by April Yamasaki,
“When you care enough to send the very best.” – Hallmark Cards
When I choose a greeting card to send to someone, I don’t choose the card with the corner already torn off. The card might get roughed up as it goes through the postal system, but I at least want to start with one that looks unspoiled. If I bake cookies for someone, I eat the broken ones myself first and pack up the good ones for gift-giving. I don’t give away the crumbs.
When it comes to giving to God, we might tend to have the same attitude. After all, Scripture speaks of sacrificing the unblemished lamb, of giving our first fruits to God, not our leftovers. Churches often encourage volunteers to use their gifts, to contribute their talents, to give the first and the best that they have in service to God.
But in Psalm 51, the psalmist offers God a different kind of gift:
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise. (v. 17)
In the Psalms, the word “heart” rarely means the heart of muscle and blood that beats in each one of us. Instead, the word “heart” means the inner person, our inner thoughts, our will, our character. So my heart is the thought, the will, the character, the self that I am inside. My heart makes me who I am, and your heart makes you who you are. Our heart is what makes us human, what makes us unique individuals.
In Psalm 51, the heart—the inner person—that pleases God is described in the New International Version as “a broken and contrite heart.” In the original Hebrew language, the word for “contrite” is literally the word “crushed”: a crushed heart, O God, you will not despise.
In this case, the psalmist’s heart was crushed and broken by sin. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (v. 3). “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (v. 4). Sin not only breaks our relationship with God and can hurt our relationships with other people, but sin can also break us.
There are many other things in life that can also crush our hearts and break us. Some describe feeling broken by the isolation and loss that are part of this time of covid. In a time of pandemic and at many other times, our hearts—our lives—are not whole and at their best. Many times our lives are broken—crushed by disappointments and anxiety, by failed relationships or failed finances, by physical or mental ill health, marred by sin and unresolved issues, fragmented by too many commitments and too little time and resources to meet them.
But when our lives seem to be in pieces from disappointment or doubt or the daily push and pull of life, when we feel crushed and broken for whatever reason, we don’t need to pretend that all is well. We don’t need to hide that part of ourselves from God. We don’t need to feel that we’re not good enough for God or that we have nothing to offer.
Because while God delights in the offering of our first fruits and in the best we have to offer, God welcomes us just as gladly and just as graciously when all we have to bring is our brokenness. For the gift of a broken heart, you, God will not despise.