FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Follow My Heart, Or Follow My Head? Kevin DeYoung

with Kevin DeYoung | January 29, 2024
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Should you follow your heart or your head? Kevin DeYoung believes God understands our hearts. Could you possibly be steering yourself in the wrong direction? If you're grappling with deciding whether to end a relationship or if your next career path is right for you, gain confidence in your next decision with thoughtful consideration.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Wondering if you should follow your heart? Kevin DeYoung believes God understands our hearts. Could you be steering in the wrong direction?

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Follow My Heart, Or Follow My Head? Kevin DeYoung

With Kevin DeYoung
January 29, 2024
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Dave: I never really talk about football on FamilyLife Today

Ann: —Oh, no! Are we going there today?—

Dave: —Well, I just thought—

Ann: —Hey, wait! Do you know what? You just be true to yourself if that's what you want to talk about—

Dave: —That's pretty funny! [Laughter] Based on where we're going, I see what you're doing. Our listeners don't know where we're going yet, but here's what I thought: I coached high school football, I think, for 12 years. [I] got to coach all three sons through there and you know I love football. It was fun.

Honestly, the reason I did it was not football. It was boys to men. I got the chance to help young boys become men. But I have to tell you the story: our head coach would often bring in motivational speakers. This one time, this guy came in, and the gist of his message—and this what we're talking about today—was, “Young guys; boys, follow your heart. Whatever your heart tells you to do, go with it. You're walking down the hallway at school and your heart tells you to do this, you follow your heart.”

I wanted to stand up—

Ann: —I'm surprised you didn't!—

Dave: —and go, "No! Don't listen! That is really bad, bad advice!”

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: We have a guy in the studio today: Kevin DeYoung is back with us. I think Kevin would probably disagree with that message. [Laughter] But Kevin, before we go there, I just want to say welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Kevin: Hi! Glad to be back. No, I was not your motivational speaker. [Laughter]

Dave: You were not the guy.

Kevin: Yes.

Dave: I mean, even when I was telling that story, you were trying to jump in [saying]—

Kevin: —Please don't!—

Dave: —“That is bad advice.”

Ann: Yes.

Kevin: And yet, we've all heard that.

Dave: Yes.

Kevin: And we've seen it in movies and post-game interviews, 1,000 times, that advice.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: Kevin, your book is called Do Not Be True to Yourself. Is that why you wrote this book, because you're hearing it all over?

Kevin: Oh, we've all heard it so many times, and actually the origination of this little book—I just write little books. Hopefully, people—

Ann: [Laughter] —I love it!

Kevin: —can read—

Ann:  —we all love little books. —

Kevin: —them on trips to the bathroom. [Laughter] So, I was asked to give a commencement address at Geneva College up near Pittsburgh, but I was sort of thinking, “What’s the sort of thing that commencement addresses—?” So often,—

Ann: —yes—

Kevin: —they’re that. And hopefully Christian schools do better than that, but it's: “Be true to yourself.” I start there with an excerpt from a commencement address, a very secular one from 20 years ago [by] a New York Times writer, that says that very thing: ”March to your own drum. Follow your own tympani. Don't let anybody— Marching in lockstep is the evil in our world.”

Really? If you would just think for a moment, besides the reasons as wrong as Christians; just common sense should tell you, ”Do you know what? Some people's hearts—they're psychopaths! [Laughter] They're not nice people.”

What worse advice to give a bunch of high school—

All: —boys—

Kevin: —whose brains have literally not fused together yet, to “just follow your heart?” I know it's maybe well-intentioned—

Dave: —right.—

Kevin: —but what really misguided advice.

So, yes! It's a lifetime of hearing those things, and then, in particular, thinking, “Oh, my own kids are graduating now. What message do they really need to hear to be faithful Christians in the world?”

Dave: Well, tell the listeners what you do. I know you're down in Matthews, North Carolina as a pastor.

Kevin: I am married; one wife [Laughter] and nine kids.

Dave: This is crazy.

Kevin: This is crazy—

Dave: —nine kids.—

Kevin: —nine kids. They are—

Ann: —That's why he's here!—

Kevin: —That’s why he’s here!

Ann: He and Trish are here to get away for a few hours.

