Latter-day Saint Life

Latter-day Saint psychologist: Trusting in the Lord’s promises for more peace and less anxiety


Imagine being in the position of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. You are a righteous, faithful woman. You’ve been stalwart throughout many trials and maintained hope. You and your husband receive a promise that through your descendants, everyone in the world will be blessed for generations to come. It is your right and privilege to be the mother of those who will begin that tremendous gift. But how can this be?

You’ve aged well beyond your childbearing years. Despite your desire to be a mother, you’ve not had that blessing. Every mortal sign indicates you cannot bear children, yet God told your husband, “Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac” (Genesis 17:12). It seems impossible, yet in faith, you move forward and trust in the Lord.

In my mind, this is where Satan tries to get into Sarah’s head. “Do not believe such foolishness,” he seductively whispers. “You can’t have children. You know this. Don't set yourself up for another disappointment.” Don’t we all find ourselves victims of such devilish taunts at various times in our lives?

Many have experienced the derision of those who reside in the great and spacious building, mocking the obedient for their devotion, particularly when faithful following seems contrary to conventional wisdom. Yet the resolution for all who hold fast to the iron rod is the same as it was for Sarah: “And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him” (Genesis 21:1-2; emphasis added). I love that simple, understated scripture. It testifies that God follows through on His promises. Even when the odds of success are completely against us, and when others believe our faith is foolishness, God fulfills His promises. This led me to think, what promises has He made to His children regarding the prospect of peace in an increasingly unstable world? The scriptures are full of them; here are a few examples.

“If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30)

The sequence of this statement is clear. Preparation comes first, then reduced fear follows. What sort of preparation? There could be many kinds depending upon the circumstance. Financial preparation can reduce fears of making ends meet. Physical preparation can reduce fears of chronic health problems. Academic preparation can reduce fears of poor scholastic performance. Yet for many years, I have wondered if this statement is more of an admonition than a promise.

Shortly after earning my psychology doctorate and completing my post-doctoral training, I sat for a written exam to become a licensed psychologist. I had studied diligently for months. I was about as prepared as I could be. Upon completing the test, we were informed it would take between four to six weeks to receive our results by mail. If I did not pass, it would delay the start of my career. It would mean more study and more stress. When I arrived home, I found myself stressing out about the possible outcomes if I failed. But then I thought, “You’ve done all you can. You prepared well and executed to the best of your ability. Worrying these four to six weeks gets you absolutely nowhere; just relax and await the results.” Applying Doctrine and Covenants 38:30 as an injunction, it would read, “because you prepared, do not fear.

Perhaps the Lord is inviting us to reduce our fears in relation to the efforts we make. When we do our part to the best of our ability, then we can have confidence in good outcomes. We increase our faith as we rely on the Lord and His promises. We may have to fight feelings of doubt and fear, but this is how faith is increased. Joseph Smith taught this same principle: “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17). Prepare well, then try to let the fears subside.

“Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me.” (D&C 19:23)

Consistent with the Lord’s pattern, this promise invites us to act first and then qualify for the blessing. As we learn about the Savior, listen to His words, and follow His example, we have a greater potential for peace. How can learning about the Savior increase feelings of peace? Consider the example of the Lord’s disciples when sailing on the Sea of Galilee. A sudden, violent tempest threatened to sink the boat, despite the best efforts of the sailors. Yet throughout it all, the Savior rested in peaceful slumber. Perhaps frustrated with their Master’s apparent indifference to their perceived mortal danger, they awakened Him by exclaiming, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38). The Lord arose, and with a single command, calmed the seas and hushed the wind.

No doubt this was an amazing experience for His disciples, who had never beheld such power in a single individual. Indeed, they said, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). They didn’t know the limitless depths of the Savior’s powers. Had they known, they would not have feared. I can’t say for certain, but I’ll wager that those on that boat never feared again in a maritime storm with Jesus Christ on board their ship. They had learned of Him, improving their understanding, and leading to less fear. Surely, we can do the same. As we learn more of His character, His generosity, and His merciful kindness, we have greater trust and less trepidation. The storms of life, although challenging, are less fearsome because we know who we are sailing with. We can have greater peace, through the Savior, as we come to know Him more completely.

“Be not afraid, only believe.” (Mark 5:36)

Sometimes fear and anxiety are based on inaccurate perceptions. For example, I have a fear of snakes. I know that most snakes are harmless, but nevertheless, I don’t like them. Many years ago, a “reptile handler” came to our children’s elementary school for an assembly. Some of my children had a large snake draped around their shoulders as they posed for a picture. To this day, that photo creeps me out. I completely understand that my fear of snakes is irrational, yet it exists. Then there are times when fear and anxiety are completely warranted, as they are based on truly threatening circumstances. Losing a job or home, contracting a dread disease; these are genuine reasons to be afraid.

In the New Testament, the man Jairus sought the Savior. His daughter was dying. He pled with the Lord to save his precious girl. Unlike my fear of snakes, his anxieties and fears were completely understandable. As they journeyed to the man’s home, they were met by some who informed Jairus that his daughter had died. They said, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?” (Mark 5:35). If Jairus were only somewhat anxious and fearful before, those feelings were amplified and cemented at this point. If only he had reached the Savior sooner. If only his daughter had held on just a little longer. Yet now she was gone; only grief remained. But Jesus, hearing the report of the girl’s death, reassured Jairus: “Be not afraid, only believe” (Mark 5:36). The Master of death went to the young girl, took her by the hand, and restored her to life.

So, what of our circumstances? What about when the way ahead seems impossible? What about when situations seem so bleak that nothing can calm our fears? Just as He said to the aggrieved father, He says to us: “Be not afraid, only believe.” Can we trust Him at His word? Can we have faith in His ability to clear unclearable paths and cross uncrossable chasms? If we can, then we will find some relief from our fears and anxieties as we rely on the Savior and His incomparable power.

Prepare diligently. Learn of Him. Believe fearlessly. Although life will be fraught with difficulty and truly fearful events, these can be mitigated as we increase our capacity to rely on the Savior and His mighty power. God bless you on your journey.

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