Elder Jeffrey R. Holland takes us to the hours before Gethsemane when Jesus told his troubled apostles:
“On that very night, the night of the greatest suffering that has ever taken place in the world or that ever will take place, the Savior said, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you…Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid’ (John 14:27).
“I submit to you, that may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart” (“Come unto Me”, Ensign, April 1998)
We may think of a phrase like “let not your heart be troubled” as a word of comfort, a comforting pat on the back from a loving parent, but a commandment? Doesn’t that seem a little hard, in fact, almost impossible?
What could be more natural than to be troubled or frightened when distress can come upon us at any moment and we swallow it like sea water, gulping for life? Why not be afraid? After all, we live in a world where we are always at the mercy of thousands of forces that are far beyond our control and yet impact our lives dramatically. Tomorrow is dim and subject to surprises that disappoint and burn. We cannot prepare well enough to sidestep them. It is not surprising that we may not feel entirely safe.
After all, we didn’t choose to be on edge and on the line. Isn’t it just part and parcel of the mortal condition? When we came to mortality weren’t we just cast into a whirlpool of uncertainty? So how can we be commanded to be neither troubled, nor afraid? Isn’t that just a lot to ask?
Elder Holland continues, explaining why our living in a fearful or anxious state would grieve the Lord : “I can tell you this as a parent: as concerned as I would be if somewhere in their lives one of my children were seriously troubled or unhappy or disobedient, nevertheless I would be infinitely more devastated if I felt that at such a time that child could not trust me to help or thought his or her interest was unimportant to me or unsafe in my care. In that same spirit, I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of the Savior of the world when he finds that his people do not feel confident in his care or secure in his hands or trust in his commandments.”
What he suggests here is that anxious, over-wrought living is a manifestation that we do not understand the very nature of God and his personal, intimate care of us as his child. Oh, we may be able to give lip-service to his attributes, reciting his characteristics of loving kindness with the best of them in Sunday School class, but it is in the hollow chambers of our own soul that we must make that knowledge soul-deep. It is when life presents us or our loved ones with the challenges that harrow the heart, that we are left having to come straight up against it. Is God who he says he is, and am I safe or have I only been giving lip service to a beautiful idea?
We truly do have to know God’s attributes in our bones. Elder Holland again, “Just because God is God, just because Christ is Christ, they cannot do other than care for us and bless us and help us if we will but come unto them, approaching their throne of grace in meekness and lowliness of heart. They can’t help but bless us. They have to. It is their nature.”
The world is an anxious place, but that is because most of us two-legged creatures roaming here, have forgotten him, amnesiac about his nature. He tells us not to fear as an expression of the nature of our relationship with him. We have to trust that he is able to do his own work. He is watchful, not careless. His memory is everlasting, not spotty. His notice penetrates to our individual level—and he cannot do otherwise.
What makes us fearful or anxious? Anxiety or worry can begin to dominate our souls when we think that life is about demonstrating and relying on our own strength and that we can be safe only with a certain prescribed outcome. When we attempt to rely only on our own strength—or our own vision, limited as it is—we very quickly find out that we fail, flaccid and limp before the assaults of a fallen world.
If it is our assumption that this walk is ours to make alone, that we must provide the muscle power to row up the Niagaras, we are left shaken and shaking.
What’s more, it is not only the circumstances outside of us that can erode our peace, but internal concerns about our own performance, our own adequacy, our gumption to continue to grapple with the difficult forces in our lives that make us feel contracted, warred upon, and weary.
One of the curses that the Nephites experience when they become entangled in pride in the Book of Mormon is that because they boasted in their own strength, they were left in their own strength.
It is described in this way: “And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands” (Helaman 13:4).
How ironic it is that being “left in your own strength” is a curse from the Lord. Yet, sometimes we curse ourselves by erroneously believing that we travel through life alone, just “left in our own strength.” We create a false mental construct that we are on our own, while all the time the very Creator of the universe is stretching out his arm to us and sustains us day by day.
Thinking that we have only our own strength to rely on, we can be as nervous and unsure as if every good thing is on the line, when actually we are being carried along and protected by the Lord all along.