Kevin: Yes. It is—

Dave: —yesl—

Kevin: —It is for a few hours.

Dave: Tell everybody what Trisha is doing right now.

Kevin: She's looking for a pair of jeans, I think. [Laughter] She's shopping—

Dave: —all by herself!

Kevin: —all by herself. [Laughter] She just said,—

Ann: —every woman—

Kevin: —“I can go somewhere by myself.” So, our kids—and we love them all, of course—but they're ages 2 to 20.

Dave: Wow.

Kevin: So, nine kids; one in college, all the way down to a two-year-old who's still toddling around and trying to use the toilet. [Laughter] We’ve got a house full, so that's a lot of what I do.

I’m a pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, which is outside of Charlotte. I also teach at Reformed Theological Seminary: Systematic theology there. I have a ministry, Clearly Reformed, which has resources and other things. And then, I do things like this and write books.

Ann: Kevin, you've got nine kids, and they're growing up hearing this: “Hey, just be true to yourself.” What's wrong with that? Some people are thinking, “I think that's really good.” What's wrong? What are you telling your kids instead of “be true to yourself?”

Kevin: It's a great question. Whenever these things catch on, or almost always, they catch on because there's something half-true, or maybe in this sense, a quarter-true. Almost anything that's going to be really popular has something because —it's the same human nature where God knows [how] we're wired, and the devil knows [how] we're wired.

So, the half-truth or the quarter-truth is: “Don't let everyone around you define who you are, live for the applause of others, or live to please others. Be true to yourself. Don't just cast yourself for other people to define.”

Okay, we get that. There's something healthy about that, and yet, as I was joking earlier, do you know the only people who genuinely don't care what anyone thinks about them? Yes, serial killers, or Class A narcissists, or something.

We are all going to care what people think about us. The good piece of advice is, “Be true to yourself.” That is a quarter-true. What's wrong with it is the whole narrative of creation, fall, redemption. Our hearts are not—because of original sin, are not—naturally good. So, to be true to ourselves, if we're unregenerate, non-Christians, is the heart is desperately sick, and we are not going to choose the right things.

To be true to yourself, if you're born again in Christ, is actually very biblical. The New Testament is replete with this motivation: “Be who you are;” but it's, “Be who you are as a new creation in Christ.” Absent that, it's telling us, “Look deep into your fallen human heart and trust that your own desires will not lead you astray.” And though we don't put it quite so baldly, I think my kids, your kids, grandkids; they get that message in 1,000 different ways: “To be most authentic is to be most true. Live out your truth.”

Dave: Right.

Kevin: As if there's not truth, but there's your truth: “So long as you're authentic, then you must be right.” It's very foreign from the way that the Bible thinks, which considers it a dangerous thing that we would have self-autonomy; that we would decide for ourselves to eat [from] the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, which was really a tree of autonomy: “I get to decide for myself.”

So, God, from the very beginning, has been warning us against this; and the devil, from the very beginning, has been enticing us to this very kind of message.

Dave: Well, it's interesting. You said earlier, and I wonder if there's a listener [thinking], “Man, you are very hard on the human heart.” You said, “The human heart—

Kevin: —yes—

Dave: —is desperately sick.”

Kevin: Yes, well that was Jeremiah, so—

Dave: —and I'm [thinking], “You are quoting Jeremiah.” [Laughter] But as parents, we often are trying to tell our kids the opposite: “You're a good person.” They are; I get it—

Ann: —well, we're image bearers. —

Dave: —yes.

Kevin: Right.

Dave: Which is true; so, how do you balance that?

Kevin: All my kids are different and so, some, I will say—

If a race goes wrong, you know, one of them might be down on himself, and the other one might be down on everybody else [Laughter] if something doesn't go quite right. They're all different. The partial truth there is: we do want to say to our kids, “To wallow in this sense of your own failure, “you're not worth anything,” you don't measure up to other people—that's not a healthy way to look [at it].” And yet, David prays in the Bible that he's not a man. He's a “worm.”

So, there's a “Healthy Worm” theology and an “Unhealthy Worm.” The healthy is: “I may be a worm, but God made me, and He loves me.” And that's not the whole story. That’s the thing: the Bible is a big book.

