How does one truly obtain a pure heart? I am unwillingly being made to go through a divorce right now, and the physical desires and the temptations that accompany them leave me confused and frustrated. To what degree does the Lord hold me accountable for the things that enter into my heart? Sometimes I lose the spirit despite casting these things out of my mind over and over again. Often it leaves me feeling dejected and discouraged. I want to continue to be pure before the Lord. Do you have any suggestions?
We are living in a world of gross sin. The scriptures tell us that this earth is the most wicked world in the universe (Moses 7:36). Therefore, we cannot avoid being impacted by the impurity of the world. But there is a difference between seeing and looking, between hearing and listening, between tasting and savoring, between touching and feeling. The first of these pairs of sensory descriptions is external. We would have to be deaf and blind not to hear and see what goes on in the environment around us. But how and to what we look and listen is at our own command. For the first description we are not responsible, for the second description we ARE responsible. A pure heart relates not to the environment we are in, but to how we interpret that environment. A person with a pure heart may of feel sorrow, disgust and revulsion, whereas a person of the world would be titillated by an unwholesome environment.
Now being frustrated is one thing, but being confused is another. A person with a pure heart may often be frustrated at how to handle a difficult situation or how to extricate one’s self from an unwholesome environment, but there should be no confusion about what is right and what is wrong. That understanding of the difference between right and wrong is a free gift given by the Savior to every individual. Only those who grossly abuse it, lose it.
Now a person with a pure heart is certainly not free from temptation, because we live in a world of temptation. The adversary is among us! The scriptures state that—
For all flesh is corrupted before me; and the powers of darkness prevail upon the earth, among the children of men, in the presence of all the hosts of heaven–
Which causeth silence to reign, and all eternity is pained, and the angels are waiting the great command to reap down the earth, to gather the tares that they may be burned; and, behold, the enemy is combined (D&C 38:11-12).
However, the key is how we respond to that wicked environment. Here is an example:
The father of a young family was out of work and destitute and the family was nearly starving. As he left home early in the morning to search for work he saw on the steps of a nearby house two bottles of milk that had been left by the milkman. He thought, “My family is starving, and that family has more than enough. In order to save my family, I’ll just take those two quarts of milk. They will never really miss it.” And so he takes the milk home to feed his family. That man is a thief. Another man comes along in the same situation, sees the milk on the porch and goes through the same rationalization as the first man, but says to himself, “I’d better not steal that milk because if I do I might get caught.” That man is also a thief–prevented from committing the theft only by the fear of getting caught. A third man in the same condition is confronted by the same situation. As he sees the milk he is also tempted to steal it in order to feed his family. But he finally concludes, “That’s dishonest, I could never do a thing like that.” That man, although sorely tempted, overcame the temptation and maintained his integrity. He is to be honored for his righteousness. A four man comes by, again in the same condition. As he sees the milk on the porch the thought of stealing it never enters into his mind. That man has a pure heart.
So what does one do to rise above temptation? First, in order to be influenced by the Holy Spirit we must be in compliance with all the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Secondly, we must avoid what temptation we can avoid. This may best be done by associating as much as possible with pure people, e.g., those who are struggling to be pure. In other words, seek the association and companionship of the faithful members of your Ward and other faithful Latter-day Saints. Also, if you are an endowed member of the Mormon Church, go to the temple frequently. There you will be fed by the Spirit and strengthened in the cause of righteousness. Let me also suggest two pieces of literature that would be strengthening to you. The message from the First Presidency of the Mormon Church in the January 2007 issue of the Ensign magazine is written by President James E. Faust, entitled, “The Forces That Will Save Us.” Among other things in that article he tells us “[Satan] is really a coward, and if we stand firm, he will retreat.” He also quotes Nephi as saying that the devil “hath no power over the hearts of righteous people.” (1 Nephi 22:26)
I would also commend to you the second lesson in the new class manual for the Melchizedek Priesthood, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball, entitled “Destiny or Tragedy?”