Overcoming Fears

I have been thinking a lot about fear lately. I’ve faced a great deal of discouragement over the last several months, and fear seems to be one of discouragement’s dark companions. Fear has been hanging around me like a depressed younger brother. But I realize that it’s up to me to dismiss my fear and send him packing.

My wife found this scripture recently and shared it with me:

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. (D&C 67:3.)

Fear is a subtle foe and keeps us from receiving the blessings we seek. It thrives in the absence of faith, but I am reminded by the scriptures that:

Without faith it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Heb. 11:6.)

So we have reason to hope if we continue to believe in God and diligently seek him in spite of our discouragement and challenges. There is hope. There is a way to overcome fear. Increasing our faith is like turning on the lights in a dark room, scattering vermin fears and helping us see and avoid obstacles. Just as darkness can’t exist in a darkened room, fear can’t endure the illumination of faith.

In addition, the apostle John taught this about love:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 Jn. 4:18.)

Like faith, love lightens our path and our load. How can we be filled with this love? We can pray for it. In the words of Mormon:

Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ… (Moro. 7:47-48.)

We are also promised by the Psalmist that if we seek the the Lord, we can expect this help:

I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Ps. 34:4.)

So if we diligently seek the Lord, He will reward us and deliver us from all our fears. Not just a couple of them—all of them says David. (He overcame Goliath; he ought to know.) And if we pray to the Lord with all the energy of our hearts, He will fill us with the love of Christ, and that love will cast out fear. And if we cast out fear, we’ll cast out his companions, such as discouragement, too.

Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come. (D&C 68:6.)

Eight Questions: How Do I Know I Am Really in Love?

I have the chance to talk to a lot of young people—both teenagers and young adults—about their prospects for love and marriage. One question that comes up is, “How do I know I am really in love?” A similar question is, “How do I know he’s the right person for me?” I’d like to share a few ideas that might help you with these questions. (I will refer mostly to young women considering young men, but these ideas will apply to both.)

This post was inspired by the story of a young woman who told me about a boy that wanted to kiss her on a first date. When she turned him down, he was offended and berated her. Not a good sign for him. She just asked him to take her home. Good sign for her.

First of all, we should remember that the love that leads to marriage is a conscious choice. You choose to love or not to love. Yes, we talk about “falling in love,” and there is a wonderful element in love of having your feelings run away with you, but it comes down to a choice, a far-reaching choice, one of the most important that you will make in your life. Some of the other points discussed here in this post can help you make that choice well.

An interesting phenomena I’ve noticed is this: When you bring that special young man home to meet your family and friends, if you are on the right track, your parents will like him, your brothers and sisters will like him, and your friends will like him. We can all be a little blinded by the heat and fire of love, so it is always good to listen to close friends and loved ones’ perceptions about your special person.

Somewhere in your circle, you will have someone who will have a built in “creepometer.” That’s what we call it in our house. You see, some people have the gift of seeing past the surface and into the heart of another person. (My wife has it.)  If someone close to you has this gift, listen to them and consider carefully what they have to say. It is common that one or two of your inner circle will express concerns or doubts no matter how good he is, but if a number of them see chinks in his armor, and your friend’s creepometer is red-lining, listen to what they have to say. Let them help you see the whole picture. You will be glad you did in the long run—so glad.

Another strong indicator is observing how he treats his parents, his brothers and his sisters or his friends. If he is impolite or disrespectful to his mother or sisters, look out. No matter how nice he is to you right now, he will turn to his default behavior in time, and that disrespect will be turned on you. Respect is the cornerstone of love. Without it, there can be no trust, and without respect and trust, love wilts and dies.

Another test: How do you feel when you are around him? Do you feel put down, belittled, smaller than you really are? Constant criticism and negativity is highly correlated with divorce. Keep your hand out of that wasp’s nest.

On the other hand, do you feel happy and hopeful when you are with him? Do you feel like you want to be a better person? To be as worthy and pure as you possibly can be? Like you want to draw closer to your Savior? If you feel uplifted, on higher ground, or like you have had a taste of heaven whenever you are with him, that is a very good sign. A very, very good sign. That is one of the strongest positive signs you can find. Don’t let that one out of your sight.

Another thing. One of my favorites. Talking. One thing I have noticed with my wife of thirty years, is that we never, never, never run out of interesting things to talk about. We talk and talk and talk, all the time. Talking helps us understand each other, see each other’s point of view and laugh together every day. It is a very strong indicator of the lastability of love when you just can’t run out of things, interesting and meaningful things, to talk about.

