When I was a child having a broken heart meant I didn’t get my way about something minor like my Mom didn’t buy me that McDonalds Kitchen Playset that for some reason I thought was super deluxe. As a teenager the phrase meant that the boy that I liked didn’t like me back. As an adult the phrase broken heart has expanded to mean so many more things and my awareness of others has grown so I feel the pain of others as they have their hearts broken over divorces, death of loved ones, job loss, depression, marriage troubles, faith troubles etc. My heart reaches out to them, I’ve gotten better at mourning with those that mourn. But often I mourn in silent because I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. (Mosiah 18:9)
The scriptures talk a lot about having a broken heart, and when the phrase is used it is talked about as the sacrifice we can offer to our savior. A broken heart. We know that the atonement covers the pain we feel, it can heal our broken hearts. It can give us the comfort of the Holy Ghost and peace that comes only through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Yet, I’ve read that phrase before with a broken heart feeling as if I was drowning in the pain there sometimes seemed to be a gap that I didn’t understand between the pain and the promise of comfort.
The key is in the second half of the phrase. We must also have a contrite spirit. To be contrite means to feel sorrow or remorse over a sin or shortcoming. (source). Repentance is the bridge necessary to go from the pain of a broken heart to the peace of the atonement.
Let me be clear: Broken hearts happen, both as a consequence of sin and from circumstances independent of sin. In no way am I saying that every time our heart breaks it is because we did something wrong. We may need to repent of things completely independent of the broken heart. It may be something small, it may be something big, it may be that you just need to show the Lord that you are willing to do so if necessary, it may be a sin of commission or omission, but we must have an attitude of repentance. (Although I have learned that’s not a good thing when I feel I have nothing to repent of and don’t need the atonement on a daily basis, usually that means my pride levels are rising.)
Repentance is necessary to balance justice and mercy. Repentance is how we “opt in” to the atonement that is ready for us to use. Think about it – if the Lord applied the grace and healing of the atonement without us choosing it, it would void our agency. When we show the Lord our willingness to repent we are telling Him that we want his help, that we are choosing his help.
When we come to the Lord with the sacrifice of both a broken heart and a contrite spirit he is able to generously apply the atonement to our lives. That may not mean that circumstances change, but our ability to bear them will. Nor is it a promise that we will never experience heart break again. But we will have the power of grace in our lives which will give us assistance and strength far beyond our own means. The Holy Ghost is able to more consistently be our companion and we will be better able to receive personal revelation and the mysteries of God (including what he wants for us in our life) will be unfolded to us step by step.
The broken heart seems to come naturally to us, but the contrite spirit we have to work towards, and at times it is a lot of work, but it is worth it every time.