Roll didn’t make people have more sex no matter what the parents of the 50’s and 60’s seemed to think. Guarding against these dangers is a red herring. It’s a distraction from what actually matters.

        • Collin Seitz

          Aric, you are trying to compare Jesus’/the Trinity’s redemptive intentionality in engaging with culture, with passively enjoying and taking in entertainment…You seem to come from the perspective that these things you talk about can be neutral in their, I wouldn’t say morality, but worldview. I don’t see how you are equating and comparing different sins to each other….a little porn not as bad as comfortable lifestyle….Biblically you are coming at it from a wrong angle.
          But to make my point clear, you are simply saying in a very flat way…that since Jesus did this(engaged and didn’t run from the world) then that means we can do this(passively enjoy the very things God calls sin) and He condones it. You sound like your pushing more against a cultural Christian fundamentalism rather than what Sarah is talkin about here.

        • Anon

          As a Christian woman who nearly lost my marriage due to what started out as “a little porn” use on the part of my husband I have to respectfully disagree that it’s not damaging and not something I should teach my sons to fiercely guard against. I agree that comfort and wealth are serious pitfalls as well, but if you’re downplaying porn you’re just kidding yourself.

    • Amanda

      God said very clearly in the Bible to “Guard your heart for it is the well spring of life.”

  • Kirsten

    Why would you say you have no idea it makes any sense? I think you do and that is why you wrote it. It’s really wonderful. One thing I think about a previous pastor is he would alway preach these amazing messages full of God (anointed by God) then use self-deprecation about his speaking. Would that ultimately insult the holy work

  • Kirsten

    *wouldn’t that ultimately insult the holy work, the gift of the Spirit? * is what I meant

  • I LOVE THIS. Thank you, Sarah. Always.

  • Beautifully said, Sarah! I’ve been “guarding my gates” for years, but never had such a name to put to it. I love that your children have been taught this as a way of life from such a young age. The words of your mother are beautiful. I’m with you in that I have learned to recognize that what works for other people to watch and listen to, doesn’t work for me and that is ok. It all about Holy Spirit’s discernment, not legalism. Your words and thought process about the subject describe it perfectly. After all “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” (Matt 6:22). Thanks for sharing this nugget of wisdom with us!

  • Kirsten Oliphant

    I loved this, Sarah. It really made me think and the hubby and I are going to talk about this. I think we have both had a nagging feeling like we aren’t guarding our gates (now I have words for it!) and neither are we doing a good enough job teaching our kids about it.

  • Oh yes. It makes a great deal of sense. And a very important message. I had a period of time where I did not guard my gates–our family’s gates–and the repurcussions are ongoing. Ironically, it was a time of being heavily involved in church…the things I was letting past our gates weren’t supposed to be dangerous and certainly shouldn’t have hurt us so bad. Now that we are all guarding our gates, together, we have freedom, we see beauty and we are whole. I get this, exactly. Thanks Sarah.

    • Great point, Susan. Even when it all looks right, it can still be something that diminishes us.

  • lucy

    This makes perfect sense. I was brought up to be aware of what we take in (movies/music/books etc.) can have just as much effect on our hearts/minds/souls as what we eat effects our bodies. It is a continual process learning what is good for me, what I can enjoy and what makes me uncomfortable. I programme came on sky the other day which I’d heard so much about and was looking forward to, I couldn’t even make it through the whole episode, it was too vulgar, too explicit and the best way to describe it is it made me feel ‘not good’. As humans, and as Christian humans we need to be aware of what is in the world around us and I don’t agree (with the shut our eyes version) of nothing that is not Christian, music/books/films/art/news. We need to continue to find the balance and for each us it will be slightly different. This response ended up being much bigger than I had intended! This is a subject close to my heart. Thank you.

  • This really resonates, Sarah. I’ll be mulling over this today. I learn so much when you write about the nitty-gritty, non-nonsensical, nuanced parts of parenting. That’s where most of the living happens, I think, right in there.

  • I love the visual and how it empowers our children to combat fear. I’ll be teaching this to my tinies!!

  • Stephen Boutry

    This is great!

  • Mary

    Yes it makes sense and thank you for putting down in online “ink” these truths. I receive these today as a parent and as a woman. Keep writing about lessons learned and I think your mother is amazing! Thank you.

  • This is a beautiful post, Sarah. (And if it happened to be Breaking Bad you were watching – my husband and I couldn’t handle that show either.)