Ann: Yes.

Kevin: And we need to tell our kids: “You're made in the image of God. You're precious to me and your mom, and there's lots of people who love you. I don't want you to ever forget that. At the same time, your heart is bound to lead you astray. We're bound to sin, and we're dead in our trespasses.”

The Bible is full of this language. If we tell people, “If you dig down deep enough”—

There was a famous line from GK Chesterton, 100 years ago in his book, Orthodoxy, that said, “The worst god to follow is the god of yourself.” He says, “Let Jones follow the crocodiles outside of the studio here. [Laughter] Let him follow the sun. But the most tyrannical god is the god that you think dwells within your own self.” That's what our world tells us to follow.

I want you to see clearly about yourself. But more than that, I want you to understand who you are, made in the image of God; if you're a believer, who you are in Christ; and what it means that Christ would die for us as sinners, that He has a plan for us, that He has a purpose for us. These are the things that get to our identity because that's what this book is about, and that's what so many of the issues in our day are really about: who we are as human beings in our identity.

Dave: Yes. How do you get to that identity? You just touched on identity in Christ; because there's that balance of, “Okay, the Bible says our “hearts are desperately wicked.” (Jeremiah) Ezekiel: “We have no longer a heart of stone, but a heart of flesh.” God has redeemed us. Second Corinthians 5: “I'm a new creation. I'm not the old.” So, I am new.

Kevin: Yes.

Dave: Maybe I should trust my new heart. Or shouldn't I? [Laughter] It's like, “What am I?” I know it's some Romans 7 a little bit going on.

Kevin: Right.

Dave: I want to do right, but I do wrong. How do you navigate that?

Kevin: And it's very important to realize that because, sometimes, wanting to emphasize the depravity of man, which is true and biblical, we forget we are born again as Christians, and we have indwelling sin. We never fully eradicate the remains of sin, you know? Tempted to various things. And yet, we do have a new nature; an inclination that should be drawn to Christ, that is drawn to new things, that has, [as] Jonathan Edwards would say, “You have new eyes. You have new taste buds. You have a new nose.” You can taste and smell the things of God in a different way.

We don't want to say to each other as Christians, “Everything you do is filthy rags. Everything in your heart is all black, dark, wicked.”

Dave: Yes.

Kevin: No, we actually can please God. We actually can do things that God is happy with, in Christ.

And yet the world's message of “just dig deeper” is not even for the Christian. God doesn't tell us, “If you would just unearth, pull away all layers of the onion, and just find the real you.” It's almost a gnostic kind of idea; that ancient heresy that you just have to find the real spark inside you, and if you can find that authentic you

When the Bible is saying, (paraphrased) “The you—look outside; you're seated in the heavenly places in Christ.” That's where you find the real you, and that's how you should live.

Dave: When you can be honest about your sin, that's a real step forward. It feels like a step backward, because you're looking at it maybe for the first time [thinking], “This is really ugly, but it's in me.” That's a good step, if you also understand and it's been redeemed by the blood and by the light of Jesus that has come into my darkness and is leading me out of this, but — 

Ann: —like that repentance piece—

Kevin: —that’s right—

Dave: —yes. I mean, that's a good move. It feels like it's a backward move; but no, it's actually a forward move.

Kevin: Some of the Puritans would say, “Repentance is the vomit of the soul.” You think about vomit. Don't think about it too much, [Laughter] but nobody wants to vomit! Everything about the experience says, “This is not the right direction.” [Laughter] It hurts. It's painful. And yet, you know, sometimes, when you're sick, that's the only thing that helps you start to feel better.

Dave: That’s true.

Kevin: And with repentance, it feels unnatural because it is. It's supernatural. It's natural to feel regret. You don't have to have the Spirit of God to feel bad when you blow a test, or you slept in, and you messed up something. It takes the Spirit of God, though, to repent; to really say, “God, I sinned.” And yet there is true freedom. There's only freedom when we really admit those sins and mistakes.

One of the illustrations I give in the book [is], I just compare these two Pixar movies. They're about 10 years apart, which, I don't know, says something maybe about Pixar or about the change of the culture. But the movie Brave

Dave: —yes—

Kevin: —and then the movie Red.

