The gas gauge on my husband’s car went out this last week, and I followed him to the dealership so he could leave the car with them for the day. During my drive alone I used the time to meditate and listen to some relaxing music to prepare for the day. Upon entering the car, my husband started sharing what he needed to get done in an effort to coordinate the use of one car for the day. I’m not sure exactly what set us both off, but we each started feeling offended by the other. Tension quickly rose, and soon we were both in silent frustration. I sat in the silence trying to evaluate what had just happened. My natural tendency would be to harden my heart and harbor those bad feelings. (which my logical self finds odd because who wants to perpetuate the bad?) Time and experience have taught me that if I quickly identify the change in my attitude or heart and try to resolve the negative feelings I’m less likely to have them take over my day.
For years I’ve had a bit of a fascination with the use of the word heart. People can be described as hard-hearted, broken-hearted, having a brave heart, or being pure in heart. Our heart is the window to our soul, and loving with all of our heart suggests trusting with the deepest and most fragile parts of our soul.
Part of the residual effects of my fascination with hearts has led to a desire to understand the role my choices make in changing my heart – the type of person I am becoming. I’ve often thought of how life in general affects my heart. The dark and bad things of the world seem to have a similar effect on my heart when I allow myself to be subjected to them. On the flip side – when I surround myself with the good and positive I feel a little better on the inside as well.
My sister had an anesthesiologist friend who had a heart attack. He had been educated and trained to recognize heart conditions; yet, when he saw the symptoms in himself he pushed them aside and denied their importance. With our hearts being the window to our soul – it is important to learn how to examine the condition of our hearts – or who we really are when no one is looking.
I’m reminded of a story from the Book of Mormon. It’s found in Alma 47 and tells of the subtly of the enemy in achieving his goal. Lehonti was the leader of the Lamanites who had fled from Amalickiah and his evil plans. He and those he led were gathered on the top of mount Antipas, and were “fixed in their minds with a determined resolution”1 that they would not come down from the mount and fall into Amalickiah’s hands. Amalickiah was unwavering in his desire to overpower Lehonti and eventually become king over all of the Lamanites. He was subtle in his attempts to lure Lehonti to come down. With false promises and deceitful lies, he slowly gained Lehonti’s confidence. Once Amalickiah had secured his trust he ordered Lehonti to be slowly “poison[ed] by degrees”2 until he died. It was not just a matter of poisoning Lehonti in one fell swoop, but “by degrees.” Small amounts that were not perceptible, but still had a devastating effect.
I believe this happens today. First we tolerate, then accept, and finally embrace the negativity, frustration or criticism that surrounds us. Are we deceived by worldly whisperings, or persuaded by self-defeating thoughts that blind us to the condition of our heart? Is our heart being slowly poisoned by degrees so that even we are not aware?
I think of how often I ignore the warning signs of my own heart because of my pride or strong will. It is not until we give up our will to do His that our hearts are open to Christ’s healing power. Christ said he was sent to “heal the broken-hearted,” but also asks that we have “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” To me that means that to be healed we must be humble, meek and submissive. So sensitive to the things of the spirit that we can identify when our adversary might be trying to poisoning us by degrees. Sensitive enough to notice when one drop of poison might be destroying our attitude, fostering frustration, or giving way to ingratitude. It is being able to perceive the small changes and choosing how we will let it affect us. Choosing a pure heart over a hard heart. Allow the good to overcome and push the poison away.
So back to our drive home from the dealership this week. I am not proud to admit that my natural tendency won out, and I let that poison to take hold of my heart for a good two days. I allowed myself to feel justified in my reaction – kind of like when a 1st grader justifies calling his friend a bad name because his friend did it first. I was reminded this week of how quickly that poison can get out of control and spread throughout the different aspects of our life. I had to make a conscious choice to take back the control. To forgive and move on as I allowed the healing balm of the Atonement make my heart whole again.
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Will you allow life to teach you or defeat you