    • It wasn’t in this case but yeah, I can’t do that one either. I’m a big baby. 🙂

  • Lisa Adams

    This is wonderful. I want to use this in our family…

  • This good work in your tinies will pay off when they are teenagers. I’m regularly witnessing the fruit of teaching my kids to guard their hearts and minds throughout their lives. My 18 year old recently stood up to her volleyball team about a tshirt she deemed as inappropriate that she refused to wear all on her own without my influence. I definitely cheered her on, but I love seeing my 4 teenagers “guarding their gates” with purpose and confidence. Thanks for sharing your heart with us, Sarah. My sensitive heart and soul connects to these words very much.

    • Very encouraging, Angel – thank you for sharing that!

  • Sarah

    So amazing! Thank you soooooo much! Lord, help me to guard my gates always!

  • Sarah, this is a beautiful blog post. Since I’ve been born again, I have referred to guarding my eye and ear gates, concerning living a holy life for my Redeemer.

    I am exceedingly perplexed over the wisdom you convey in this post compared to your post entitled Be Not Afraid on September 8. How do these two viewpoints jive?

    It’s true – we are not to be afraid. However, realistic discernment is necessary in order to live a Christ-centered life in this polluted world. You say as much in your wisdom-filled Guard Your Gates of September 17. We are instructed to “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life,” in Proverbs 4:23. Canon-minded followers of Jesus are not afraid of science. Science is the study of God’s beautiful creation! Christians were the first scientists! We need to be realistically concerned of the slippery slope that attempts to lead us away from living a holy life in Jesus. We should rightfully be concerned over the progressive government schools that brainwash our children against the Truth which is Jesus. We need to be concerned with any change that leads us away from the character of God. In your post of September 8, you pooh-pooh being realistically concerned over literature, art, music, TV while in this thoughtful post, you are declaring the opposite. As genuine believers, we are not to be open-minded, narrow-minded, or closed-minded. We are to be canon-minded, are we not Sarah?

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. ~Proverbs 9:10

    • I think making decisions out of our fears instead out of our hopes is always a dangerous and crippling place. I don’t see any contradiction between that post and this one actually.

  • Jerusalem Greer

    You are singing my song. In all the tunes. Thank you for being brave and putting it out there, giving words to something I have struggled to communicate and face as well.

  • This is incredible. #sharing

    Oddly, Game Of Thrones (books, in particular) do exactly what you asked if an influence does – it challenges me “to be fully alive, to be more compassionate and human, to be more wise and loving”. Because it does break my heart, and reminds me how lost we humans are without Someone guiding us. It took me a little time to figure out why I’m okay with GOT when I’m not okay with similar things. And that’s it, right there.

    • Great point. I feel the same way with Doctor Who and even at another level, Call the MIdwife. Difficult things to watch at times but ultimately pointing towards redemption. But what makes me more whole isn’t necessarily the case for another, too. I can’t do GoT but I’ve heard from a lot of believers I respect that they have similar experiences with that show as well as Breaking Bad and Orange is the New Black for instance.

      • Right? I feel the same about Doctor Who and Call The Midwife (as you said, on different levels). My husband feels that way about Breaking Bad and Sons Of Anarchy (I can’t watch Breaking Bad, and haven’t yet tried SoA though I’ve considered it). I watched the first season of Orange Is The New Black and felt that way to an extent, but I stopped watching shortly into the 2nd season because that feeling left and all that remained was the ugly. Sometimes I think it comes and goes in a show, which of course makes it harder. #lol Grey’s Anatomy, for instance. Books are harder, though, for me anyway. Have you heard of the Thomas Covenant books by Stephen R Donaldson? INCREDIBLE. This, all the way. But I tried to read his sci-fi space series in college, and was sucked into a horrible hell of imagery that set me spinning… It was a dark time in my life, and going from one series to the other was, to put it far too mildly, jarring. I tried another of his books with a similar (though, thank God, far less brutal) outcome. I won’t even touch any of his other work; the Thomas Covenant books are incredible and worth a read, but I’d stay away from his other work. Odd, how that happens, eh?

        • aricclark

          The Thomas Covenant novels are some of the best theology in fictional form that exists. Love them. The Gap series is, as you said, quite brutal. I liked it too, but it is not easy reading by any means.

