Only Everything

 O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

My youngest child was four months old when life started to unravel. The prescription from the dentist that made my stomach hurt- but made my husband float away- turned into the loss of jobs, homes, security, marriage, and a hot five and half year burn. There were times I thought I could not lift my head another day- and truthfully, there were days I didn’t. Looking at the ground made it easier to not acknowledge anything beyond my breathing. In and out. Keep going. If I don’t look up, I won’t falter.

One perceived need after another fell away, and I wondered how long one could free-fall before your breath stopped catching, your eyes stopped tearing against the bitter wind, and falling became normal. There were tender hands and mercies reaching out as I tumbled down, but they were powerless to stop the laws of physics and the cost of agency; their cool hands on my fevered brow offered brief human comfort and let me know I was not alone, even in their helplessness to stop the avalanche of life.

Scriptures and platitudes seemed to mock— no, a traveling husband is not the same as a single mother. Sometimes you are given more than you can bear, and you do fall. Not everything that doesn’t kill us makes us stronger- sometimes things just hurt like hell for no reason. You get used to the dark, to the howling wind, to hard sharp edges that cut and tear as you tumble by, wondering in desperation where God went…

That’s the most terrifying part. The utter and abject desolation of feeling abandoned by God. Lost. Forgotten. Forsaken. In the prolonged absence of light, with nothing to reflect back who you might be, you forget your own edges and question where the darkness ends and you begin. This is the place where your heart cleaves, the contents within spill into the deep darkness, you balk in terror at what seems like the end of the world. But the heart has to break for what’s within to grow… to push out of the darkness, where all seeds sprout, and force its way up, through some miracle, towards the light.

In that moment, one becomes fully human. We embody the fallen, and in some small measure, we might finally, in our own brokenness, understand the grace offered by Christ in his descending beneath all things. The contents of your shattered heart are the fertile loam that feeds the life as it pushes up, finally bursting into the light.

Perhaps there are other ways, gentler and kinder, to learn these lessons. Perhaps there is a different story for each of us written in the book of life. The single thing of which I am now certain is that the contents of our hewn, split, shattered, broken hearts— however they be torn asunder— is required for the seeds within us to find that light. Nothing less will do. Nothing more is asked. It’s only everything.


  1. Thank YOU for your beautiful words, your compassionate way of expressing what many can’t or don’t acknowledge due to diverse reasons and lack of introspection. Today I needed this and your hands caught me! God bless you.

  2. Antonio Parr says:

    Dietrech Bonhoeffer wrote “when Christ calls a man, he bids him ‘come and die.'” This, he said, is the cost of discipleship. Bonhoeffer practiced what he preached, ultimately suffering a martyr’s death as he was executed for opposing the Nazi regime.

    Your essay conveys a similar message: that often the price of true healing seems to come at the expense of true brokenness. Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

  3. I read a quote once that I’m sure I’m mangling, to the effect of “God breaks our hearts over and over again, until they stay open.” That thought terrifies me. My dark years were shorter than yours, and they were largely of my own doing, but I know the abyss of which you speak, as I dangled over it for a time. It changed me profoundly and 13 years later I can look back at it with a kind of gratitude – I know not what sort of person I might have been had I not suffered so, but I doubt I would be as forgiving and humane (how’s that for humility?). The internal bitterness and self-centeredness that compelled me into self-destruction would probably have consumed me and I would have made those around me slowly suffocate in quiet unhappiness. Instead I plunged myself into the fiery black and slowly emerged a stronger person. It’s not a method I recommend.

  4. Melissa DM says:

    Beautiful, Tracy. Your words (and you) are a gift.

  5. Thank you, Tracy.

  6. Thanks Tracy.

    This reminds me of that scripture from D&C 88. It says that Christ descended below all things so that he could rise above all things, and comprehend all things.

  7. Thank you, especially for the part about the broken heart being the place for the seed of life to grow. Gives me hope.

  8. Wow, incredibly powerful.

  9. Mostimportantly says:

    Thank you.

  10. Mommie Dearest says:

    I wouldn’t wish this for anyone. Without it, how can anyone really know the value of the grace of the atonement? With it, how could anyone avoid being bitter and cynical except through the grace of the atonement?

  11. So, God’s a heart-breaker in the best sense of the word.

    Tracy, you touched on a thought I have often had.

    “Sometimes you are given more than you can bear, and you do fall.”

    I have seen this happen in the lives of many people I know and love. I believe that God doesn’t give us more than we can bear but because of agency, the people in our lives can and often do. Thank you for sharing your beautiful testimony.

  12. Sadly our wards are chock full of Job’s friend types, prattling on, ‘darkening counsel by words without knowledge’, totally impervious to the miraculous and sacred transformation of a human soul that the Lord is bringing about in the suffering person sitting right next to them.

    But the imperiousness creates a sort of wilderness in which you can be alone with God and ‘order your cause before Him’.

  13. Tracy, I just think you just made me feel the spirit enough to WANT to go to church today. And Quayle, yes! Thank you. And God bless.

  14. That last was me. I guess autocorrect doesn’t like my handle.

  15. Meldrum the Less says:

    This is beautiful. My words are inadequate.

    I was somewhere close to what you describe about 30 years ago. In the military, severely sleep deprived for months and completely stressed out. Found my best friend with a bottle of pills in the process of taking all of them. He was the strong one. Many other episodes too numerous to describe. Marriage nearly unraveled. Faith mostly gone.

    ” But the heart has to break for what’s within to grow… to push out of the darkness, where all seeds sprout, and force its way up, through some miracle, towards the light.

    In that moment, one becomes fully human.”

    I guess for me this is where my experience diverges. Because at some moment the heart breaks. One becomes full animal and fully not human. Capable of killing for virtually nothing, utterly evil. It is a long slow return from wolf-hood to semi-humanness. Sometimes one slips back, only a little.

    Last night for instance; my college-age daughter came home after midnight with minor damage to our baby, the little red car. I let her find it and buy it on the internet when she was only 14 years old. Some genius guy misdirected her into a parking stall. She knew it was too narrow but he insisted it was not, and she listened to him.

    I think he should be responsible for his mistake and partially share the cost to fix it. I would like to discuss it with his father (the boy is an irresponsible, spoiled, noodle-spine brat of a college student) and kick both of their asses- if they don’t own up to this responsibility. Besides, since when do guys bum rides from girls they want to impress? They should have been in his car!

    Reduced her to tears. The wolf came back.

  16. Stunning and beautiful.

  17. Oh chills. Thank you for this.

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