Consider the Heart

To say something changed your life is no light thing.  Well, I’m about to say it, and with enthusiasm.  A Heart Like His changed my life!  Virginia Pearce’s new book came to my mailbox for review on the perfect day. I was two weeks away from teaching a class at our Stake Women’s Conference.  My topic was about lighting a path for others.  I had designed my own experiment of sorts and emailed thirty women in my life, asking them to pray for opportunities to share the gospel and then report.  A small handful responded with positive experiences.  Almost half returned my email with sentiments of failure, full plates and no time.  The other half didn’t respond.  While trying to draw conclusions from my less than effective email experiment, A Heart Like His arrived.  I read the press release, then the intro.  To say the least, I was intrigued.  Pearce’s book was about an experiment – she used that very word.  So I read on.

Prior to opening Pearce’s book, I read Elder Eyring’s talk, A Child and a Disciple, from General Conference, April 2003.  He says those who effectively share the gospel simply understand who they are.  Elder Bednar spoke recently to young priesthood holders about becoming a missionary long before going on a mission.  And Elder Oaks spoke in October Conference 2000 about the challenge to become.  I was starting to get the message at this point.  But it was Sister Pearce’s book that brought it home for me.  In fact, she helped me put this divine principle into action in a totally accessible way.

Unintentionally, my email to all those special women in my life became one more thing tacked onto their already exhaustive to-do list.  And when they couldn’t respond in the positive, they felt they had let me down, or worse – let the Lord down, because they didn’t have an Ensign-worthy missionary experience to share.  So you will see, Sister Pearce’s words, at the conclusion of her first Chapter, made me want to shout aloud in affirmation.  She writes, “I hope that the simplicity of our experiment won’t insult you, that you will think it inviting to consider your own heart.  Perhaps my friends and I are the only ones on the planet…making life harder than it really is, but maybe, just maybe, it’s harder for you than it needs to be also!” (16).  Simplicity – we all need more of that don’t we?  A focus on becoming, not doing, or adding to our lists – that seems attainable doesn’t it?  A reflection on the state of our hearts – that’s what the Lord really wants, isn’t it?  Our hearts?

Making Space

Pearce’s book is about making space for the love of God in our lives by opening our hearts. She writes, “The love of God is truly the most joyous and delicious thing we can experience on this earth…But experiencing the love of God can be an elusive thing.  Though we believe that His love is constant and unchanging, we seem unable as mortals to consistently feel it. And if we can’t feel it, we are unable to help others feel it” (xi).

Pearce then asks this question, formulated within the sensitivities of her own spirit.  “What can I do, beyond being obedient to the commandments and praying fervently, that will help me feel [God’s] love, personally, every day?” (32).

In a busy world and a busy Church where women in Zion are “anxiously engaged” in a plethora of good causes, there is wisdom in making space for something as lasting and filling as the love of the Lord.  Sometimes we think we can’t help others feel God’s love until we feel it ourselves.  Surely there is truth in this.  But Pearce submits that maybe the converse can work too.  Maybe as we crack our hearts open to receive others, God’s love will slip in as well.  So I wondered, will taking time to welcome others into my personal space amplify my feelings of love to and from the Lord?  I was willing to try.

For Sisters In or Out of Zion

A Heart Like His is meant to help the reader “explore and experiment with the simple concept of opening her heart – simply making space for the Lord and others” (xi).

I’m sure you caught the pronoun at work.  Yes, this book is written for women.  Yet, Pearce makes its content graspable for women everywhere.  I love that it has been easy for me to share this book with some of my Christian friends active in other faiths.  We could use more books like this.  Pearce does, however, pay beautiful tribute to the covenant women of Relief Society.  “Their individual goodness inspires me, their love supports me, and their eagerness to change and become more like the Savior gives me energy to move forward” (x).

Now back to the experiment.  “Because this experiment is more about becoming than doing, it is simple, doesn’t consume time, actually creates energy, and is therefore self-perpetuating” (xi). 