Is he defensive, unable to acknowledge his faults, and has to be right all the time? If so, he is not a safe bet. You are never going to find a perfect man without faults, but you most certainly can find a safe bet. A safe bet is not “practically perfect in every way” but is willing to see and work on his weaknesses. He does not have to be right all the time, but will share that burden with others. He doesn’t waste time being defensive about his mistakes. He smiles, says yes and moves on. That’s a good bet. (Though I don’t recommend gambling.)

Finally, I want to talk about physical affection and friendship. Some relationships jump into physical affection too soon, and that can distort your feelings, and sometimes destroy them. As long as two people are reasonably attractive to each other, physical affection will give them both pleasure. However, you cannot, I repeat, you cannot build a lasting relationship on physical affection alone. If physical affection comes before friendship, you are building your relationship on a foundation of jello. You pick the color, but it is jello.

If you have a romantic attraction for someone, but build your foundation on friendship first, you will find that the joy of physical affection, when the right time comes for it, will never diminish, but will get stronger and stronger as the years go by. 

I really like this quote from John Bytheway’s article “What Do Kisses Mean?”:

Too much sharing of physical affection can cloud thinking to the point that a couple doesn’t really know why they like to be together, other than the opportunity to share affection. A couple may even get married, and when the honeymoon is over and they’re back to everyday life, they may discover they have little to talk about. One wise bishop suggested that if young adults feel that their relationship is too physical, they should try spending the next two weeks without even holding hands to see if they still enjoy being together.

Physical affection is a wonderful thing to share, but unfortunately, young couples often apply too much gas and not enough brake when it comes to PA. Too often, they short change the opportunity to develop strong friendships by focusing on the physical, and their relationships cannot last. 

Now to recap. Here are all eight questions:

  1. Do you believe that love is a choice and not an accident?
  2. Do your parents, brothers, sisters and friends like him, with little exception?
  3. Do you listen to those gifted with a “creepometer”?
  4. Does he show consistent respect to his mother, father, sisters, brothers and friends?
  5. When you are around him, do you feel like you are on higher ground, like you want to do better, like you have hope and a future?
  6. Do you ever run out of things to talk about? 
  7. Is he willing to acknowledge his faults and work on them?
  8. Is your friendship more important than your exchange of physical affection?

If you can answer all these questions positively, I think you are definitely on the right track.

What if you are already married and can’t answer all of these questions positively, then what? I guess I better write about that, too. Stay tuned.

Am I Prepared?

On a June day in 1983, my mother died. She had been sick for 20 years. She had a neurological disorder—multiple sclerosis—that finally caught up with her. Near the end, she had a hard time talking and eating. One day she aspirated some food and was rushed to a hospital. She suffered brain damage. A few days later, she was gone.

It was a Sunday afternoon when the call came from my dad. It was one of the few times in my life that I ever heard my father cry. I was 25 years old.

My mother was a woman of great faith, and she suffered many years with her illness without complaint. I mean that. I don’t ever remember hearing her complain. Her example was unforgettable to me.

I did remember, however, hearing her swear once. I thought my mom was a candidate for sainthood, so I was a bit surprised to hear her use off-color language. I said, “Mom!” And she said in reply, “Oh, shut up you holier-than-thou Mormon rascal!” I laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed. I am still laughing, all these years later.

We had a death in our ward this week, on Monday. The man was a quadriplegic like my mother, and I was amazed at how similar his death was to my mother’s. It was close to home. I saw him the day before he died, just like my mom.

My mom was not alert, but when I touched her, she opened her eyes and looked at me for a few moments. I told her that I loved her. She could not talk. I cannot prove it, but I believe she knew I was there. Human touch and heartfelt words are powerful things.

The same thing happened with Charlie. I sat on his bed. He responded when I touched him. He opened his eyes for a few moments and he looked at me. I told him that I loved him. Maybe it was my imagination, but I think he knew I was there, that I was bidding him farewell.

I know my mom was not perfect, but I know she was well prepared to meet her Heavenly Father when she died. Charlie had lots of concerns and regrets. He confided in me as his bishop. But I also know that he, too, was ready to meet his Father in Heaven. There was a great peace there when I was with him Sunday night. It felt like angels were present.

