Contrite means “crushed.”
The English word descends from the Latin word contritus, which means literally “worn out” or “ground to pieces” (“contrite,” Online Etymology Dictionary).
When the word appears in the King James Version of the Bible, it is a translation of one of three different Hebrew words:
- dakka’ (דַּכָּא), meaning crushed or pulverized (Psalm 34:18, Isaiah 57:15)
- dakah (דָּכָה), meaning crushed or broken (Psalm 51:8)
- nakeh (נֵכֶה), meaning stricken or smitten (Isaiah 66:2)
All of these passages teach the same principle: God will bless and save those who are contrite:
The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18).
Or, as other translations render it:
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18, New International Version).
The word “contrite” appears nine times in the Book of Mormon. Every time it refers to our spirit, and it is often paired with the phrase “broken heart.”
- After the destruction which coincided with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Savior told the survivors that they should discontinue the practice of animal sacrifice. Instead, He told them to offer as a sacrifice, “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” He made the following promise: “Whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 9:20).
- Moroni explained that a broken heart and a contrite spirit are prerequisites for baptism (Moroni 6:2).
- He also taught that, when we pray with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, we will learn the mysteries of God (Ether 4:12).
- Lehi told his sons that Jesus would offer himself as a sacrifice for everyone who has a broken heart and a contrite spirit, “and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Nephi 2:7).
We know that we must be humble to receive God’s blessings. But using a word like “crushed” or a phrase like “ground to pieces” makes that humility seem more vivid to me. No wonder the Beatitudes refer to people who are poor in spirit, mournful, meek, or persecuted as “blessed” (3 Nephi 12:3-12, Matthew 5:3-12).
In one way or another, each of us must be broken in order to be open to receive the blessings of God. A closed-minded and closed-hearted person cannot receive those blessings. Neal A. Maxwell said that we will experience what he called “redemptive turbulence,” because “hearts set so much upon the things of the world may have to be broken” (“The Tugs and Pulls of the World,” General Conference, October 2000).
Today, I will remember that a broken heart and a crushed (contrite) spirit are necessary prerequisites for receiving God’s saving power. When I feel overwhelmed or bruised, I will remember that God is with me, and that my heart and mind may be more prepared to receive His blessings than they would be if my situation were more comfortable. My brokenness may be precisely what enables me to feel His Spirit and receive His grace.