What do the scriptures mean by ‘broken heart and contrite spirit’?


It seems counterintuitive—a God who loves us and who wants us to be happy desires that we have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. In his new book, Divine Patterns, bestselling author Roger Connors breaks down what these requirements for true repentance truly mean.

“What does it mean to have a broken heart? One example many of us relate to is having your heart broken at the end of a romantic relationship. Remember how that felt? Ouch! It was an inescapable pain that hung on longer than you ever thought possible. It was humbling. There may have even been a moment when you would have done anything to change the outcome—be granted a ‘do-over.’

“When you recognize that you have offended God and likely others through your actions and words, you should also feel brokenhearted—it might even feel a bit like that devastating romantic disappointment. This may not happen all at once, but as you come until Christ and draw nearer to Him, you will have a sense of growing regret that you have offended and jeopardized your standing before Him. And oh, how you would then wish for a do-over, making it as though it had never occurred.”

A broken heart may be an easier get than a contrite spirit. But “what of a contrite spirit?” Connors asks. “The Hebrew rendering of the word in many scriptures is defined as ‘crushed’ or ‘dust.’ Meaning that when we are contrite, we have developed a willingness to totally submit to God’s will, having crushed the instincts of the natural man and completely rooted them out. In such a state, having recognized that we are less than the dust of the earth, we are ready and want to be obedient to God. Those who are truly contrite no longer resist the things of the Spirit but embrace them and choose that God should be their guide.”

Connors shares quotes from others on this topic. For example, Elder Neil L. Andersen, in his book The Divine Gift of Forgiveness said, “Those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit are willing to do anything and everything that God asks of them without resistance or resentment.” Elder Bruce D. Porter taught that this broken heart “serves as a divine shield against temptation” moving forward.

On this week’s All In podcast, Connors shared more on this topic.

You can hear the full episode by clicking here or listening in the player below. You can also read a full transcript here.

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.

Morgan Jones Pearson: I wanted to kind of dig into one of these patterns if it’s okay with you. And it is that of the role of a broken heart, a contrite spirit, and repentance. So, you start out, and you kind of break down both a broken heart and then a contrite spirit. When you’re talking about a broken heart, you compared it to a romantic relationship. I wondered if you could share that principle with listeners?

Roger Connors: I think one way to think about that is who hasn’t had a broken heart in a romantic situation? Everybody can relate to that. Right? You feel the pains of loss, love, and whatever rejection or whatever it might have been. And for many of us, that was not just an emotional feeling. It was a physical feeling. I mean, it was pretty comprehensive.

And I think when our Father in Heaven talks about that, that’s the sacrifice He’s looking for when it comes to sin—intentionally disobeying the laws of God. That when we do that, we feel that sense of sorrow, that something’s missing, something’s been taken away. And that causes us to want to come back to Him to be made whole.

I’m grateful for the moments I felt a broken heart and contrite spirit because it’s caused me to be better at what I do and what I’m trying to accomplish in terms of becoming like the Father. If we’re walking the covenant path, the promise is that we will have never-ending happiness, and we will be blessed to have all things that are before us. Heavenly Father rejoices in our strengths and talents, He delights in our creations and achievements and our service. He celebrates our expressions of love and selflessness. He revels at our being agents unto ourselves. He loves us and is so excited for us when we’re on the path doing the things that he wants. But He’s sad and heartbroken when we sit and we disregard the laws of God, which are boundaries that He’s helped to set for us so that we can be kind, merciful, and holy.

So I think He really wants us to be ready for thrones, kingdoms, principalities, powers, dominions, exultation, all heights and depths, maybe even our own double universe, I don’t know. And His intention is to help us get there. He’s told us a broken heart and a contrite spirit is the sacrifice we should bring to the sacrament, and lay upon the altar so that we can become like Him. That’s a small sacrifice to pay for all the blessings that are yet before us. So I would just say, I know He is committed to helping us achieve what He has planned for us, and He will help us every step of the way. If we feel like He’s left us, that it’s not working out, that His promises aren’t coming to pass, we just need to hang in there and know … that He will bring about his purposes and plans for us, but it will be according to His own timing, and His own way and His own approach.

Morgan Jones Pearson: For sure. And I love when you talk about a contrite spirit, and you highlight how the Hebrew rendering of that word in the scriptures is defined as “crushed or dust.” And I think sometimes it can be hard to understand why a loving God would allow us to feel brokenhearted or crushed or why He would even ask that of us. But I think it’s profound to think about the fact that sometimes it’s that brokenheartedness or feeling crushed that allows us to turn to Him in ways that we might not otherwise.

Divine Patterns: Seeking the Blessings of Heaven

As we increase our understanding of God's divine patterns, we will better know what we can do to enjoy every blessing our Father in Heaven has waiting for us. We will also be strengthened with patience and hope as we look forward to the day that seemingly withheld blessings are eventually granted, trusting that the Lord can and will fulfill all of His promises.

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