The Experiment

The genius of Pearce’s experiment is its simplicity.  Insulting?  No.  Inspired?  Yes.  The simplicity makes it accessible, doable, and approachable.  So – are you ready for the experiment?  Sister Pearce sat down with a group of Relief Society sisters and together they committed to the idea of splitting their hearts open a bit wider.  Here were their rules:

1.       “To be more aware of the condition of our hearts and with that awareness to keep them more open toward others.” 
2.       “To do this in the normal course of our lives, in other words, not put any extra activities into our day – no extra visits, no preparing of casseroles, etc.  Above al, people were not to become “projects,” and our lives were not to be filled with more things to do!”
3.       “Notice the Spirit, and be willing to come together and honestly report what happened or hadn’t happened” (9).

Isn’t the second rule liberating?  What a comforting stipulation to not add anything extra to our daily activities!  Pearce et. al decided they would simply become more aware of the condition of their hearts during natural encounters that presented themselves in the natural flow of their lives.  I loved this!  When sharing Pearce’s experiment with my Mother (who was one of the women in my email experiment who did not respond), she said, “Open my heart?  Now that…I can do!”

Open Heart vs. Closed Heart

Imagery can be a powerful way to keep gospel principles alive in our minds.  Pearce uses imagery to spur introspection.  She asks readers to reflect on attributes, adjectives, and visuals that represent an open heart.  What about a closed heart?  What does a heart look like when it is closed?  Go one step further and think about what causes your heart to shut down.

Pearce explains, “The heart is a physical organ.  It is also the center of our emotional and spiritual life.  Exactly how all the functions are connected no one understands, but there is an undeniable relationship…At the risk of sounding odd, I can tell you that I can actually feel my heart change its physical texture, size, and position, in relation to my spiritual condition.

  It gets hard and tiny and moves back behind my chest wall when I am angry and withdrawn and self-absorbed.  On the other hand, when I am filled with love and reaching out to others, it softens and warms and moves forward – it is enlarged and full” (17).

>Experimenting with an open heart taught Pearce that one of her personal red flags – a sign that her heart needs checking, is when she feels she can’t attend to someone because she’s too busy.  “Bad habit.  And that’s all it is, I have discovered…Because an open heart isn’t really as much a matter of time as it is a matter of being present, available, and open to whomever is in my physical space at any given moment” (22). 

Let me illustrate by sharing one of Pearce’s personal anecdotes.  All her stories are gems, perfectly placed to illuminate brilliant points.  But this was my favorite.  Pearce writes about taking her mother, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, shopping for a winter coat.  (She admits shopping is not one of her favorite activities.)  After a long afternoon, they finally found the right coat, but it needed alterations.  Sister Hinckley stepped onto a raised platform and Sister Pearce found a chair.  “I sank into a chair in the corner of the fitting room, lost in my own little world, wondering if I had time on the way home to stop at the grocery store to pick up something for dinner.  Gradually, on the edges of my consciousness, I began to hear a conversation.  Mother would ask a question, and the alterations lady would answer.  At first the answers were rather brief, but as the questions and interest from Mother continued, the answers became longer.  The woman’s voice became more animated. By the time we left, the two of them were laughing together like old friends.  And I was left out – a shriveled, self-absorbed, tired little soul in the corner.  And withholding myself, I exited just as I had entered.  I looked at Mother.  She had come in just as weary as I but was leaving with an extra spring in her step” (23).

A discovery!  In retrospect, Pearce realized that “opening one’s heart creates energy.  Closing one’s heart depletes energy” (23).  Pearce learned that an open heart evaporates feelings of being worn down or burned out.  She also learned that having an open heart didn’t put her behind at the end of the day.  Receiving others and expanding her interest outside herself, took only a few moments, or minutes, and gave her more energy to move happily through her day.  This leads me to several other tips or promises Pearce wants readers to be aware of if they accept her challenge.

