What does it mean to have a “Broken heart and a contrite spirit?”

For most of my life I always pictured the requirement for having a broken heart and a contrite spirit was to be “broken” in spirit.  In other words, to be less than I am right now.  To give up my freedom.  Or to lose my sense of self.  Or to give up my free will.  That essentially I would lose my independence and having been broken, become unable to make my own decisions or to standup for myself and be who I want to be.  In some ways, those statements are close to the true meaning of a “Broken Heart” and yet in ways that are subtle and very important they also couldn’t be further from the truth.

It wasn’t until I was at a friend’s house for dinner one night that I understood what it meant to be “broken” in the sense that you would break a horse.  I always assumed it meant you broke the horse’s spirit or sense of independence and that they would now completely obey you without choice.  Hardly a state of mind that I would want to be in towards someone else, even if that someone else were God.  I felt that was wrong somehow and I didn’t want to become like that.

But then my friend shared with me the process he had undertaken over the previous years to break a wild mustang he had adopted from a BLM herd that was growing too big and at risk for disease and death.  He said it all starts with building trust.  Everything is one step at a time and you cannot rush or skip any of the steps.  In the beginning it is as simple as standing near the edge of the coral (not in it) and being completely calm and quiet while the horse whinnies and bucks around the coral in nervousness and anxiety.  Eventually the horse will be fine and learn to tolerate you.  Then you might sit on the edge of the coral and eventually you stand in the coral on the opposite side of the horse.  Slowly, ever so slowly you work up to standing by the horse and gently petting him or her.  Each step is slow and steady.  And after a while the horse comes to trust you a bit, especially since every time you get close to it they get to eat this delicious apple you pull out of your pocket 😉

Once the horse has become comfortable with you, then you might lay a bridle on its head or a blanket on its back.  Again, no pressure, and you’re not even requiring the horse to do anything other than trust that you won’t hurt it and that you mean it no harm.  By the end of a year or two you’re able to saddle the horse, put a bridle over its head, a bit in its mouth, and then climb in the saddle and ride around without the horse bucking you off.

When a horse is “broken” it simply means that it completely trusts you.  It knows that you are its source of food, care, treats, and kindness.  It knows you will do it no harm and it will follow your lead because of that complete trust.

As soon as I heard my friend share his experience of breaking his wild mustang I instantly had the recognition of what it means to have a “Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit.”  It means that step by step, day by day, we learn to trust God and give our will to Him.  Not because he has “broken our spirit” as a harsh master, but rather, as a loving Father He has completely earned our trust.  We WANT to follow Him.  We WANT to give our will to Him.  Because He will never break that trust, He will never harm us, and He will teach us how to become something greater than we ever imagined!

And, God has tasty apples as well 😉  Each blessing he pours upon us is a tender mercy that shows His love for us and those around us.

If you’re struggling to give your will to God, or having a hard time with one of the steps (I think of step 3: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God”), I hope that you can think of the horse that trusts its master to care for it and teach it.  That ultimately, giving our will to God does not make us weaker or somehow less than we could be or currently are, but rather, giving our will to God will make us greater than we could ever be without Him.

My name is Mike

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