          • The Gap series, yes, that’s the one. It was fascinating to be sure, on almost as many levels as the Thomas Covenant books, but the specific themes were too much for me, as a survivor of rape and abuse. Donaldson is such an incredible writer, it was way too real for me to handle. I was still trapped in part of the situation I survived at the time, and the books were intense enough to be the final straw that was pushing me toward suicide. God sent an angel in the form of a surprise friend, and it saved my life – she approached me at the exact moment I was deciding I’d had enough, and her jarring presence shocked me out of myself, and I suddenly realized that those books were extremely unhealthy for me to be reading. So you can see why I’m so averse to them.

  • Sarah

    What a blessing your mom was to your daughter all those years ago. Thank you for giving me words for this. I can’t wait to share this with my daughter. What a perfect visual.

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  • Kay

    I enjoyed your article so much, but wonder why you chose to use a curse word while talking about guarding children against bad influences. I was going to ask my 20 year daughter to read your article, but we have taught her that you don’t need to use curse words to communicate effectively and that our speech should be God-honoring. “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” James 3:10 ESV

  • Lisa

    I totally understood what you were saying, we have practiced this, too. You explained it well! What a wise Mom you have! It is about discernment, not legalism. It also goes well with being a good steward. The illustration of a gate is appropriate for what goes out, as well. We are told in the Bible to set a guard at our mouth and only let pass what is true, kind and necessary. Some people fear the freedom we have in Christ, but I have found him to be faithful in the details as well as the big picture. The fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom. May we all grow in wisdom and glorify our Lord, amen.

  • Debbie Wenger

    I don’t think this came off legalistic at all, Sarah. I love the simplistic way you can share this principle with your kids (and now I’ll be modeling after it with mine, thanks!) but how you also address that it is for us as adults as well. We are not immune to evil trying to take root in our hearts and minds and we have the Spirit to help us know what gates to leave open vs. close. Loved this, thank you.

  • Cshipley

    Wise words…. I very much appreciated them. It is difficult to beware of influences and on the opposite side, open our hearts to share burdens but I believe it is what we are meant to do.

  • Jamie

    Wow, so beautiful and wonderful to hear! Thank you!!!!

  • I love this. Definitely saving this for when I am a parent someday, but applying these things to myself without children, too. Thank you for challenging us towards whole, holy living. It’s so encouraging.

  • I could sit on your mama’s lap and have those words spoken over my heart any day. What a great grandma and example to your children. I kind of cried my eyes out reading her words to Anne. Just beautiful.

  • Cara

    Thank you for this. I’m a very sensitive person and it looks like my little daughter will be too, and this is such a necessary perspective for me, both as a person and a parent. You really nailed it with the tension between “guarding your gates” while still keeping yourself open to other people’s stories and suffering, and allowing it to move you. I’m trying to learn how to do that.

  • It makes perfect sense. I’m quite sensitive too and choose not to watch or read most things that might be disturbing because I know it will stay with me a long time. The few times I have accidentally ended up watching movies I never would have chosen I regretted for a long time. Heh, I should say my friends regretted talking me into watching The Patriot because I cried all the way home a 2 hour drive!
    But it’s not just disturbing things, it’s like the difference between watching Saw and Hotel Rwanda. One is for “entertainment” while the other is for education and knowledge. The purpose of a story makes a huge difference.

  • I wish I would´ve learned this lesson so much longer ago. I´m learning to guard my gates, to shut off the movie or TV show, to change the song, to avert my eyes but I´m super sad to say that years of flinging that gate wide open for whatever to stroll right in means that there´s a lot of junk in my heart and in my mind that I can´t just get rid of. It´s a very, very important for humans to learn and I´m really digging this metaphor. I´m opening my gate wide to let in this guarding the gate business.

  • Laura

    Makes a ton of sense to me! Thanks for sharing your heart on this.

  • Trish Bjorklund

    Totally makes sense, and loved reading this! I loved the part about watching a current show with a ‘cringe-y’ look on your face. I just did the same thing, at least I’m thinking I had that type of look on my face. I was totally trying to like something that everyone has been raving about and I just couldn’t do it. So great to hear I’m not alone!

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  • Kerry

    Sarah, I loved this and it was eerily similar to an experience I had yesterday. If you’d like to read about it…

  • Amy Hunt

    yes, you absolutely make sense to me. I get you so much. I get how “guarding” is about what to let in as much as what to let out. I’ve been thinking this week about how I want to get good at discomfort if there’s something in it God wants to teach me about His love. I want to be brave and be real and raw and let others be, too.

