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Hearts - Healed and Holy

"Hearts - Healed and Holy" - by President John S. and Sister Susan W. Tanner

Susan and I are delighted to welcome you back to campus. We love you and we love BYU–Hawaii.

Today we want to talk with you about the heart, which we feel is a fitting focus for the first devotional after President Russell M. Nelson has become our new prophet. As a heart surgeon and an apostle, President Nelson has touched many hearts, both literally and spiritually. He has touched our hearts and we love him.

Sister Tanner will talk about a healed heart. I will then talk about a holy heart.

But first, let me preface our talks by briefly summarizing a few ways “heart” is used in the scriptures. I do this in the spirit of President Nelson, who read every reference to Jesus Christ in the Topical Guide and challenged us to do the same. I suggest you do the same for “heart.”

“Heart” is a particularly rich word in scripture. It refers to our feelings, desires, thoughts, and motives. It designates the very core of our beings. “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).

The God we worship looks not only upon our outward actions but upon our hearts (1 Sam 16:7). He discerns the “thoughts and intents” of our hearts (Heb. 4:12, Mosiah 5:13; Al. 18:32; D&C 6:16, 33:1). He “searcheth” the heart (Rom. 8:27; Rev. 2:23). He, and only He, fully knows its secrets (Ps. 44:21; Luke 16:15) and hence who we truly are.

He commands us to love him with all our hearts (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37; Luke 10:27; D&C 59:5). His gospel focuses on where our heart is—on what we love and treasure, on our motives. God’s purpose is to put His law into our hearts (Jer. 31:33; Is. 51:7; Heb. 8:10; 10:16). His word, which was written on “tables of stone,” must be engraved on “the fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3).

The Lord can heal wounded and broken hearts. He came to earth specifically to bind up the brokenhearted (Ps. 147:3; Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18; D&C 138:42). At the same time, paradoxically, He requires us to bring to the altar the new sacrifice of a “broken heart and contrite spirit” (Ps. 51:17; 3 Ne. 9:20). “Contrite,” by the way, literally means “ground to pieces.”

As the Master Healer, Christ specializes in spiritual heart transplants. He promises to “take the stony heart out . . . and give you a heart of flesh”—a “new heart” (Ezek. 36:26; 11:19). This new heart is a mightily changed heart with no more disposition to do evil (Mos. 5:2; Al. 5:7; 12-14; Al. 19:33), a sanctified heart (1 Pet. 1:22), a clean heart (Ps. 51:10), a purified heart (Ps. 24:4; 1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Peter 1:22; Ne. 25:16; D&C 136:11).

The great spiritual quest of life is to become pure in heart. The pure in heart are Zion (D&C 97:17). The pure in heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8; 3 Ne. 12:8; James 4:8; D&C 56:18). The pure in heart are fit to dwell with Him for they are full of charity, the pure love of Christ. Hence, when He shall appear they shall be “like him . . . purified even as he is pure” (Moro. 7:48,;1 John 3:2).

Susan will now talk about the healer’s heart. I will then speak about developing a holy heart through holy habits and His help—that is through grit and grace.

The Healers Heart

by Sister Tanner

With the passing of my mother last summer, I felt a greater personal desire to draw the powers of Jesus Christ into my life, to have a healed heart. In his General Conference talk in April of 2017, President Russell M. Nelson said that we could do this by studying about the Savior both in the scriptures and in the document “The Living Christ.”

As John and I memorized the words of “The Living Christ,” the message that kept coming to me was that Christ’s mission to the world was to heal us. He healed mortals on earth: “he walked the roads of Palestine healing the sick, causing the blind to see, and raising the dead.” And he healed us from our wounds, infirmities, and sins eternally through his atonement: “he gave his life to atone for the sins of all mankind.”