This has been on mind all week. I want to be better prepared to go when my time comes. Am I now? No. I have a lot of things to sort out. But I must live each day like it was my last. I don’t want to leave anything undone. I want to be square with every one and square with my Maker. That’s what I want to be.

Easter Reading: Behold the Man

With Easter coming up on April 4, I want to offer you a free copy (in PDF) of a book I wrote about the last week of Christ’s moral life. It’s called Behold the Man.

I began writing this book over two decades ago when I started a study of the events surrounding the last week of the mortal life of Jesus Christ, as found in the New Testament.

I began then to put together in my own mind the enormous puzzle of the accounts of the Passion of Christ as told in the gospel accounts of the New Testament. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each provide unique details about the events leading to Jesus’ death and resurrection. My goal in this book is to: (1) identify the unique details from each of the gospels relating to the Passion; (2) to unify that material; and (3) to present it in an easy-to-read, narrative or story format.

The source for this book is the King James Version (1611) of the New Testament. While the book is completely based on scripture, I have updated the punctuation and paragraphing, altered some capitalization and pronouns, and added single and double quotation marks where appropriate. I have also added conjunctive or transitional words, without setting them off with brackets, or have deleted some words, to help the flow of the narrative.

The Passion of Christ is the story of the greatest tragedy and triumph in history. I have never found anything to compare with it. I have faith and a sure witness that Jesus was more than a man. He is the Only Begotten Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Is That the Spirit or Me?

Last Saturday, I attended “Best of Especially for Youth” at the Orem Institute with the youth of our ward. One of the speakers was Candis Shupe who is on the BYU Continuing Education faculty. Her talk was on ” Is That the Spirit or Me? Christ is our light, and if we follow Him, we will find the promised land.” These are some notes I took from that talk, which was excellent.

She first asked, “Who is the Spirit?” and then answered that the Spirit or Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit and a member of the Godhead. She quoted D&C 130:22:

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.

She also said that the Holy Ghost knows all things: “The Comforter, the Holy Ghost…knoweth all things” (D&C 35:19).Then she quoted Elder William R. Bradford who said:

The light of the Spirit is organized as a communication system to transmit concepts of truth into the minds of the children of God. The Holy Ghost, by way of the Spirit, will enlighten our minds and give us clarity of understanding of concepts of truth if we obey the laws which govern the use of the Spirit. This is the way that our Father in Heaven teaches us right from wrong. If we are willing to learn His ways and follow them, we will never have to guess, but we will always know for sure the difference between right and wrong. (Ensign, November 1999, 85–86.)

In other words, if we follow the Spirit, we can know the answers to our questions and we won’t have to guess, when it comes to knowing the difference between right and wrong.

She advised us the that one of the first steps we can take to learn what the Spirit feels like is to ask Heavenly Father in prayer, “Do you love me?” and then wait for the answer. Then she told of a young woman who had not prayed in four years who, after she heard this counsel from Sister Shupe, went into a stall in the bathroom to find some privacy, asked this question and got her answer right then and there!

Another question she asked was, “Will you begin studying the scriptures every day and ask specific questions?” She went on to tell of taking a graduate-level statistics class where she felt way in over her head. She prayed, “Heavenly Father, why did you invent statistics?” She applied these two scriptures to get her answers to her questions about statistics:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (D&C 130:20,21.)

I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise. (D&C 82:10.)

And she got such a good grade in the class that the professor asked her not to take the final so that the other students in the class could get a passing a grade. The professor also asked her to proofread the statistics final for him!

She also explored this passage about searching our minds and hearts:

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me. (D&C 9:7–9.)

And then said, “Heavenly Father wants to know your opinion!” in reference to verse 8.
She quoted Richard G. Scott in reference to verse 9 who said:

The Lord clarifies, “But if [what you propose] be not right you … shall have a stupor of thought.” That, for me, is an unsettling, discomforting feeling. (Ensign, May 2007, 8–11.)

One other quote that really stuck for me was this from Ezra Taft Benson said, “The great test of life is obedience to God” (Ensign, May 1988, 4–6).

I haven’t shared all my notes from what Sister Shupe said, but these are some of the most important highlights to me. What I learned is that I can take my questions to the Lord with a lot more faith than I have in the past, and that I can get specific answers. I really need that help. It was a wonderful talk!

Rescued by Love

 I gave the following talk at ward conference today.