Dave: Right.

Kevin: they're both about mother/daughter kind of conflicts. In Red, it's all about, “Let the panda within you come out.” And it is a kind of, “Be true to yourself. Don't let anyone stuff this in. Let it come out.”

Yet Brave—much more nuanced, much more Christian—is, [Scottish accent] “Mend the bond torn by pride.” Sorry for our Scottish listeners!

Ann: Oh!

Dave: That’s good! That’s good!

Kevin: But that's what they do. The story is set in a mythical, magical Scotland. But it's really about a mother and daughter realizing how they've hurt each other, and how both of them need to change and repent. Her spell to become a bear—the only way to reverse that spell is to mend the bond torn by pride and to realize what pride has done in this relationship. It's really a kind of Christian story, and yet, so many of the other stories are like the other movie that are just telling you, ”Don’t stuff down anything you have. Just whatever seems authentic, let it come out.”

Ann: Kevin, in practical terms, as parents, we're [thinking], “Alright, alright. I'm not going to tell my kids ‘be true to yourself’.”

Kevin: Yes.

Ann: That sends this kind of mixed message even though there is, as you said, the piece of it that could be right in that very limited kind of way. You have nine kids. What are you telling them instead of, “Hey, guys, be true to yourself?” What are the things you're telling them, before Christ, because some of your kids are small, and then being in Christ? What does that look like? What are the things that we could say to our kids to encourage them to follow Jesus, and not the culture?

Kevin: Well, yes. I think of this, and I don't know how well it answers the question, but a year or two ago, one of my daughters—she was maybe 10 at the time; she was with a friend. She was doing her first 5K. She was so excited and so nervous, and I just said. “I want to tell you three things—"

Ann: —[Laughter] because you're a runner—

Kevin: —I am a runner.

Ann: Right.

Kevin: So, I said, “I love you. Jesus loves you. And you're a DeYoung.” [Laughter] The DeYoung was, “We run.”

Ann: “This is who we are.”

Kevin: “This is who we are.” [Laughter] But more important than that, “I love you. Jesus loves you.” Of course, I'm going to be proud of her, whatever she did. There are little things like that, and I said it with a smile. I knew it was an over-the-top kind of Dad speech, but there was a serious lesson—

Ann: —yes—

Kevin: —in there, too.

Then, as they get older, yes, you have more corrective and weightier talks, where I try to help my kids with this very thing and help them understand. One of the things that I think is hard for us as parents [is] we hurt when our kids hurt,—

Ann: —yes—

Kevin: —and we come in and we mean—really, I see this in myself; we mean—well when we come in, and we're trying to tell them why the race was great, or, “That wasn't bad.” Or the girl or the guy problems: “It's all going to turn out.” [Laughter]

What we're doing is we're kind of putting a stiff arm to what they're experiencing, and we're trying to fix it, and we're trying to help it. I've learned I've had to say, “It really hurts, doesn't it? I can't take away that this is sad (whether it's a minor disappointment or a major disappointment), but I wish I could with everything in me. But here's what we can talk about: what do we know about God? What do we know about His love for us? What do we know about who we are because of Christ and what He did for us?”

We want to make their circumstances good. I mean, every loving parent—we don't want our kids to hurt. I heard Tim Keller say one time—I don't know if it was original to him; he said—“Once you have kids, you'll never be happier than your least happy child.”

Ann: I remember reading that—

Kevin: —yes—

Ann: —resonating with it.

Kevin: Yes. There’s a lot of truth to that.

Dave: Instead of in that tough moment for them, having them look in—

Kevin: —yes—

Dave: —you're having them look up. You went vertical, and you're guiding them to, “The answer is not going to be in here.” [Within] Even if you feel better, like, “Well, I'm really a good person. I'm better,” it's not going to last. But if you go vertical, there's an answer—

Kevin: —yes—

Dave: —that's eternal, that's real, that's true!

Kevin: That’s absolutely right. It's looking up, and it's looking outside—

Dave: —yes—

Kevin: —when everything from romanticism on down tells us, “Look deeper, and look in.” It doesn't even quite make sense. What are you supposed to find there?

Dave: Right.