I know I have a great need for his healing power in my life. And I would also like to follow His example and be a healer to others. It is interesting that President Nelson is a healer, a healer of hearts. He has spent his life restoring life to others through heart surgeries and heart research. One of the most miraculous stories is the heart surgery of President Spencer W. Kimball. At age 77 President Kimball who was the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was dying of congestive heart failure. This was the diagnosis of his cardiologist, Dr. Wilkinson. And Dr. Russell M. Nelson, the heart surgeon, also determined that the surgery that was needed to save his heart was too complicated and too high a risk for someone of his age, terrible health, and heart condition. Besides all of these factors, Dr. Nelson had never performed this particular operation, which worried him immensely. However, in a meeting with these two doctors and the First Presidency, the first counselor, Harold B. Lee, pronounced that the Lord wanted Spencer W. Kimball to continue to live and to serve the Church. He stated that the surgery must be tried. President Nelson was extremely nervous. The night before the operation, President Harold B. Lee and President N. Eldon Tanner gave Dr. Nelson a blessing. In it, they promised that everything would go perfectly, that he would know what to do. In answer to that prayer, the day-long surgery did go absolutely right in every way. As President Kimball was slowly recuperating President Joseph Fielding Smith died, and 18 months later, the young and vigorous prophet President Harold B. Lee also died, leaving President Spencer W. Kimball at the helm. Many in the Church and in the world worried about his health. But Dr. Nelson wrote a letter that stated he had a healthy body and a healthier heart than he had had for many years. Miraculously, President Kimball led the Church for the next twelve years. Our current prophet Russell. M Nelson, literally saved the life of one of our former prophets. For years he has been a healer of hearts. In his callings, he has also healed hearts spiritually, and he will certainly do that as he continues to serve as God’s instrument in his new high and holy office. The words “heal”, “health”, “whole”, and “holy” all come from the same Old English root word, hal, meaning hearty or whole. This suggests that they are intertwined and that wholeness or well-being is not only speaking of physical health, but also mental, emotional, and spiritual health. There is a connection between our spirituality and faith in Jesus Christ and our physical well-being. When we are well in both ways we are whole. This kind of health is often referred to as the condition of the heart. The scriptures are replete with examples of the well-being of our hearts. Zeezrom in the Book of Mormon had a “burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness.” He was physically sick because of his unrighteousness. He asked Alma and Amulek to heal him. Alma asked him, “Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?’ And Zeezrom said, “I believe all the words that thou hast taught.” Then Alma pronounced healing upon him according to his faith. Zeezrom immediately “leaped upon his feet, and began to walk.” This great healing of his body was dependent upon his spiritual turn-around. He was baptized and began preaching “from that time forth.” His sickness was healed and he became a holy man with a clean heart, all according to his faith. I love the story of the daughter of Jairus. He “besought” Jesus to heal his daughter. But before Jesus could come, a man came from his house and said that it was too late; the daughter had died. Then Jesus said, “Fear not; only believe and she shall be made whole.” (Luke 8:50)I have a painting of this healing miracle that I love. This artist sees the joy of the mother and the wonder of the daughter, but notice who the father is looking at. He is focused with great “astonishment” and a grateful heart on the One who has provided this great healing blessing in their lives, a physical miracle that came because of their spiritual faith in Jesus Christ, the Master Healer. I am so grateful for the Savior’s healing mission to each of us. I would like to be an instrument of healing for others, following His example and the example of our President Nelson and learn the healer’s art. One of my favorite verses in the hymn “Lord, I Would Follow Thee” is:

I would be my brothers’ keeper.
I would learn the healer’s art.
To the wounded and the weary
I would show a gentle heart.
I would be my brothers’ keeper.
Lord, I would follow thee.
(Hymns, No. 220)

I can learn to be a healer by having a “gentle heart.” We have opportunities all around us to serve, to minister, to love, to heal. Loved ones, family members, classmates, ward members, roommates, even strangers, or adversaries may be suffering from some grief or wound or sin. We in our sensitivity and by following the Spirit should help them back to wholeness. Likewise, others may be instruments in the Lord’s hands in healing our hearts in our need.

Last May our oldest grandson Tanner graduated from high school. During those years he had the opportunity to participate in the special needs seminary class. He was assigned to work specifically with Alex who had both mental and physical disabilities. Every day he would walk with Alex from the high school to the Seminary building and then be his friend in the classroom as well. It just so happened that Alex and Tanner were also both in the same ward.

At the end of the school year all of the graduating seniors spoke in a special Sacrament meeting. Alex had been preparing his talk for weeks and was the first on the program to speak. When he stood at the pulpit, he was absolutely paralyzed and could say nothing. Finally, his mother stood beside him, but she couldn’t get him to say anything either. As the situation became more desperate, Tanner felt impressed to go to the pulpit. He put his arm around Alex and read the first line of his talk. Then Alex repeated it. They then continued this pattern, until Alex successfully delivered his message. The trusting hearts they had built during that school year paid dividends in that meeting.