  • Kim

    Thank you! I’ll be sharing this with several, including discussing this idea with my kiddos. The Holy Spirit is in this post. You have articulated what I have so often tried to share with some in our lives. Especially, as the Halloween season comes round, and we are so often judged for not participating, trying to walk a fine line between legalism and grace and what works and does not work for our kiddos and our family. You’ve given me some new ways to articulate our thoughts and share our hearts.

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  • Amy

    I have always known this about myself, but it was a university prof who really quantified “guard your gates” for me – he edited our required readings list after an hour long interview with each of us, and tailored what we read to what he knew about us….how wise. It validated my inclination to trust my heart on such matters from then on. 🙂

  • I’ve read this twice and I still want to read it again. What an amazing post. It makes total sense and you put it to words just beautifully. Will definitely be using this with our little boy – and love the fact that he really get’s gates b/c here in Tanzania everyone’s yard is heavily gated and locked down! So many great things in this post – thank you for it!!

  • Diane

    thank you for this! so encouraging…xo

  • Erin

    Oh this is so good. I love the simplicity of “guarding your gate” instead of the more abstract idea of reaping what we sow. What an important lesson to pass on to our kids, that the stuff they put (or allow) into their lives makes an impact! Thanks for sharing this. I’m excited to check out more of your blog!

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  • pastordt

    That mama of yours is one wise woman. How I wish I had had these words to give myself as a child and to give my children, too. I’ll see if maybe it isn’t too late to give them to my grandgirls (8 and 4) – cuz this is great stuff. Thanks so much.

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  • Emily

    Just wanted to add that I think part of the brilliance of this phrase (I love short, packed-with-meaning phrases that serve as good reminders!) is that it is “Guard the Gates”, and not “Shut the Gates” or “Lock the Gates” in a bunker-down/fear of the world kind of way. It’s an encouragement toward discernment, not a prescription for what should or shouldn’t be let in. Guarding doesn’t mean you never let anything pass. It means that you’re paying attention to what (or who) is getting in. Sage advice, Sarah’s mom. Terrific words, Sarah.

    • Frodine

      That is such a great point, Emily. We used to talk about “guarding our hearts” growing up, but I think in my family it was more about locking the gates and fortifying them and standing on top of them shouting at anything that came too close. Mixed in with the fear that if we weren’t vigilant and even glimpsed something outside the gates, we’d be carried off by the devil and it would be our fault (or we’d lose the ability to hear God speak). Same words, totally different meaning!

      This would also be a really useful way to discuss boundaries. I can open the gate to let friends in, but I decide how much and how far. It’s empowering and helps you feel like you have agency when you can control your own gates. It can also be fluid and change with time. You could try a couple episodes of a show and then shut the gate later. You could mistrust someone but decide to trust them later. No harm no foul since gates are meant to open and close! I like this metaphor much better when the gates aren’t like reinforced metal and armored and spiky 🙂

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  • Chelsea

    Even I, as a grown person, had to learn to Guard my Gates if you will. I’m a big baby too. 🙂 I tried to watch shows that were a bit uncomfortable for me, but I only found myself more depressed, filled with anxiety, etc. It’s just not for me! I now revel in my own gates. I love the encouraging and uplifting things I read and watch. I love a good laugh, and a great book. While I don’t close my eyes to the suffering around me and in the world, there’s no need to add to it with petty things such as TV shows that are made to scare me or books that keep me up at night. Thanks for such a great post.

  • I’d rather not open the doors of my heart wide to fear or lust or violence, for instance. If I believe those things are antithetical to life in Christ, then why am I flinging wide my own gates to them?

    Well put!!

  • Hannah

    This makes sense. Thank you!

  • Kris Wildrick

    BEST discussion on this topic that I have EVER read. Praise the Lord for this wisdom! 🙂

  • tracy

    Oh my Grief!!!!! THIS is it! My husband plays unchristian crap all the time everything from dungeons & dragons to movies that are not at all christian, kung fu old scary movies etc…. this blog will help me to explain why theres such a contrast bewtween us. He does not at all get it that I am protecting my spirit I am guarding my heart and keeping my gates closed to that crap. He also does not get that by watching & playing some of this stuff he is cutting my abilty to minister to people short. I want you tell anne that i was much older about 9 or 10 and my younger brothers and I went trick or treating and we went to this neighbors house and the lady opened the door was passing out candy and all the while I could see something moving in the window and i knew something wasn’t right and i kept backing up but my step dad kept pushing me forward and all of the sudden this thing pushed the lady out of the way shes screaming at the top of her lungs and all i and my brothers could do was run I was in tears all the way home.. our house was about a block away so we were running down hills and jumpin fences and sailin over stoops the whole way. I remember looking back and seeing what looked to be like “jason” a character from the horror films which were absolutely off limits in our house but we had caught snippets from other peoples TV and the local movie rental store he had a hockey mask on and that was a dead give away. You know when I finally got home I thought I was a mess but when I looked at my brothers who are african american they had turned white no joke and had peed their pants and were just blubbering….As a parent I would have been PO’d at the guy for having just ruined my entire night but my exstep dad when he finally got home just sat there smiling like it was some big joke…You were very much gifted with a grandma who has much wisdom. you have also helped us with a noun for our babies… the tinies! I love it and thank so much