Synopsis of Promises

  • Remember reciprocity – “An open heart often coaxes open someone else’s closed heart” (24).
  • Examine your motives – “Open-hearted encounters aren’t all about sweet affirming words, they are about…motives” (63).  “Learning to live with an open heart is not about learning to say the right words and refraining from saying the wrong words.  In fact, just the opposite…when my heart is open and filled with God’s love, I cannot say it wrong, and when it is hardened and closed to Him, I simply cannot say it right, no matter how carefully I may choose my words or…inflections of voice” (64).
  • Stay in the word – “When I want to feel [God’s] love for me more fully, I do whatever it takes to stay in the words of the prophets.  I keep my general conference issue of the Ensign open. I keep my scriptures open” (41).
  • Understand there will be risks – “One of the main reasons for hardening and moving your heart back into your chest wall is to protect yourself and your own vulnerabilities from being discovered by another” (74).  Pearce reminds us – there is little risk in taking a place of cookies to someone, but there will be risk in opening your heart.
  • Think about who you are becoming An open heart helps us become like Christ, not just do Christ like things.  “Do you see why it is vital to be filled with His love?  It doesn’t just make life nicer or more pleasant…being filled with the love of God actually changes everything because it has the power to completely change us inside…from a natural man into a son or daughter of God…one who has become like Him” (106).
  • Honestly reflect or report – “In doing so, [we]…understand our personal stumbling bocks and strengths” (25).

Hypothesis Verified

So why share with you my own timely experience of coming across Virginia Pearce’s book?  By doing so, I hope to verify Pearce’s hypothesis and add my personal witness to hers.  I received her book on a Saturday, read it Sunday, and began my open-heart experiment Monday.  It seemed to be the exact message the Lord wanted me to learn in preparation for Stake Women’s Conference.  Additionally, I felt it was what He wanted me to share with the women of our Stake. So I put it to the test. 

My first encounter was on that Monday after a heavy snowfall.  Coming home from the grocery store, I passed a young girl in a sports car trying to pull away from the curb, wheels spinning, going nowhere.  She was stuck on a slight uphill grade and because I had a tired baby in tow, I would have normally thought, someone else will help her.  But I did a quick check of my heart and in the very moment I thought about my heart, it flew open and I was drawn towards this young girl.  In seconds, I was turning the car around and pulling up behind her.  I jumped out and asked if I could help.  We tried to dig her tires out so she could catch some traction but to no avail.  So I got behind her car and while she pushed the gas, I braced my feet against the curb.  With what I am convinced was divine help I pushed her car out.  She was relieved, said thank you, and left. 

The lesson, however, came in one brief comment she made as we were flicking snow from her tires.  Pausing, she looked at me and said, “Thank you so much for stopping.  If it were any other day it wouldn’t matter.  But I am on my way to my Grandmother’s funeral and I can’t be late.” 

What if I hadn’t stopped?  But I did stop because I thought about the state of my heart.  As I hopped back into the car, five minutes later (that was all!), my soul was aflight.  The Holy Spirit soaked my being and that single experience carried me the entire week.  It was like an addiction.  I wanted more of it.  I felt I had found that “new heart” Ezekiel writes about.  Since then I have had other wonderful moments arise in the natural course of my day.  Just yesterday, I had a lively discussion about Christ and Mormonism with an African man who works at the Jiffy Lube. 

Most Joyous to the Soul

Nephi was right.

  Remember when the angel asked him if he knew the meaning of the tree of life?  He said,  ““Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things…Yea, and the most joyous to the soul” (1 Nephi 11:22-23).

Sister Pearce writes, “You and I cannot possibly know the hidden pain eating holes in individual lives, so if we want to be saviors, in partnership with the Lord, we will be kind to everyone, everywhere, all of the time” (68). 

This review is almost embarrassingly gushing.  But I believe A Heart Like His is a book for all women in all seasons of life – a must-read that has the potential to transform lives.  It did mine.  Buy it, borrow it – somehow get your hands on it.  To quote Sister Pearce, “I want a heart like His.  What about you?” (106).