When it was Tanner’s turn to speak, he said, “Today I want to tell you about the seminary steps.” His talk went something like this:

“Every day I walked Alex up the steps to the Seminary building. One day he fell and hurt himself. He was so discouraged that he just sat on the stairs and said he couldn’t go on. I urged him and nudged him and encouraged him, telling him that I would help him make it up those steps and that it would be worth it because of all the fun things the teacher had prepared for us in class that day. Finally, I got him to class. The next day the same thing happened, and I had to encourage and help him all over again. And there were many subsequent days that he sat on the stairs fearful that he would stumble and hurt himself again. But he learned to walk with a more courageous heart, and we made it, day by day. Now we are graduating and moving on to new things. “Today I feel somewhat like Alex on those seminary steps. In my heart, I feel scared to go on. I’ve come from many good experiences at the high school and made it through challenging classes. Now I have some steps to climb to get to the next level, to go to college, to serve a mission, to be ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood, etc. I need courage.; I need help. Sometimes I don’t know how I am going to do it. But then I remember that I have family, friends, leaders, bishops, many people who will be there to urge and encourage me on. And especially I will have a loving Heavenly Father and power from His Son Jesus Christ that will strengthen my heart and help me climb every step of the way.”

Tanner had been a healer in Alex’s life. Can each of us be like Tanner? Can we help those around us to walk with more courageous hearts? And can we have contrite hearts enabling us to seek the healing, helping gifts of Jesus Christ and others in our own need?

In order to have healed hearts, we need to stretch our faith in Jesus Christ and draw His power into our lives. President Russell M. Nelson said,

“When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours. When the Savior knows you truly want to reach up to Him—when He can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw his power into your life—you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do.”

With His power our hearts will be healed. With His power we will also have His strength, virtue, and charity to be His instruments in helping to heal others. May we each be healers of the heart, striving to soften hard hearts, strengthen weak hearts, purify impure hearts, and heal wounded hearts.

A Holy Heart: Grit and Grace

by John Tanner

Thank you Susan for that wonderful talk. I know of no one with a better heart, or so wise a healer. I feel so blessed to be paired with you in this work at BYU–Hawaii and, I hope, in eternity.

I love that last quotation from President Nelson. It describes beautifully what we need to do for ourselves and what God needs to do for us if we would have healed and holy hearts. We need to reach up to Him, striving to be good with all our might. And He needs to reach down to us, reaching our reaching (see LDS Hymns, no. 129)—healing, cleansing, and sanctifying us.

As President Nelson goes on to say, “When you spiritually stretch beyond anything you have ever done before, then His power will flow into you.”

This is the twofold process of sanctification, which literally means to “make holy” (sanctus=holy; facere=to make). To be made holy we must work with all our might and God’s might must work in us. Our duty is to “work out our salvation” (Philip. 2:12; Al. 34:37; Morm. 9:27) by doing all we can. But our works alone cannot save us (2 Ne. 25:23). We need the Lord’s help to root out the natural man by removing the stony from our hearts and changing our very desires. The twofold process of salvation thus requires both grit and grace. Let me talk about each in turn.


“Grit” is the term popularized by Angela Duckworth to describe the kind of strenuous effort President Nelson refers to. Her bestseller Grit has struck a chord because it addresses something often lacking in our soft and self-indulgent culture and because it offers the hopeful message that success is based less on IQ and talent than on hard work and perseverance.

Today I want to emphasize especially perseverance. The subtitle of Grit is “The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” A gritty person is not someone who does a hard thing only once. You don’t demonstrate grit by foregoing dessert once, by exercising one day, or by practicing the piano for one lesson. A gritty person does hard things consistently over time. By the same token, you would not describe a person as truthful if she told the truth only once, or as kind if he was kind only once in his life. The key to grit is persevering in doing hard things, just as the key to moral character is consistently acting virtuously over a long period of time and in all circumstances. Gritty, honest, kind, brave people have these qualities engraved on the heart and soul. It is who they are. It is their character.

Tellingly, the word “character” comes from Greek for a pointed engraving instrument (kharax). Character (kharakter) referred to both an engraved mark, such as the character “b”, and by extension to what is engraved on the soul, such as courage or kindness, by repeated choices.

Understanding this is important for you and me because character education is central to our mission at BYU–Hawaii. President McKay said that BYU-Hawaii exists for two purposes: to develop testimony and character. “Character is higher than intellect,” he said. It is the genuine gold we are to refine here.