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  • Ashley Wright

    I needed this in a major way today. Thank you for sharing. It’s crazy that even as adults we have to struggle with toxic friendships. I think, even though you were talking about our tinies, that it really hit home on how guarding your gates while still being kind and friendly. Oh, to find that balance, and not seek out revenge or fighting with words that hurt back. Guarding your gates seems like a very hard practice sometimes!

  • I always appreciate it when you choose to let me into your process, Sarah.
    I’m also a very sensitive person (horror movies from my childhood still stick with me). I’ve also been learning lately about what it means to parent myself kindly.
    This adds so much to my thoughts.
    Thank you.

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  • Nina

    Oh me too! I’m sooo sensitive. I may just as well be IN the movies. My blood pressure rises and palms sweat! I love the medaphor for my kids! Well written, Sarah!

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  • Michelle Amana

    I love this and I am so glad I stumbled on it. Yes you make sense.

    Isn’t this the truth??? One about guarding our gates… I find it is interwoven with how the spirit guards our hearts and minds and it is such a beautiful picture of how while we are in the world we are not of it. So don’t worry about keeping up with pop culture. Our foremost and biggest priority is our identity with Christ.

    Secondly, I too struggle with guarding my gates and downright turning a blind eye to topics or issues that make me uncomfortable. It helps to bring my heart before God and to ask him to show me where I am being selfish and where I am right to avoid certain things.Its such a relief to know that He understands and is merciful with that weakness. But also that he provides grace for me to hear the hard stuff and to act accordingly

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  • Jean

    Thank you for the beautiful post – being sensitive can be so frustrating in our callous world! There are many shows, movies, and games that I don’t participate in – simply because the ideas and feelings do ‘latch on’ and I can’t get rid of the images. I was often mocked as a teenager for not wanting to experience certain things – too ‘shy,’ ‘too naïve,’ ‘too easily overwhelmed’ -but lately, through reading Glennon Melton Doyle, Brene Brown and so many others…I’m beginning to see my sensitivities as a sort of alternate source of power rather than a weakness.

    Empathy and my ‘vibes’ keep me connected to other people – I can sense when they are hurt or needing help. When I ‘guard my gates’ and cultivate things that bring me peace and wholeness, I am able to pass on that energy to others. You know in Lord of the Rings – how Elves live in both the physical and a ‘spiritual’ world – that’s often how I feel like I am living my life…riding astride the boundaries of the physical and the spiritual. Maybe that sounds overdramatic – but certain things do seem to effect me at a deeper emotional/spiritual level – and guarding against evil in various forms is absolutely necessary.

    Thanks for summarizing some of these hard ideas – it’s difficult to explain – but it is so good to know that I am not the only one!

  • Jean

    P.S. Upon reading the comments, I see a lot of people referring to themselves as ‘big babies’ – I understand the need to justify ourselves in front of other people who might disparage our choices, but let’s be honest with ourselves here in this safe space. You’re not ‘a baby’ for knowing that a certain show will upset your spirit – that’s called mindfulness. You’re not ‘weak’ because you can’t handle a toxic relationship – it’s called setting boundaries. You’re not crazy when you sense an influence is exerting an unhealthy control over you – it’s called intuition and it’s an often over-looked component in discernment.

    Be safe and be strong.

  • Hannah

    Found it a bit odd that you’d cuss right after mentioning the Holy Spirit….. would have been a pretty good article otherwise. Maybe you should guard your mouth.

  • Gill

    This is a wonderful post.
    At first, I was a little worried that you were suggesting we just close our eyes, ears and hearts to the things that make us uncomfortable – but then you said exactly what I think: we need to be open to the things that challenge us, if that’s what the Spirit is leading us to.
    I see this is more than 2 years old – but it’s a great time to remind us all!