I invite you to reflect on the last time you experienced the feeling of fear. Was it wondering if you’d be accepted into one of the many competitive degree programs here at Brigham Young University? Or waiting to see if the girl you asked out wants to go out again? Or worse yet, wondering what to do if she does? For me the feeling is as recent as sitting on this stand, looking into the faces of so many, and knowing that, through the miracle of technology, thousands more are watching this message.
Like you, I can testify that the feeling of fear is real. Indeed, of this powerful emotion, Elder Bednar taught in last April’s General Conference:
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.
Today I want to visit with you about overcoming the fears that are an essential part of our experience in this Earth life.
One of my favorite classes to teach here on campus is the Doctrine and Covenants, because I find it highly relevant in my own life and in the lives of my students. In a well-known episode from the text, Oliver Cowdery, the primary scribe for the translation of the Book of Mormon, was offered the opportunity of the lifetime: to join Joseph Smith as a translator of that sacred book of scripture. Oliver was instructed,
“Ask that ye may know the mysteries of God, and that ye may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up according to your faith, and it shall it be done unto you.”
(unsure on source, text of talk still unavailable)
Shortly thereafter, when Oliver failed in his attempt to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon, the Lord explained the reasons for his failure, outlining several causes:
5 And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you. Doctrine & Covenants 9:11
I’ve long wondered what it was that Oliver feared that he did not continue as he had commenced. Knowing that the project was of eternal importance, did he fear making a mistake, and thus marring the sacred publication?
I was the age of most of you when this scriptural episode came to have special meaning to me. I was in grad school here at BYU, and began asking out a particular girl. And, as things progressed, I became scared. Fear caused me to not continue as I had commenced. I was afraid of making the wrong decision; one that I knew was important and, ideally, eternal. My poorly thought out solution to this fear was to stop asking the girl out. As weeks turned into months, I buried myself in other things, all the while praying if I should pursue the relationship that I clearly wasn’t doing anything to nurture.
Finally one Sunday I was in church here on campus when I finally made up my mind: I would pursue the relationship. What would be the worst that could happen? “Maybe I would get married,” I thought. I called her apartment, only to learn that she had gone home that weekend. I left a message for her to call me when she returned, which, incidentally, is ideal for someone gripped by dating paralysis. The last thing a young man really wants to do is talk.
That afternoon my dad called. “Have you heard the news?” he asked. The girl was engaged.
She returned my call later that night. “Scott, I heard you called.” “Yes, I was just calling to congratulate you on your engagement” was my response. Fear of the future had kept me from continuing what I had commenced, and the time had passed. I thought often about that experience, and the Lord’s instruction to Oliver Cowdery concerning fear, the next six years of my single life.
So how do we overcome fears, act in faith, and move forward towards an uncertain future? Eleven years ago last fall I was dating my wife Janice. The week before Thanksgiving I invited her to come home with me to Southern Utah for the holiday weekend. She accepted. And then, once again, I became really scared. I’d taken girls home on road trips before. And for those familiar with Interstate 15 between Provo and Southern Utah, usually by about the town of Nephi, they became the longest weekends of my life.
I started to think of the ways I could uninvite Janice. With fear swirling in my head, I came to campus on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Preparing to teach my class that day, I stumbled across these words at the beginning of Doctrine and Covenants Section 67.
1 Behold and hearken, O ye elders of my church, who have assembled yourselves together, whose prayers I have heard, and whose hearts I know, and whose desires have come up before me.
As a 30 year old Elder, I had a desire, and had been praying for a long time that I might find a spouse and begin an eternal companionship. I could relate to these early saints. The Lord continues:
2 Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you, and the heavens and the earth are in mine hands, and the riches of eternity are mine to give.
In my office at the Joseph Smith Building that morning, the thought struck me: maybe marriage is one of the riches of eternity, and maybe it is God’s to give. The revelation then warns:
3 Ye endeavored to believe that ye should receive the blessing which was offered unto you; but behold, verily I say unto you there were fears in your hearts, and verily this is the reason that ye did not receive.
I realized if I didn’t face my fear of an uncertain future, I might never receive the blessings the Lord had in store for me.
I took Janice home for Thanksgiving, and the weekend went wonderfully. Returning to Provo, however, my worst fears of carrying on an extended conversation with a girl were realized: a snowstorm forced the closure of Interstate 15 and the two of us were stranded together in the car between the Utah towns of Beaver and Fillmore for several hours with no choice but to simply talk to each other. As our three hour road trip turned into seven, I realized that if we could survive this time together, maybe we could also face my fears of eternal marriage.
From these experiences I learned a valuable lesson: as you experience faith to overcome future fears and uncertainty, you will see God’s hand in your life. In fact, just a few short verses later in the Doctrine and Covenants, in Section 67, the Lord promises:
10 And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.
I now look back on those years of post-mission single life, and like the saints in the Doctrine and Covenants, realize that God was in my midst, and I couldn’t see him. There were lessons I needed to learn, primarily about overcoming fear, coupled with experiences both my wife and I needed to have, that eventually prepared us for each other and our future together. As I stripped myself of fear, the day came that I could see God’s hand, and receive the riches of eternity, but they only came as I exercised faith.
Facing fear in our life isn’t limited to dramatic experiences involving unknown future events like relocating at the command of the Lord or finding an eternal companion. Indeed, the happiness of some is crippled by fears of past failures and the foreboding worry that the present and future can never become bright again.