Editor’s Note: Beloved Meridian author Darla Isackson recently passed away. We will continue to share her wonderful insights here periodically.

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 while 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 who 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 gift of feeling His love and power in my life in my darkest hours. When I first wrote on this topic in May 2004 I expressed gratitude for spiritual strength received in three dark times:

  1. when I was lying injured and helpless at a time my family desperately needed my service,
  2. when I was struggling with the difficult consequences of divorce,
  3. when my heart yearned year after year for a son who kept himself far away from church and family and was struggling. I desired with my whole soul to love and comfort and help him, but he rarely let me in.

Five months later I lost that son to suicide and I learned a new definition of becoming acquainted with the Lord in our extremities. The solid principles outlined in this article became an anchor to my soul. I determined that my broken heart would stay open to the Light.

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 Elder Bednar 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, vol. 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.’”

The Blessings of Realizing Our Constant Need for the Savior

It is not our life’s goal to live so well or so free of tribulation that we don’t need the Savior or His atonement. Instead, what the Lord desires for us is that we be humbled to the point that we realize we need Him every hour. Many thorny paths can lead to the kind of broken heart that opens in a powerful way to accessing the atonement and receiving the Savior’s light consistently. In his book Clean Hands, Clean Heart, Phil Harrison tells about his victory over addiction to pornography and clarifies the blessings he has experienced through the repentance process. He said, “I testify to you that learning how to live in a state of constant repentance, of continual awareness of your need for the Savior is not an act of weakness, but actually the retention of His strength. Today, it is second nature to converse with Him and counsel with Him in my mind, and not just when I’m facing temptation. He has become my best friend, my counselor, my salvation. Has my weakness been turned into a blessing and my sorrow into praise? Amazingly, they have! . . . How could being conscious of Him and His love and power day to day and hour to hour be regarded as anything but a blessing?”

Delayed Answers to Prayer

A broken heart seems to be essential to real spiritual growth. Heavenly Father may for a time even withhold urgently needed answers to heart-felt prayers when He knows that doing so will help us accomplish this level of humility and teachableness. David A. Christensen tells a personal experience that is an excellent example of this. At the time of the story, he had recently been called as president of the Utah Salt Lake City Mission, and was faced with the decision of whether to send home four errant missionaries. He learned of the unfortunate situation on a Friday and had only until Monday morning to decide what to do. Those in authority over him expressed confidence that the Lord would reveal to him the correct decision and assured him they would support him in whatever decision he made. Oh, how he would like to have gone to the Lord, gotten an answer, and had a “nice weekend.”

Instead, he spent the entire weekend fasting and praying and pleading with the Lord to reveal His will–seemingly to no avail. Sunday night at midnight he was still in his office praying and pleading, and still having no idea what the Lord wanted him to do. The four Elders were returning at 7:00 a.m. to receive his direction. At 1:00 a.m. Monday morning still no answer, and President Christensen became truly broken hearted. He sat on the floor and wept and reminded the Lord of the promises in the blessing that set him apart to be mission president. “I can’t be mission president when I cannot get revelation. I just want to do what you want me to do. How can I learn your will?”

Finally, the Lord answered his humble, heart-broken prayer, and he tells of an amazing spiritual experience where he felt the Savior’s presence. He was comforted, assured of the Lord’s great love for him, and told He would indeed work through President Christensen to lead the mission. He went to his desk and the Lord opened the scriptures to him that he needed to share with the four missionaries. When they came at 7:00, President Christensen was able to say, “I can tell you that the Lord has revealed His will concerning you. You are not going home. We will work together and overcome this problem.” They all wept, and President Christensen was not the same mission president he had been before this trial of faith. He had persevered with the Lord, by becoming broken-hearted, and had been taught much about the process of personal revelation. (As told in a talk on cassette produced by Deseret Book titled “Discovering the Power of Personal Revelation.”)

Only Light Can Repel Darkness

Why is it so important to have our hearts broken in a way that will let in the light? The darkness of the world swirls all around us. Only light has the power to repel darkness. Douglas T. Bentley said, “What is there about light that makes it so different from darkness? Light will repel darkness, but darkness has no power over light. In fact, all that darkness appears to be is the absence of light”(Abraham’s Seed and Covenant, p. 114).

Since Jesus IS the light, spiritual darkness is simply the absence of the Savior or the absence of His truth. I like to visualize the Savior with arms outstretched, protecting us from the darkness of the adversary.

George Q. Cannon taught the following: “Our only preservation is in living near to God, day by day, and serving him in faithfulness, and having the light of revelation and truth in our hearts continually, so that, when Satan approaches, we will see him and understand the snare that he has laid for us. . . .Can we do this without the light of the Spirit? No; we cannot see where the path upon which we have entered will lead to; we cannot tell what the results will be; but when the light of the Spirit of God illuminates our minds and we are enlightened by it, we plainly see . . .”

In every trial of life, I pray that we may turn toward the Lord, not away from Him, and that our hearts will break with godly sorrow that will open them wide to let out the pain and let in the Light.