I have to say, that my heart has been feeling a bit more broken than usual lately. I have been trying to analyze why I have been feelings this way, and I can easily point to additional stressors and things that bring me back into grief. Although some of those things have contributed, I think I have forgotten some of the behavior and thought patterns that have given me peace in the past. I was rereading some of my notes in a book called Power to Become. I turned to the chapter on personal peace and found somethings that connected with me in a new way.
The Law of Sacrifice.
It may see counterintuitive to think about sacrifice when I am hurting, and especially if you think about the Old Testament. Most people do not understand the symbolic meaning behind the sacrifice of animals in the Bible. The animal was a symbol of Christ and of his sacrifice for us. Christ sacrificed to bring us peace through grace, peace from the burdens of sin and peace from our trials and troubles. The true meaning of the law of sacrifice has always been to offer a contrite spirit and broken heart. In Psalms 51:17 it says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” We access that peace gifted through the grace of the Savior as we walk the path He walked and sacrifice to Him our broken spirits and contrite hearts. One of my favorite speakers, Neil A Maxwell who suffered and died from cancer defined it as this,
“So it is that real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed! Such is the “sacrifice unto the Lord … of a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” a prerequisite to taking up the cross, while giving “away all [our] sins” in order to “know God” for the denial of self precedes the full acceptance of Him.”
Obeying the law of Sacrifice on deeper levels allow me to receive a greater measure of grace. As Maxwell says, we must put those parts of ourselves on the alter and let them be consumed.
How do you place your heart and spirit on the altar before God?
Many times in our lives we have Abrahamic trials, where we are asked to sacrifice things that may be good and dear to us. Other times we are asked to sacrifice sins or selfish tendencies. All of these things prepare us to receive greater joy. I have learned that I must give before I can receive, and blessings always come to me after the trial of my faith. Placing those things on the altar is a test of faith and demonstrates complete trust and faith in the Lord
What is a Contrite Spirit?
A contrite spirit is a repentant spirit, it is humble and not full of self. A contrite spirit is willing to accept the Lord’s plan and timing. A contrite spirit looks forward in faith. Just as Christ submitted His will to the Father in Gethesemane, we also must learn to submit to recieive that strengthening power that comes only through Him. We should not feel bad that this is such an inward struggle, because even Christ asked three times for the cup to be removed. But He being the ultimate example of submission always expressed that His Father’s will took prescience.
How do you know God’s will?
For starters, obeying God’s will is being obedient to the commandments He has already given us. Studying the scriptures can help us learn the mind and will of God. Furthermore, studying God’s written word prepares us to be able to hear his voice better through prayer. Earnest soul searching prayer can allow us to better align our will with God’s will. We can offer him our will and obedience through prayer. We can ask Him to show us what we need to learn and change. We can choose to set our “Why me?” questions aside and ask “What am I to learn?” We can express our trust and faith in Him and acknowledge that even though we do not know everything, that we will patiently continue to be faithful in all things.
What is a Broken Heart?
When we think of broken hearts today, our thoughts go to lost love. However, this was the meaning intended in Psalms. Anciently, the heart was considered to be the center of all emotions and desires. It represents our will. It is broken, not in a disheartened way, but in willfulness. Sometimes our hearts are broken because of circumstances in our lives. Personal tragedy can break our heart. The negative consequences of sin can break our heart. A broken heart prepares us to receive. It is open and agreeable to being molded, changed and made a new. In contrast, a hard heart is bitter and resentful It blames and seeks to be justified. God can only work with broken hearts. So the unique and difficult circumstances in our lives prepare us to accept change in our lives if we choose. In all aspects, our trials really can makes us better or bitter. The choice is in what kind of heart we offer as a sacrifice to God.
How does a broken heart relate to grief, and accessing that peace the Savior promises?
Recently at a widows conference I listened to a widower make this connection. His ideas were incredibly insightful to me. Relating to grief and the loss of a loved one, he conjured the image of glass heart dashed upon a cold hard floor. Shattered pieces lay everyone. One by one we do our best to gather those broken pieces. Despite our best efforts, not all of the pieces are to be found or identified immediately. This makes the placement of an entire broken heart on the altar as part of our sacrifice very difficult. Over the passage of time, new pieces are discovered. Their discovery is indicated by new pain, just as one feels pain days later when an undiscovered shard is stepped on by bare morning feet. We recoil at the pain; however, pain allows us to identify and take that broken pieces to the Lord to be mended and repaired. It is important to remember that this is a CONTINUAL PROCESS, so be patient with yourself and the finding of broken pieces. In reality, the finding of the shards is not the difficult part. They pop up in unexpected situations. The difficulty come is offering those pieces to the Lord. Sometimes we want to keep broken things. Even though we do not delight in pain, we may want to sulk in our brokenness. Sometimes, our mind is fixed on the thought that broken pieces are associated with memories. We fear that giving them up will void us of a connection with our lost loved one. Pain is not part of memories, and God heals pain and leaves the good memories intact. Offering those pieces is a choice and something we must truly desire in order to receive healing.