To develop a noble character, we must engrave noble virtues on the soul. To engrave such virtues on the soul, we must persevere in the virtues we seek. They must become habitual.

And herein lies the challenge. Developing high and holy habits is hard. It is very easy to make New Year’s resolutions. And it is fairly easy to keep them for a short period of time. But it is very difficult, and very rare, to keep them long enough that they become engrained in us and become habitual. How many of you, for example, are still keeping the New Year’s resolutions you made just two weeks ago? If you are not, you have lots of company. At this point in January, the landscape of most of our lives is already littered with broken resolutions.

For most people, the will is much weaker than inclination or desire. Most people struggle to discipline or school the will sufficiently to create positive new habits. Yet developing good habits is essential to moral virtue. This is not a new idea. Aristotle famously declared in his Ethics that “Moral virtue . . . is formed by habit.” He addresses the connection between habit and moral virtue at length.

I was surprised when I first read Aristotle on the importance of habit to the ethical life. You see, I was accustomed to thinking of moral virtue as a singular heroic choice; some great deed. And I regarded habits as rather dull and uninteresting. Now I come by this bias honestly. I remember once my widowed mother told me, in disgust, that her walking companion insisted on taking the same route every day. “Can you imagine that, John,” she exclaimed. “She never wants to take new paths!”

Her comment reminded me of something the American Romantic author Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden. He was horrified to discover that after a week in the woods he was wearing down a path from his cabin to town because he always took the same route. We, too, he continues, wear grooves in the mind by always following the same mental tracks. Thoreau says he left the woods because he wanted to explore new frontiers, follow new paths. Romantics, like Thoreau and my mother, view habits as the enemy to creativity and to a life fully lived.

But they are not. Good habits are essential to a good life. And the power to master habit is rightly regarded as the power to change our lives. Habits hold a key to success. Hence the plethora of self-help books that contain “habit” in the title: such as The Power of Habit, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Making Habits, Breaking Habits, High Performance Habits, Changing Habits, The Now Habit, The Achievement Habit, and on and on. Every modern success guru, it seems, purports to have the secret to help us master our habits.

Now while I tend to be suspicious of “secret” formulas for success, if any advice by these of other gurus—be it secret or not—helps you actually change your habits, use it gratefully and profitably. I encourage you to start small. Focus on small matters, such as when you get up, your exercise routine, daily prayer, scripture study, service . . . whatever. Then stick with it. Persevere! Gain the sense of self-control that comes from consistently making small and simple correct choices and the spiritual power that comes from acquiring daily holy habits. These will help you exercise control in other bigger areas.

To summarize: Developing high character requires perseverance, grit. It involves doing the right thing over and over until it becomes habitual. Holiness is nurtured by holy habits. There is a spiritual as well as an etymological connection between discipline and discipleship. So my first recommendation about holiness of heart is to practice the discipline of holy habits. This is Godly grit.


Godly grit is crucial to holiness. But it is not enough. You will doubtless discover this if you try to achieve perfection by grit alone, as did the original American self-help guru, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin developed a scheme to master 13 moral virtues by working on one a week, over and over. Franklin eventually discovered that, while he was a better person for trying to implement his Yankee self-improvement scheme, he never succeeded in “arriving at moral perfection” as he hoped. He discovered that some vices, such as pride, were just too deeply rooted in his fallen nature to be plucked out by his own gritty efforts.

For such radical change, we need something—and someone—more. We need more than resolutions. We need repentance. We need more than our own will power. We need our Lord’s power upon our wills. More than gurus and guides, we need a Redeemer. In short, we need grace as well as grit.

I like the First Presidency Message in the Ensign this month, the final message from President Monson. It focuses on repentance rather than merely on resolutions. This is a deeper way to approach change for a new year—one that involves not just the gritty power of our own resolve, but the greater power of our Redeemer’s grace. When His grace sanctifies our grit, fundamental, lasting change is possible.

The hope that we can truly change is annually awakened by the rhythm of a new year, which holds out the promise that we can begin again. A new year reminds us that transformative change is possible; that we can start afresh and enjoy what the Young Women organization calls “New Beginnings.” This, however, would be impossible without the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Without Christ, we could never fully escape from the past.

Imagine what our lives would be if we could never start anew; if there was never a fresh calendar with no mistakes in it; if we were forever condemned to repeat the sins and errors of the past, over and over again. The passage of time without the possibility of change would be truly hellish.

