When I was 24 I was traveling in northern Africa with my fellow BYU Young Ambassadors. Upon arriving at our hotel for the evening, a group of us decided to go body surfing in some of the largest waves we had ever seen.
Why we thought that was a good idea, in hindsight, I’m not quite sure; we were young and invincible, I suppose.
The giant waves and strong undercurrent ended up carrying all of us quite far out to sea. We had been traveling for weeks and I remember feeling physically exhausted. I started to swallow sea water and couldn’t breathe. I had bitten off more than I could chew, and felt like I was drowning.
There were a few other guys around me but they couldn’t hear me shouting for help because of the noise of the ocean. I prayed to Heavenly Father: “If you don’t want me to drown today, I’m going to need some help.”
I was rescued from drowning by two things: 1) a blue foam boogie board from the hotel that the guy who was just a couple waves further out than me lost in a wave; it literally hit me in the head after I said my prayer as I was gasping for air, and 2) the thought, the revelation actually, to take the rope on the board and wrap it numerous times around my wrist so when the next wave came, likely knocking me off the board, I wouldn’t lose it.
The waves did knock me off the board repeatedly, but I was able to keep hold of the small surfboard and stay on top of the water long enough to catch my breath and eventually swim back to shore.
As I realized I probably wasn’t going to survive on my own, I turned to Heavenly Father in faith that He would help me, and He did.
This personal experience includes both things I’ve been assigned to speak about today: fear and faith. I’d like to share five principles I’ve studied over the past few weeks about finding and building faith.
A few years ago in general conference, Elder Kevin Pearson of the Seventy said:
In a household of faith, there is no need to fear or doubt. Choose to live by faith and not fear.
Each day, we make many choices. We’re so accustomed to making decisions that we even make them sub-consciously, without much thought or effort at all.
Think about your commute to work or driving to the store, and think about your routines for waking up and getting ready for the day.
While some of our routine choices don’t require much thought, others require a lot of thought, persistence and effort.
Consider choosing to be faithful and turning away from fear. For some, that might be difficult. For others, choosing faith may be more natural.
The first of the five principles for us to consider is that we decide to be faithful; we choose to live by faith. It’s a conscious, proactive, optimistic choice.
Elder Pearson counseled:
Faith and fear cannot coexist. One gives way to the other. The simple fact is we all need to constantly build faith and overcome sources of destructive disbelief. The Savior’s teaching comparing faith to a grain of mustard seed recognizes this reality (Matthew 13:31–32). Consider it this way, our net usable faith is what we have left to exercise after we subtract our sources of doubt and disbelief. You might ask yourself this question: “Is my own net faith positive or negative?” If your faith exceeds your doubt and disbelief, the answer is likely positive. If you allow doubt and disbelief to control you, the answer might be negative.
As I was preparing to graduate from BYU in the 90s, I experienced fear and anxiety because I was so focused on receiving a bachelor’s degree that I really wasn’t sure what to do next. I wasn’t married (which is why my brother suggested I ask BYU for a tuition refund), and I wasn’t sure I could earn a living doing what I loved doing: musical theater.
Of course, that’s why I completed a degree in communications instead of performing arts. But I took a leap of faith after graduation and a few months living at home in Upstate New York, and moved with a college friend to New York City. There we both auditioned for Broadway shows and touring companies.
I was initially fearful of this pursuit, but trusted and relied on my patriarchal blessing that tells me I’ll be able to support myself and my family — that I’ll have whatever means are necessary.
I ended up with a very good job on Wall Street and the opportunity to do some regional performing where I earned enough to be eligible for the actor’s equity union, but never had occasion to join.
I chose to pursue my dream job in faith.
Looking back, things did work out for my own good, and although some times have been better than others, we’ve never gone without. I’ve been blessed with enough, with a good career in marketing communications that, by the way, frequently draws upon my theatrical training, and I’ve been blessed with a great family.
Last month, Elder Whitney Clayton of the Seventy recounted the remarkable story of seven-year-old Sailor Gutzler and how she survived a January 2013 plane crash that took the lives of the rest of her family, made her way alone through the woods in the cold and dark towards a light from a distant home, and ultimately received help from the kind man living there.
Elder Clayton said:
Sailor survived because she saw a light in the distance and fought her way to it—notwithstanding the wild countryside, the depth of the tragedy she faced, and the injuries she had sustained. It is hard to imagine how Sailor managed to do what she did that night. But what we do know is that she recognized in the light of that distant house a chance for rescue. There was hope. She took courage in the fact that no matter how bad things were, her rescue would be found in that light.
When we need rescuing, do we search for light? Do we have hope and actively choose faith over fear?
Some may feel it’s noble to doubt and fear while struggling through life’s challenges, when, in fact, it’s noble to have faith — faith in a loving Heavenly Father’s plan, purpose and timing in our lives.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, choosing faith is a test of mortality, and part of putting off the natural man.
In last month’s general conference, Elder Bednar taught:
In our daily lives, endless reports of criminal violence, famine, wars, corruption, terrorism, declining values, disease, and the destructive forces of nature can engender fear and apprehension. Surely we live in the season foretold by the Lord: “And in that day … the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them (D&C 45:26).
…fear is dispelled through a correct knowledge of and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
If we experience fear, we need to study and learn more of the Savior and build our faith in Him.
Elder Bednar goes on to make an observation about Adam and Eve, after they had partaken of the forbidden fruit:
God called unto Adam and asked, “Where art thou? And [Adam answered], I heard thy voice…, and I was afraid” (Genesis 3:9–10). Notably, one of the first effects of the Fall was for Adam and Eve to experience fear. This potent emotion is an important element of our mortal existence.