When we depart from this life, there will be only a few things we can take with us. For example, we can take our testimonies with us. We will also take our faith or lack of it with us. Unlike when we came into this life, we will be able to take our memories with us, both good and bad. We will also be able to take our relationships, some longed for during a time of separation, some rekindled in joyous reunion, others that will smart keenly because they are in need of mending.

There are few things more important than our relationships. The greatest blessings God has to offer us in the next life are only possible through marriage and family relationships, sealed by holy priesthood and by the Holy Spirit of promise (see D&C 132:19). These family relationships will come to all those who earnestly desire them.

How can any of us be saved in any degree without a relationship with another person—whether relationships between friends, between a husband and wife, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters, between us and our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. 

You have probably heard many stories over the years about how a nonmember or less active member of the Church has been rescued by the love, long-suffering and persistence of a spouse, parent, home teacher, youth leader or friend. I want to explore how those kinds of associations make all the difference when it comes to finding ourselves lost on a trackless plain. 

There is key factor in each of these stories. It is unconditional love, the kind of love that never goes away. This is what wins us all over eventually. It is a power so irresistible that only the most hardened soul can resist it, and few among those. 

The latter part of Doctrine and Covenants section 121 is the Lord’s textbook on how we can show this love. This section has a specific application to the priesthood, but I will paraphrase it in order to apply to all of us. I quote verses 41 and 42:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained [or upheld]…only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, without hypocrisy and without guile…”

While the worldly seek to “exercise control or dominion or compulsion” (D&C 121: 37) on others, God counsels us to use persuasion which is inspired by love rather than compulsion motivated by fear. Though parents have a right and obligation to guard the agency of children until they leave the home as adults, if we circumvent another’s agency, even if we think we are in the right, in order to get them to “do the right thing,” this shows a disrespect for agency and our influence cannot hold. To persuade rather than coerce takes time, and that’s why we need long-suffering or patience.

The virtues of kindness, gentleness and meekness instill trust because they uncover our true motivations. Anger and sharp words may garner us quicker results than kindness and gentleness, but not without breeding resentment and mistrust. Unchecked, that mistrust can extend over years until we lose almost all influence over another person, leaving a gulf of bitterness in it’s place.

To be meek means that we have the humility to endure “injury with patience and without resentment” (from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary). A meek person does not need to be defensive, critical or always right. A meek person knows what is really worth bothering about and what is not. 

Pure knowledge is light, the pure power of truth that can stand on it’s own without argument or embellishment. It is the power behind testimony.  When we act on pure knowledge, we don’t hide behind the mask of hypocrisy or leave off part of a story through guile. It is honest, clean and innocent. It is a solid foundation that you can rely on. 

Unfeigned love is honest, sincere, genuine love. Anyone who has been deceived by counterfeit or “artificially sweetened” love knows the difference between the two. Genuine love is real. It never goes away. It never dies. It only grows stronger and deeper over time. While it takes time for us to understand this love, it is this kind of love that changes our souls forever. 

If you want to rescue someone, to lead them back to safety—whether it be a stubborn spouse, a wayward child, or a lost friend—there is only one way to do it: the Lord’s way. The Lord’s way takes time and patience, consistently kind words and actions, and steady doses of unrelenting, unconditional love. 

While knowledge and memories are precious, nothing will be more valuable to us in this life or the next than our relationships, and there is no better insurance for those relationships than persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned and pure knowledge. By these means we can rescue the individual, and save ourselves along the way. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

It Has Been a Few Weeks

I haven’t written much here over the last few weeks. I want to be honest with you. Since late February, I’ve been discouraged. Very discouraged.

I’ve been facing gale-force opposition in most areas of my life. To strengthen me, my dear wife made me a small poster with these words from the apostle Paul:

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8,9).

So through this time, I have felt the closeness of my Heavenly Father, and He has inspired kind friends to support our family without them really knowing what is going on. It has been a great comfort.

I have learned many lessons over the last month. One has come home more keenly than others. It is this: That there will be times when even though you are doing everything in your power to serve the Lord and to work as hard as you possibly can to fulfill all of your duties at home, church and work, blessings can be withheld for a season as a trial of your faith.

The Lord wants to you to know where you come down when the blessings and grace you desperately need are not immediately at hand.

I know we bring many trials upon ourselves, often without knowing how or why. And so we wait and pray and work and seek to understand so we can change what we need to change.

Nonetheless, I feel comforted.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning (Psalms 30:5).

The light of hope has never gone out, no matter what has happened. It never will. We can refuse to see it shining, but it never goes out.