We cannot feel safe if our security is based on our own resources, for life offers manifold demonstrations of how flimsy our control is over anything external to ourselves. If we become wedded to our plan of how things must be to give ourselves a sense of control, every detail is pitched by minefields and snags, and we are left bewildered why things don’t go the way we thought they should.
The assumption that we are on our own, and therefore insecure, comes from blindness, a misunderstanding of ourselves and the human condition. If, as Nephi tells us, we are saved by grace after all we can do, the “what we can do” part is puny compared to the overwhelming grace that God offers.
We are safe. We are not insecure, we only think we are.
Fear begins in our heads. We are the author and it is a keen tool of Satan. You really do have to “let go and let God.”
What happens when we take counsel from our fears?
We become self-absorbed, because just protecting ourselves and controlling our future becomes totally demanding. We cannot let down our guard, long enough to look around or see others or the Lord clearly. We are too busy with our guard up and our attention fixed on self-preservation and ego maintenance, expecting some kind of blow. We compare our situation unfavorably to others. We worry. We may seek to control every detail to work together for our good because we don’t really trust the Lord is capable of doing that.
When we take counsel from our fears, we lose touch with reality, creating a universe that has uncertain and disquieting aspects. We become afraid to be bold, to explore, to find out who we are. We make choices based on “safety” instead of on the Spirit’s guidance. We choose to cringe instead of reach out. We see ourselves as a victim instead of an agent. We contract even as the Lord is urging us to expand.
“Be not afraid” is a commandment because fear teaches us to be too concerned about the opinions of others, even those pointing fingers our way from the “great and spacious building.” “Be not afraid” is a commandment because anxiety is a painful, being tied up in knots, believing that things won’t work out.
Fear makes us hide, putting our light under a bushel. Fear makes us ashamed and sometimes snarly.
But mostly fear and stress is a fundamental misunderstanding of who God is and why he is trustworthy.
To follow the Lord’s command, however, to “let not our hearts be troubled”, ultimately requires a leap, an acknowledgement that ultimately we are safer with him than with ourselves.
Once in Thailand, I went on a jungle zipline, that sent us swooshing through the tops of the jungle canopy sometimes as high as 100 feet off the ground. I was strapped in a harness that put me in a sitting position as I zoomed across the lines from one massive rubber tree to the next, a position that felt fairly secure. At one platform, high above the jungle floor, however, the harness fastened on differently, this time only on your back. Instead of our jumping off the platform and flying along with a harness making a little seat, this time, we would leap out into the air like a bird, face toward the ground, dangling from a harness on our back.
To move forward, this is the leap we had to make. I heard one behind me saying, “I can’t do this. I mean I can’t do this.” Yet to cling to the current position on the platform was impossible and to timidly try to hold on to the rope “for safety’s sake” was to guarantee a rope burn and possible injury. There was simply nothing to do but be sure the harness was secure and leap.
Then, oh the flight, the freedom, the joy as the earth flew beneath us.
So we have to make a spiritual leap that says I can let go of the worry that plagues me, the uncertainty that eats at my well-being and trust that if I do—and instead use those same energies to draw close to the Lord, he will make all things work together for my good. I do not have to see all things right now nor have all answers delivered to me this day. I can trust because the One I trust is completely trustworthy.
The Lord repeated this message several times to Joshua when he was contemplating with trepidation going into the promised land: “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the aLord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9).
Boyd K. Packer tells the story:
“Shortly after I was called as a General Authority, I went to Elder Harold B. Lee for counsel. He listened very carefully to my problem and suggested that I see President David O. McKay. President McKay counseled me as to the direction I should go. I was very willing to be obedient but saw no way possible for me to do as he counseled me to do.
“I returned to Elder Lee and told him that I saw no way to move in the direction I was counseled to go. He said, ‘The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.’ I replied that I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: ‘You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you’” (“The Edge of the Light,” BYU Today, Mar. 1991, 22–23).
Instead of taking counsel from our fears, a diminished source indeed, let us take counsel from the light, from the One who knows the end from the beginning and whose hand is over all things.
“All things” means you, too.