Kevin: I quote in there lines from the old Rich Mullins song: “They told me to follow my heart, but all I heard was beating in my chest. They told me to follow my nose, but it just changed directions every time I turned my head.”

Where are you really going to go with that? And yet it has a kind of veneer of real, deep spirituality that, like you were saying: the inspirational pep talk that tells you to go follow your heart and everyone [says], “What does that mean?”

Dave: [Laughter] Yes, exactly.

Kevin: So, I just do the things that I want to do when, actually, older models—whether it's Western Civilization or Christianity, which are often overlapping; older models—of virtue are all about learning to sublimate those things. Maturing as an adult—do you know who does whatever they feel like in the moment? Children.

Dave: Children.

Ann: Yes.

Kevin: That's what children do. They're sad; they scream. They're hurt; they scream. Part of growing up is realizing, “I have to do something constructive with these desires.” Sometimes, that means killing them. Sometimes, that means delaying them. Sometimes, it means following them. But that takes Christian wisdom and discernment much deeper than just, “Be true to yourself.”

Ann: I think that's true in terms of when we tell kids to follow their hearts. I can remember as a teenager, feeling like my heart was broken or my heart—“I feel so scared,” or, “I feel so confused.” It feels like all of our emotions—should we follow our emotions? No! But to follow Christ, to keep our eyes on Jesus—

I love what you said—even when our kids are little. I need to be reminded; “Jesus loves you. I love you.” It’s so good! And “We are the Wilsons.”

Kevin: Yes.

Ann: It's this: “You belong with us. You belong here, at this point, and we are always going to be with you.”

Kevin: Yes, and, ”I’m a Wilson, I'm a DeYoung,” meaning, “There are certain things that we stand for.”

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Right.

Kevin: And even that little speech, which isn't any sort of brilliance, is setting someone's identity outside of themselves—

Ann: —yes—

Kevin: —because expressive individualism tells us: “You determine your identity.” When that sets it outside, we all exist in a matrix of relationships and not just one identity, but many identities. So, it's learning what is most foundational and what is most fundamental. That's one of the most important things we can do as parents. Often, it's not even the speeches that we give them. My kids—

Ann: —yes—

Kevin: —always joke, “Dad, [Laughter] another Dad speech.” [Laughter] And I'll say, “Guys! Sit down. I’ve got a great Dad speech.”

Ann: We think that'll just transform them, those speeches!

Kevin: Oh man, yes!

It's the things that are caught as much as taught, as we know; the things that they just pick up. The challenge for us as parents, and the good news is: our kids are learning their identity from us. The things that we think about; the way we find our identity; the things that we value in them; the things that we celebrate in them. That’s a huge opportunity. That means, even if we haven't been great at having all the family devotions all the time, and even if we're not good at the dad or mom speeches, there's a really good chance they've picked up some things.

It also means—he scary part is—that they're seeing us much more than [we] realize, and if we're not putting our identity in the right place or what really matters to us is if they can catch the football or what they look like, they'll pick up on what their real identity is to us.

Shelby: If our kids are learning from us, there's kind of a temptation to hide or maybe even perform. But no, this is an opportunity to go deeper into our relationship with God and fall more in love with Him. The call isn't to do better or to mask your flaws more often. The call is to run to Jesus as a flawed mom or dad, and know that our kids see our neediness for Christ, which is a good thing, not a bad thing. Amazing stuff today.

I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Kevin DeYoung on FamilyLife Today. Kevin has written a book called Do Not Be True to Yourself: Countercultural Advice for the Rest of Your Life and Impossible Christianity. This book offers countercultural, yet biblical, advice with practical gospel-centered guidance for navigating the challenges of high school, college, and adulthood.

As you hear that and you know, maybe, somebody in that age range who could really benefit from that kind of clear biblical guidance from Kevin DeYoung, you can go online to and click on the “Today's Resources” link, or you can get the link in the show notes. Or you can give us a call. Our number is 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

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Now tomorrow: God uses hard times to grow our character; to really develop perseverance and find hope in Him. Well, Dave and Ann are joined tomorrow by Ron Deal, who talked with Davey and Kristi Blackburn on FamilyLife Blended® about how to trust God's faithfulness during painful seasons and find healing and restoration through Him. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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