The Savior teaches that we need to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. (See 2 Nephi 2:7; 3 Nephi 9:20, 12:19.) I grew up in the Church, and consequently I have heard this phrase over and over. It seems that I even used to take it for granted in a yada, yada, yada ? type of way.
Like most gospel principles, my understanding of this principle has evolved over the years as I have matured in gospel knowledge. However, it wasn ?t until 2005 that I had an epiphany that transformed the way I view, understand, and attempt to live with a broken heart and contrite spirit.
In 2004, we became the guardians of a young man who is a family friend. (For a frame of reference, he was baptized at eight but was not raised in the Church.) His background is one I wouldn ?t wish on my worst enemy (and I don ?t know the full scope of his challenges). His grandmother needed help beyond what she could do; she knew our family and hoped that a change would be beneficial and help alter the course of his life. After prayer, fasting, and discussion, we decided it was the right thing for our family to do. He voluntarily came into our home and ten months later, he voluntarily left to return to his biological mother.
In many ways those ten months were a living hell, especially for me. I spent a great deal of time struggling to understand where our new son was coming from, trying to accept him for who he is, attempting to give him the benefit of the doubt, wanting to see him the way Heavenly Father sees him, being so angry for his seeming contempt, disregard, and disrespect of us, our family, and our rules.
It was a trial of my faith, and a time of heartache, confusion, and anger for the challenges I had not expected to be part of the package. ? I spent an inordinate amount of time working through these issues, crying on my husband ?s shoulder over what I perceived to be our failed attempts to help, and wondering if we ?d made a mistake to have him join our family (but always knowing deep down that we hadn ?t).
Yet as challenging as this situation was, it was also a season of growth, strengthening, understanding, and love which forged a bond within our family that has had far-reaching consequences and which has led to our home being known as the Hotel, with our kids ? friends dropping by frequently to spend time away from difficult situations and other boarders ? living with us for weeks or months. I learned some invaluable lessons during this difficult time, including:
- I am far stronger and more resilient than I ever dreamed I could be!
- I have a greater appreciation of the Father ?s and Savior ?s love for each one of us in spite of our weaknesses, struggles, pride, rebellion, or even refusal to acknowledge Their love.
- I am more vocally aware and grateful for my blessings particularly for my husband and kids, my ability to hold onto faith and hope, and my testimony of the gospel.
- I have a deeper understanding of the atonement of how much the Savior has given to help each one of us, that His suffering and grace is for each of us individually, and that He knows it was (and still is) worth every drop of blood regardless of our acceptance of His sacrifice for us.
- I have gained a deeper and more personal knowledge of what it means to have a broken heart and contrite spirit.
My epiphany in early 2005 and my resulting change of heart came about as my husband and I were driving to the temple (a one-way, 1.5 hour drive for us). We were discussing various aspects of our family, my personal reactions and feelings (some legitimate; some over-reaction), and my frustration with the situation that had seemed to spiral out of our control. I was telling my husband about my hurt and anger, and the physical, emotional, and spiritual effects of those negative feelings. I told him I couldn ?t do it alone and needed Heavenly Father ?s help to break through the anger and pain that had a vice-like grip on my heart. In the midst of that, I stopped mid-sentence as a lightning bolt of enlightenment of the reality of the phrase broken heart and contrite spirit ? truly became pertinent and applicable to me and my life at that very instant. No words can convey just how astounding and absolute that recognition was and how vastly it transformed my thinking and my life.
Having a broken heart and a contrite spirit is not just being humble. It is not simply being willing to submit to God ?s will. It is allowing the Redeemer ?s atonement to change and transform not only your life but also your heart. It is letting go of the attempt to control your life and accepting what the Lord wants you to do. It is being willing to say, I don ?t understand why I have to go through this challenge right now, but I will continue to trust in Thy love and knowledge of my needs. ? It is understanding and feeling to sing the song of redeeming love. ? (See Alma 5:26.) It is all this, and more.
When I finally, truly began to understand and apply this gospel principle, I was able to start letting go of my anger. I was able to begin seeing our foster son as he is, instead of how I wanted him to be. I could see the baby steps of progress that he was making. I could see that even if we failed ? to help this son of ours in the ways we had hoped, we had still succeeded in planting a seed and making a difference. I was able to feel the peace of the Savior ?s love, even as the turbulent challenges continued.
This situation was not magically fixed. ? However, my shift in attitude (and my willingness to start letting go and allowing the Savior to take care of everything) enabled the Spirit to help soften my heart and became the catalyst for my personal and genuine broken heart and contrite spirit ? transformation. I still have to work on living and applying this principle for it is a life-long process but I am closer to exemplifying a disciple with a broken heart and a contrite spirit than I was previously. I also have been able to see, understand, and find gratitude for the time this son spent with us and the difference we truly were able to make in his life.
The most important thing I have learned is that developing a broken heart and a contrite spirit inevitably leads us toward becoming more Christ-like which aids us in our journey homeward bound.