(Sacrament Meeting Talk August 30, 2015).
Several months ago a friend shared that she had found a heart-shaped rock while on a beach walk with her daughter. She said she liked to think that when someone’s stony heart is replaced with a fleshy heart that their stony hearts were scattered around shores and mountain trails. I loved this image so much and tucked it away.
A few months after this my kids and I were hiking with my mom and dad to a little known waterfall. After I had pulled the kids down from jagged, wet rocks and what seemed like certain death we sat down for lunch. While exploring we found a small heart-shaped rock and I told the story of the stony heart. Then we found another heart-shaped rock and another one. It seemed to be the gathering place of all heart-shaped rocks. I was by myself looking for more when I held a small rock in my hand. For a moment I wondered if I could peek into this heart. What if the veins of minerals were veins in a heart, or a person’s memories and intentions. I looked at that waterfall canyon imagining the stony hearts littered there and what stories they would tell. Then we found the greatest of all heart-shaped rocks. It was fairly large and very heavy. I became a little attached and wanted to bring it home. I tried to do it a little stealthily because it was heavy and I knew it was the silliest thing to pack out this huge heavy rock for a couple of miles in my Camelback. My dad saw my intent and rather than laugh an my rock, insisted I put it in his already large pack. I don’t know what we could have possibly needed on a day hike that would have warranted that large, heavy backpack, but I wasn’t about to let him pack this large rock out and He wasn’t about to let me pack it out. Fathers, I bet you can guess who won.
The rock now has a place of honor on our bedroom mantle—to remind me of changed and soft hearts, and it is made even more special by my father carrying that burden for me.
I want us all to take a collective deep breath. Breath. And then imagine something you love. Fresh raspberries, fishing, a loyal pet, a family member, your Savior. Doesn’t that make your heart soft and open?
Each week we have the opportunity to offer up our stony hearts to Christ and receive a fleshy heart in return. Elder John Groberg said, “All life as we know it comes through the joining of two separate elements—each necessary. The Savior through his infinite Atonement provides the vital element for us. He asks us to provide the other element—even a broken heart and a contrite spirit. For he will not force us.”
Earlier this year an author wrote that many of us have hard or painful stories and what we really need is for someone to witness that pain. Someone who will listen and hold that space for us. She offered to be a witness for anyone who wanted to write a letter. She would read it, and after reading it would burn it until the ashes cooled, and the heat of that story could no longer burn us. I loved the idea and decided to write her a letter immediately. I sat down and wrote for a couple of hours and the printed out my letter and sealed it with lots of extra stamps to ensure it really got there and not somewhere else and then I held this envelope that seemed so weighty and important. I kinda wanted someone else to read it too and I kinda didn't. So, I carried it around in my purse for a couple of hours and then i knew it had to go that minute. It was time to stop carrying the past around. It was time to literally let go. I didn't have a copy. I didn't save it on my computer and I felt a little sad to see it go. I dropped it in the blue post office mailbox feeling like I needed to share with someone this moment, but I couldn't even really put my finger on how to talk about it.
Later I realized, I think that is exactly what Christ is. A witness. A witness to our pain and our soul-splitting joy and all the imbetweens. He can sit with us and not be scared, or overpowered by it. We don't have to be ashamed or hold back or edit or apologize for the things we are bringing for him to witness. Really, he already has.
he sits with us until we are finished. and sometimes we aren't ready to let go yet. so he waits. until we come again. But, there is a time when we are ready to let it go and he holds out his open hands, ready to receive our letter in his. he knows its weight. he knows its beauty. and he records it. Right there on his palms. He writes our names there, along with hundreds, thousands, millions of others. But in that moment it's only our name that matters when he looks us in the eye and says, "You are enough." and takes it from us, for us and we sit there in that vast emptiness, without that heavy burden, just soaking in the potential. He is our witness. That is the atonement and when we are ready, we walk away. Unburdened.
After that experience I kinda thought I would be done. I’d you know let everything go. This summer I bumped up against an experience and knew I needed to dig deeper and work through some more forgiveness and letting go.
Two weeks ago, at BYU Education Week a teacher spoke about love, forgiveness and healing and then she invited us to “leave the past you wished for behind.” I was totally stunned by that statement. That was the final piece. I was still holding on to this dream that things could have been different for me. What if we could move forward without wishing for a different past? I wanted to do something with this thought. In fact, maybe I’d make a big bonfire. I needed something BIG to mark this transition. As I was making these epic plans the thought came to me almost immediately. . .the sacrament. Take that to the Savior, through the sacrament. There is already the very thing I was wishing/hoping for in place. I didn’t need a bonfire, there was an ordinance provided for me to leave my past behind.
Did you know the sacrament is the only ordinance that we partake of more than once for ourselves? Think of baptism, or temple ordinances. We partake of them once for ourselves and then after we are proxies for our ancestors. It is also the ordinance that Elder Holland said is “available most readily and repeatedly.” Isn’t that beautiful? The most frequent ordinance is for ourselves.
In the New Testament, remember the story of the woman at the well? I’ve always wondered why Christ asks the woman to give him water. Why, when he is sitting right there? BYU professor, Shon Hopkins, at Education Week pointed out the pattern and symbolism of this. We, like the woman at the well give our small offering, our limited efforts, our broken heart. Christ in return gives us, his everything, a whole heart, everlasting waters. Just like we are baptized in water, we can become clean each week through the sacrament.
Come, offer your stony heart, receive a fleshy heart back. Come, let me witness your mess-ups, your mishaps or your paint and hurt and when you leave, witness of me, like the woman at the well who went back to tell her town. BUT we need to come. We need to be on that bench, and we need to come with that offering and intent to receive it back.
For most of my life I’ve learned about the Atonement. It was hard for me to imagine and comprehend. And when I asked, in prayer, for the Atonement to work in my life I would kind of imagine it as a mystical blog—like it was a floating, shapeless thing that somehow came and like magic made things better. This year I was praying that prayer, that the Atonement would come, in that very moment to intercede and heal a relationship with a child. I needed it right that second. In that moment I saw instead of this mystical vapor, the image of my Savior, literally standing between my child and I. Ah, that’s the Atonement. Our Savior there beside us, to witness, to enable, to bear our stony hearts down the mountain for us and offer us a lighter, fleshy heart in return.
I wonder, if rather than thinking of Christ, we think WITH Christ. If we saw him sitting with us, as we reach out our meager offerings, our cups of water, our humble attempts at forgiveness, or breaking bad habits, or listening to the heart break no one else has heard.
Would we imagine “his heart that was bruised and broken” in order to give us a heart that is whole? What if we asked Him to enable us, “to fill our hearts with sweet forgiving, teach us tolerance and love?” Why do we desire a new heart? What do we do with it? We move forward filled with His love so we can offer it to others, as a witness. Elder Groberg said, “Join with Christ in the sacrament as a reminder of his love. When we are filled with HIS love we can endure pain, quell fear, forgive freely, avoid contention, renew strength and bless and help others.” Who of us doesn’t need one—if not all-of those things every week?
I know my Savior loves me. I know he accepts my meager offerings and offers me grace, love and forgiveness in return. I testify of His love for you. May we all more fully access his power as we partake of the ordinance that reminds of us his Atonement.