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Choosing faith over fear

“I have learned while writing this talk something about how fear works against faith in my life. I’ve realized that fear weakens my faith more than I had recognized.  When my faith is strong, I am happy, confident and even energetic as I approach each day.  I am able to remain calm as difficulties arise, to keep the relative importance of things in perspective, and to feel the comfort and guidance of the Spirit when I most need it.  But then there are the times when I am anxious about the problems I face and worried about what is coming next.  Those are hard times, lonely times.  I don’t feel capable of handling what the day will bring.  At times like that I am likely to choose badly and make small problems worse by my reactions.  I have learned that these are times of fear…

In my experience, fear is like that cold.  Fear is out there all the time, ready for me to let it in.  I often find myself a little anxious and worried, a little discouraged and doubtful.  I often have moments when I don’t feel capable of solving my problems, of meeting my challenges, of overcoming my sorrows.  Those are symptoms that need immediate attention.  I have learned this as a result of a few extended bouts with fear—times when I was as disabled spiritually and emotionally as I was physically when I had pneumonia.  Fear, too, can be life threatening.

What is the source of fear? I think it is rooted in the assumption (one that comes all too easily to me if I am not paying attention) that I must solve all my problems and face all my challenges alone, using my own resources.  That is frightening, because deep in my heart I know how limited those resources are.  So when I am fearful, I am also hopeless.  And without hope, I find myself paralyzed.  Knowing that I am not capable of changing myself or my circumstances for the better, I stand frozen in fear.  Fear is a failure of faith…

…faith is a choice to believe and then to act upon that belief.  And it is a choice to believe and act without the assurance that would follow from what Alma calls ‘perfect knowledge.’  That is, faith is a choice to believe and to act upon that belief in the face of uncertainty.

But this last idea—that we choose faith in the face of uncertainty—prompts a question. At some special times in my life the Spirit has witnessed to me that the restored gospel of Christ is true.  Yet day to day I find myself uncertain in the face of my challenges and difficulties and readily subject to the doubt and fear that follows it.  I have a testimony of the gospel. Yet, as I try day to day to live that gospel, I find myself having consciously having to chose faith.  Isn’t that a contradiction? Having been given my own witness of truth, shouldn’t I be beyond faith?  Maybe I should be, but I’m not. Why is that?  I think I’ve found an answer in a Bible story we all know. On a boat in the dark on a very stormy sea, Jesus was awakened by His frantic companions:

“Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38).  The Lord calmed the storm and then asked them in response, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

Indeed, how is it?

Before we try to answer that, think about this: Why did they need faith?

They had the Savior present in the boat with them.  How could they possibly fear anything?  I think they were fearful because, at that moment, the only things they had perfect knowledge of were the intensity of the storm, the fragility of their boat, the depth of the water, and their distance from the shore.  At that moment their mortal senses were filled with fear:  They could see and hear and feel the threat of their circumstances.  They had, in days prior, witnessed for themselves the Savior’s power.  He had promised them the Father’s blessings.  Yet their memories of His works and His words and their hope in the future reality of His promises were not, at that moment, nearly so real to them as the storm.

This story helps me understand something important about faith.  Faith is founded upon our memory of divine witnesses and blessings received in the past and upon our hope in divine promises for the future.  Founded upon promises of the past and the future, our faith can be vulnerable when experiences in the present seem to contradict both.  So even with knowledge of the truth, in the present moments of our day-to-day experience we remain subject to fear and must consciously choose again and again to believe, to remember, to hope, to have faith.”

Gregory Clark, “Some Lessons on Faith and Fear” (BYU Devotional, May 6, 2008)
Transcript and recording available at:
http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=12253&x=53&y=6

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