Receiving Healing through the offering of Sacrifice.
Sometimes we offer our broken heart, but we hold back a contrite spirit. Other times the process is reversed. If this is the case, we will feel discouraged at the lack of peace and healing that we feel. We may even give up and turn away from God. Our sacrificial bundle must be complete. It must contain both a contrite spirit and a broken heart to be an acceptable offering to be consumed by the Lord. Incomplete offerings will give an incomplete result. There is no accessing the atonement or God’s grace without both parts packaged together.
How do I know my offering has been accepted?
If our offering is true and displayed in our desires and our actions, The Holy Spirit will come upon us and offer peace and comfort. Our trials and adversities will not necessarily be lifted, but that peace and strength will flow into us and allow us to better bear those burdens. Here are some benchmark emotions and desires that indicate an acceptable offering.
- Gratitude comes and overwhelms the pain. (As a note, sometimes people feel guilt when that pain lifts. Guilt is not part of healing, and we do not need to feel guilty when we feel moments of happiness and light again. Guilt does not honor our loves ones or bring us closer to them.)
- The Holy Spirit fills us so there is no more room for the grief or torment to exist.
- Peace and calm about the future for us and our families prevails
- We develop an eternal perspective and gain understanding of how these trials are helping us and we keep our view for beyond this life.
- Our eyes are opened allowing us to ‘see’ and understand on a new level. We may feel enlightened.
- We understand that we can still have joy in this life
- We develop hope for the future, knowing that God has our future in His hand.
- We desire to share with others the things we have learned so that we can lift them in their burdens.
How do I sustain these feelings?
Continuing to act in the process of offering new aspects of a contrite spirit with each pieces of broken heart will allow us to feel a greater measure of peace in our lives. However, the peace we feel will not always be consist and intense. We live in a fallen world and we are constantly subject to new adversity and temptation. When we experience the fruit of the atonement or grace, Satan always makes himself more manifest to us and our families in ways that we may not know or understand. Knowing that these onslaughts are coming can help us be prepared and watchful. We can be defensive against his tactics and we can teach our families to be aware and defensive as well. Look for areas of weakness and fortify them. Don’t become complacent in your strengths. Obedience, watchfulness and faithfulness help us to stand ready and to defeat him before he gets a foot in the door. I love this quote by Neil A. Maxwell. It helps me to continually refine my contrite spirit.
“Any list of our present, personal indulgences is actually an index—but a reverse index to joys—joys we will not experience until we do deny ourselves certain things. Meanwhile, the absence of gross sins in our lives can lull us into slackness concerning seemingly small sins.”
What if I don’t feel these feelings?
I we don’t feel the benchmarks then we know that the sacrifice is incomplete and we need to go back, reassess and make it complete. Some of these thoughts may lead to an incomplete sacrifice.
- We may have decided we don’t want to get hurt and we have allowed our hearts to become hardened.
- We are unwilling to completely submit our will.
- A contrite spirit and a broken heart are not given at the same time.
- We still entertain lingering ‘Why?’ questions.
- We have commandments that we are breaking and need to repent of.
So many times when I have found new broken pieces, I have tried this process and failed initially. I look back at the process of selling my house for example… Over and over again I thought I had submitted my will, only to discover that I really hadn’t. But the process of returning and trying again and again taught me important lessons. Don’t ever fall into despair because we can continually go back to the altar and seek those blessings of peace. I know that whenever I feel that pain, it is time for me to sacrifice again. Another important principle that helps me fight discouragement is knowing that healing is not complete until the resurrection. In mortality I will feel sorrow and suffering… that is part of this schooling experience. The ‘happily ever after’ comes after this life. It is as if we are in the middle of a three act play, where all of the drama and conflict exist. Knowing that there will be a final resolution and reunion in the final act helps me to persevere in faith with hope for the future.
Questions to Ponder:
What aspects of a contrite spirit do you need to work on offering? How does prayer and studying the scriptures help me to sacrifice? Are there pieces of my broken heart that I am holding on to?