For me, this observation demonstrates Elder Bednar’s calling as a seer. He sees and teaches things hidden in plain sight.
We know there’s opposition in all things. We also know that when the Lord says that many are called, but few are chosen (D&C 121:34), it’s not the Lord who does the choosing, it’s us. We choose.
Let’s always remember: we are agents to act for ourselves. We have the opportunity to choose faith instead of fear.
Faith is a principle of action and power. Belief and faith require our personal choice and action.
The scriptures teach that faith is a spiritual gift from God bestowed as a reward for personal righteousness. No other foundation in life, besides personal righteousness, can bring about the same peace, joy and hope.
In the New Testament, when the father asked Jesus to help his son, the Savior said: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father… cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
He responded in faith. If we start from a position of faith, we eliminate fear and create greater potential possibilities — even miracles. All things are possible to him or her that believeth!
As we align our actions with our belief, and let our hope for the Savior’s love and grace, overcome our doubt, over time we’ll come to see that we have made the best choice we could have made. A courageous decision to believe in Him blesses us and our loved ones immeasurably and forever (Elder Clayton).
When I lived in New York City, I was out late one evening and found myself on the subway in Harlem with the train stopped at the station because there was a fire on the tracks ahead. It was the last stop that night and still about 70 blocks away from my apartment.
There were only a handful of people in the train car with me and somehow, by the time I made it up to street level, everyone else had disappeared. It was just me, well after midnight, on a deserted street a long way from home on foot, with no one else around.
I prayed to Heavenly Father, “Please help me find a safe way home.” The thought came to me to walk to the middle of the street. As I did, I could see from a set of headlights that a car was coming in the distance. As it got closer, I saw a light on top of the car, indicating it was a taxi cab and available for hire.
The driver took me home as I stressed about how much cash I had in my wallet to pay him. As we pulled up to my apartment, the fare came to $13, which happened to be the exact amount of cash in my wallet.
Some may say this was just a coincidence. I believe it was an answered prayer.
This is another experience in my life where fear and anxiety were overcome through faith — where my fervent prayers were answered.
“Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened” (3 Nephi 14:7-8).
In Elder Pearson’s talk, he described six destructive D’s that erode and destroy faith:
- Lack of Diligence
- Disobedience, and
Discouragement and distraction are two of Satan’s most effective tools, but they are also bad habits.
I think, what may be a tool of the adversary, for some, has become a negative pattern, a consistent way of pessimistic thinking, and a habit that chisels away at faith. At varying times, I have seen, and can see, these destructive tools at work in the lives of those around me.
Elder Pearson continued:
If not reversed, [doubt, discouragement, distraction and lack of diligence] ultimately leads to disobedience, which undermines the very basis of faith. So often the result is disbelief, the conscious or unconscious refusal to believe. The scriptures describe disbelief as the state of having chosen to harden one’s heart. It is to be past feeling. These Six Destructive Ds all erode and destroy our faith. We can choose to avoid and overcome them.
Our individual personal righteousness is a choice. We are agents to act, and not simply be acted upon.
Since faith is a result of righteousness, having faith is a choice and a blessing. It’s a natural consequence of righteous living.
“Unlike worldly fear that creates alarm and anxiety,” says Elder Bednar, “Godly fear is a source of peace, assurance, and confidence.”
As Paul said in his New Testament epistle to the saints in Philippi: “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
With Godly fear, and the obedience that follows, we find peace, we soar to new heights in the same way a kite, connected by a string to the flier, soars in the wind. The string represents obedience. Without it, the kite’s flight is erratic and destined to crash and burn as it’s blown and tossed about by the wind.
An early LDS educator and beloved scholar, Karl G. Maeser, taught: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That statement has a rich, deep meaning.
Elder Bednar taught in conference last month that priesthood ordinances and the covenants we make with Heavenly Father are the building blocks of faith. They require obedience and form the foundation of personal righteousness.
As we construct our lives upon the foundation of Christ and His atonement, we’re connected securely to and with the Savior as we worthily receive ordinances and enter into covenants, faithfully remember and honor those commitments, and do our best to live in accordance with the obligations we have accepted. That bond is the primary source of spiritual strength, peace and stability in our lives.
- Choose to live by faith, not fear.
- Faith and fear cannot coexist.
- Doubt, discouragement, distraction, lack of diligence, disobedience, and disbelief destroy faith.
- Godly fear fosters wisdom.
- Ordinances and covenants are the building blocks of faith.
Even if all we can do is say, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief,” this is more courageous than forfeiting faith and dwelling on doubt.
The glass is half-full, not half-empty.
We are the leaven, mixed with meal, that raises the whole loaf. Our personal and collective dispensation is to live as examples of Christ with faith in Him and His gospel in this, the latter-days.
Faith doesn’t just happen any more than paying tithing, or obeying the word of wisdom. It’s a conscious, proactive decision. It’s an optimistic choice. And choosing faith fosters personal righteousness, peace and wisdom — all true blessings in our lives and some of the delicious fruit of the gospel.
Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good… (D&C 90:24).
…ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing…, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him (Mormon 9:27).
Let’s not dwell on our doubts, rather, let’s choose to build upon our faith.
And let’s trust the Savior, that His yoke is easy and His burden is light, that through His mercy and grace we can endure faithfully to the end.
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Elder Pearson, April 2009
Choose to Believe, Elder Clayton, April 2015
Therefore They Hushed Their Fears, Elder Bednar, April 2015