This summer, I had numerous opportunities to observe the transition of a bird’s life on the balcony outside my office; from egg to nestling to flying the coup . During its first few weeks of life, the developing embryo is protected by a hard shell. When the time is right, this hardened shell must be cracked open and set aside before the nestling can continue in life. If the shell were to remain intact, the bird would never live or fly. What once preserved life, threatens to take it away.
After Amulek, his junior companion, finished preaching to the wicked and cunning lawyers in Ammonihah – specifically to one of the more cunning of them all – Alma continued to challenge Zeezrom. He explained how one might better understand the gospel, and the mysteries of God: “And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God…And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.” (See Alma 12:9-10.)
As we mature from the innocence of being a little child, certain emotions and influences change our hearts from being soft and susceptible to the Spirit of God, until they become hardened just like the bird egg. We tend to become callous and selfish, afraid to open our hearts to others, and to instead be simply more concerned about our own well-being. The hardened heart may be protecting the vital organ from outside dangers, but it is also preventing us from opening our wings and sharing the wonderful world with others.
Often, tragedy or falling on bad times will soften a hardened heart. 9-11 was a perfect example of our hardened hearts being softened. Our vulnerability as a country softened many hearts, and people again looked to God for answers, love and strength. We were genuinely concerned for families that we did not know; we feared the rising death tolls as the news covered the disasters; and we felt deep appreciation towards all firemen and policemen – not just those in New York City. Then, as the days, weeks and months went by, the shell again began to harden around many hearts, and as a people, we soon transitioned back to being more selfish and uncaring towards others; a general population that fell prey to the minority striving to remove God from our classrooms, our money, our monuments – even from our homes and out of our hearts.
The best heart to start with, when doing the softening, is our own. And the best time to start is before the tragedy or before the loss of a dear one. The hard shell around our heart may protect the life-providing pump circulating blood through our arteries and veins, but it is also keeping out the Spirit of God – the almighty softener of human emotions. The bird’s egg doesn’t crack all at once, nor should we expect the same with our hardened heart. A simple prayer to our Heavenly Father is a great place to start. Listening to inspirational talks which focus our emotions inward, looking to outwardly help others, are great medicines to our soul. My eyes continue to swell with emotion every time I hear Silent Night or I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. The same happens when the worshipful hymns I Stand All Amazed and I Know that My Redeemer Lives are sung in church. The shell around my heart has been cracked and opened, and the Spirit is able to touch me in a delightful way. I can distinctly feel the Spirit penetrate my softened heart – and there are many different sensations when it does so – and I’m just trying to recognize them.
In the above scripture, Alma declared that to him with a softened heart, the mysteries of God shall be made known. The stages of our testimony can certainly help us identify how much softening has been done. Christmas is a beautifully reflective time of the year for us to grow spiritually. With the new year just around the corner, it is also a natural beginning point to conscientiously set goals to improve ourselves. Crack that shell, and let the Spirit of Christ eclipse the Spirit of Christmas in your life today. It is possible for each and every one of us to do so. If we all could simply follow the Spirit…follow the inspiration that is a natural part of human instincts…follow our conscience…we could all be led to reach out and help others, which in turn will only help ourselves.
Crack the shell – preferably from the inside, rather than by use of forces from the outside. Do so ahead of tragedy, and it will be that much more sublime to the soul. At the same time, your testimony will grow stronger, and indeed the mysteries of God will start to be better understood in your daily life. Our faith, testimony and love will grow quickly…as soon as we can shake free of that shell that has hardened around our heart.