I used to wonder why the Lord required the sacrifice of a broken heart, why He would want us to wade through sorrow. Now I believe that the very purpose of our adversities, even of our Abrahamic tests, is to break our hearts in the precise way that makes them open to the Lord’s light and guidance. D. Todd Christofferson said, “The gospel cannot be written in your heart unless your heart is open.” (Ensign, May 2004)
Open Hearts or Crushed Hearts?
What opens them? Can our most difficult adversities, even our broken dreams bring the kind of broken heart that is open to the light of Christ? I believe the answer is yes. Trials do not have to crush our hearts; they can open them to the Light. We have the choice between a broken heart and a hard, closed, bitter heart. Why do some choose to open their hearts, and others choose to close them? In the Book of Mormon we read, “Being hard in their hearts, they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.” (1 Nephi 15:3) As long as we choose to “look unto the Lord as [we] ought” instead of turn away from Him, our darkest hours can open our hearts to the golden light of the Lord’s love, wisdom, comfort and direction.
Would You Choose to Avoid the Situations that Break Your Heart?
At twenty-one years of age, only weeks before his planned marriage, Art Berg broke his neck in what seemed a senseless automobile accident and was left a quadriplegic. Years later he was asked “Art, if you could go back and change it all; if you could have flown a plane, or driven with a different friend, or gone during the daytime, or have loved a different girl [he was on his way to her house to finalize wedding plans] in order to have avoided all the pain and suffering you have experienced, would you?” His answer was simply “No.” He explained, “Some may not understand [that answer], while others may even think I am crazy. But, if they knew what I know and had felt what I have felt, they too would realize that to forfeit pain is to lose all the myriad of miracles, hopes, blessings, and opportunities that go with it. While we walk the stony road we come to a knowledge that it has been trod before by one why has ‘descended beneath them all’ and we experience the priceless blessing of becoming personally acquainted with the Father.” (Some Miracles Takes Time, p. 173)
Remember the oft-quoted words of the elderly man who had come across the plains with the Martin handcart company? “We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives, for we became acquainted with Him in our extremities . . . Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay.” (Relief Society Magazine, January 1948, p. 8). Is any price too high for the blessing of really knowing God?
“We became acquainted with Him in our extremities” . . . what a thought-provoking phrase. I’ve now lived long enough and gained sufficient perspective to pour out my heart in gratitude to the Lord for the great gifts of feeling His love and power in my life in my darkest hours. For example, I will be eternally grateful for spiritual strength received when I was lying injured and helpless at a time my family desperately needed my service, when I was struggling with the difficult consequences of divorce, or yearning after a son who refused contact when I desired with my whole soul to love and comfort and help him. Would I have chosen those trials ahead of time? Hardly--at least not with my limited mortal perspective. But would I now trade the spiritual lessons I’ve learned or the absolute testimony I’ve gained of God’s loving concern for all of us in order to be spared that pain and sorrow? I would say with Art and with the Martin handcart survivor, “No, I would not.” Down the road a bit, it seems that most of us feel that whatever it takes to open our hearts to Christ is worth it. I love Deanna Edward’s quote “Joy is not the absence of pain, but the presence of God.” So many times, our afflictions can literally be swallowed up in the joy of spiritual closeness to the Lord.
In a devotional at Brigham Young University-Idaho given January 8, 2002, Elder David A. Bednar quoted Alma 31, verse 38: . . . yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith (emphasis added). Then said, “No, the afflictions were not removed. But Alma and his companions were strengthened and blessed through the enabling power of the atonement to "suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ." What a marvelous blessing. And what a lesson each of us should learn. You and I in a moment of weakness may cry out, "No one understands. No one knows." No human being, perhaps, knows. But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He felt and bore our burdens before we ever did. And because He paid the ultimate price and bore that burden, He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy in so many phases of our life. He can reach out, touch, and succor--literally run to us--and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do through relying only upon our own power.
At an October 9, 2001 devotional on that same campus, Elder L. Aldin Porter quoted Brigham Young: “You that have not passed through the trials and persecutions and drivings, with this people, from the beginning, but have only read of them, or heard some of them related, may think how awful they were to endure, and wonder that the Saints survived them at all. The thought of it makes your heart sink within you, your brains reel, and your bodies tremble, and you are ready to exclaim, 'I could not have endured it.' I have been in the heat of it, and I never felt better in my life; I never felt the peace and power of the Almighty more copiously poured upon me than in the keenest part of our trials. They appeared nothing to me" (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v 1, p. 313).
Then Elder Porter said, “That is the promise I make to you today. Tribulations will come, but the Lord will sustain you if you have made the appropriate preparation--particularly, learning how to fend off the scorn of the world. And when it is over you are going to say, "That wasn't all that bad." Why? Because you are going to be able to say, ‘I never felt the peace and power of the Almighty more copiously poured out upon me than in the keenest part of our trials.