This is precisely how ancient Greek myths imagine damnation. The Greek hell, called Hades, was populated with tragic figures trapped in cyclical time, repeating the same acts over and over: Sisyphus rolls the same rock up the hill over and over; Tantalus stands in a pool of water that constantly recedes from him as he bends to drink. They try to break the cycle and fail over and over again.

On some New Year's Days, I confess to feeling like Sisyphus. I have found myself needing to lose the same ten pounds I tried to lose last year or mend the same bad habit. I suspect that some, if not all of you, have felt this way—trapped in cyclical time.

But the gospel gives us hope that time can truly begin again, that permanent change is possible for you and for me as we join our will to Christ’s. When our resolution deepens into repentance, then through the Redeemer we can experience new beginnings. Then can the past become truly past, the future can be filled with possibility, and we can become new men and women in Christ.

The Christian calendar pays quiet homage to the profound truth that Christ makes a true new year possible. It numbers each passing year from its distance from Christ’s birth, reminding us that Christ bisected time into a “before” and “after”. As Christ bisected history so that time had to be numbered anew, so our individual lives can begin afresh in Him. Through the power of the Atonement, Saul can become Paul. Alma can be reborn. And any day can become a New Year’s Day for you and me, a day of grace and new beginnings. (See “Thoughts on the New Year,” in Notes from an Amateur)

I don’t know how such re-birth happens, but I know that it can happen. Our hearts can be changed so that we “have no more disposition to do evil.” They can become holy, whole, clean, and pure through the Atonement. Such sanctification may not fully occur in this life. It may also come “in the process of time” rather than all in an instant. But whether suddenly or gradually, in this life or in eternity, the Lord can and will create in us a new heart as we strive mightily for this supreme gift.

Through Him, we can accomplish much more than we can through our willpower alone, although we can achieve a great deal through our own efforts! But grit is not enough. By my own effort, for example, I can stop eating chocolate. Susan went 14 years without eating chocolate. That required true grit. But it did not eliminate her appetite for chocolate. God can do more with us than we can do by ourselves. He can change our spiritual palates, as it were. He can change our taste not just for chocolate but for sin. He can even help us like the spiritual equivalents of broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, or poi.

I love this example from the life of George Q. Cannon, from his first mission to Hawaii, which illustrates this point.

“Before leaving Lahaina, I had tasted a teaspoonful of ‘poi;’ but the smell of it and the calabash in which it was contained was so much like that of a book-binder’s old, sour paste-pot that when I put it to my mouth I gagged at it, and would have vomited had I swallowed it. But in traveling among the people I soon learned that if I did not eat ‘poi’ I would put them to great inconvenience; for they would have to cook separate food for me every meal. This would make me burdensome to them, and might interfere with my success. I, therefore, determined to learn to live on their food, and, that I might do so, I asked the Lord to make it sweet to me. My prayer was heard and answered; the next time I tasted it, I ate a bowlful, and I positively liked it” (Cannon, My First Mission, 24-26).

As I said, I don’t know how the Lord can change either our palate or our heart, but I know that He can. For Elder Cannon the change came through his determination (“I determined to live on their food”) and God’s help (“I asked the Lord to make it sweet to me.”) For us, too, the sanctification generally comes through grit and grace.

Now in this life the Lord may not always grant us the holy hearts we so ardently desire. He may require us to endure a “thorn in the flesh” in mortality as he did Paul, that we, too, may learn that his “grace is sufficient” for us in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:7-10). I have had to deal with stubborn thorns in the flesh. But I also have felt God’s healing power forgiving my sins and remaking my heart so that I no longer felt the desire to sin. With Enos, I have hungered for this, pled for this, and when it came cried in amazement: “Lord, how is it done?” (Enos 1:7).

Many years ago, I wrote a poem asking a similar question and praying for similar spiritual transformation. I called it “Sacramental Sonnet”. Let me share it in closing:

How, Lord, how
Can I be other
Than I am now?
Am I my am,
My was, another
I will be when?
Bright aspire
Or dark desire?
To me impart
As is required
A clean heart
Heartily desired.
In thy/my will
Let me be … still.
(Ensign, Sept. 1981)

I pray that we can receive a healed and holy heart, which we so heartily desire, and rest in His will. I testify that the Lord can heal and sanctify our hearts. Not only can He forgive us from our individual sins, He can root out sinfulness. May we strive with all the grit we can muster for this sanctifying grace. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.