Sisters and brothers, Aloha. I am grateful for the chance to speak to you today.
I have not always been grateful for opportunities to speak in public. As a girl, I was very shy. Even talking to people was challenging. Through my teens, public speaking of any kind, even small groups, was hard for me.
When I was eighteen, I began college. As you know or will soon find out, speaking in front of a class is often required. In one of my first semesters, I took a class that required an in-class presentation. I prepared my presentation, and on the assigned day, each class member took a turn giving their presentation. I deliberately sat in the back of the class so that I could be one of the last students to present. I was really scared. The closer it got to my turn, the faster my heart beat. When the person right before me got up to speak, I also got up. And I walked right out of the classroom! I did not go back in. I was so scared of speaking in front of everyone that I chose not to do the assignment. I was fortunate and somehow managed to still pass the class.
Looking back on that situation, I now understand that fear made me run away from my presentation. Fear is a basic emotion that we all experience throughout our lives. Fear is normal, and it plays an important role in keeping us safe.
Fear becomes a “negative” emotion when it holds us back from doing something positive and prevents us from doing things we would otherwise enjoy. This kind of fear can cause us to question our self-worth and our abilities, and even our relationships with others and God.
Did you know that, according to one count, some form of the charge to “fear not” is repeated at least seventy-six times in the scriptures?1 Many of these scriptural references are followed by words of comfort and assurance that we can expect God’s help during difficult times. Two of those scriptures that come to mind are found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 6, verses 34 and 36:
"Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. "
Almost thirty years ago, in October 1992 General Conference, Sister Virginia Pearce, who at the time was serving as the first counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, said this about fear:
“Perhaps our Heavenly Father’s greatest hope is that through our fears we may choose to turn to him. The uncertainties of earth life can help to remind each of us that we are dependent on him. But that reminder is not automatic. It involves our agency. We must choose to take our fears to him, choose to trust him, and choose to allow him to direct us...
"As we try to live his commandments and pray to him, there are things he will direct us to do that will help calm our fears… He will support us as we face our fears and try to do things that we have never done before.”2
As you begin a new school year which can sometimes bring fears to the surface, I’d like to share four ideas that might help you better understand and control your fear.
First, please don’t forget your true identity as beloved children of God. In President Nelson’s worldwide devotional for young adults earlier this year, he urged you to remember that “your potential is divine” and that “first and foremost, you are a child of God, a child of the covenant, a disciple of Jesus Christ.”3 I hope that knowing who you truly are and that you have, what Elder Stevenson calls “an inexhaustible, divine source of strength burning inside of you,”4 that you will be able to overcome any fears you may have. With God, nothing is impossible.
Second, please find and make time to consistently do the small things that invite the spirit and fill your life with peace and joy. We have the promise in Alma 37:6 that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” Some of those simple things include having family and personal prayer, studying the scriptures, attending church meetings, and being thoughtful and kind in your interactions with others. In the April 2020 General Conference, Sister Joy D. Jones reminded us that “The Lord loves effort, and effort brings rewards. We keep practicing. We are always progressing as long as we are striving to follow the Lord.”5 If we do our part, the Lord will do His in helping us overcome any challenges and fears that come our way.
Third, taking advantage of opportunities to serve others is one sure way of forgetting yourself and your fears. In a BYU–Hawaii commencement address in 2015, Elder Stevenson suggested we “think more about the welfare of others than you think about yourself.” He quoted this comment from Martin Luther King Jr. about the parable of the Good Samaritan: Dr. King said: “I imagine that the first question which the priest and the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”6 By changing our thinking and focusing on the needs of others, we can start to control fear in our own lives.
Fourth, surround yourself with people who will help and support you as you follow the covenant path and as you overcome fears that are part of life. In May of 2020 after Keoni and I were asked to come to BYU–Hawaii, I was assigned to give my first devotional talk. At first, I was okay. But, as I started preparing my talk, fear of inadequacy overcame me. I didn't know how to move forward. I was scared that I wasn't going to be as good as the people who came before me and that I couldn’t be what everyone needed me to be. During this time of being fearful, a friend and mentor of mine sent me a message. In the message, they reminded me that the Lord has asked me to do this. Their simple encouragement gave me the confidence I needed. It reminded me that the Lord asked me to fulfill this role. It helped remind me that the Lord knows me, and He will help me. It is so very important in life to be surrounded by others who also want to stay on the covenant path so that we can help each other through hard times. What a difference good friendships and positive relationships have made in my efforts to live the gospel and to overcome my personal fears and challenges. Choose friends that can do that for you!
I’m reminded of the story of Elisha and his servant that we studied earlier this year in Come Follow Me. Elisha’s servant was overwhelmed and fearful when he saw that they were surrounded by the Syrian army. Elisha told him, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” Elisha prayed on behalf of his fearful young servant, “Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.”7
As I have faced challenging experiences in my life that led to me being fearful, I have found great comfort in knowing the Lord is my support. I have had many experiences where I feel and know as Elijah did, that the Lord has prepared many people and angels to support me. With time, I have been able to move forward with great confidence into new and challenging situations because of this faith and knowledge.
We love you and want the very best for you in the coming school year. I know that God, our Father, lives, and that Christ is our Savior. I pray that as each of us turns to Them to follow and trust Them, that we will feel Their love for us—that “perfect love [which] casteth out all fear.”8 In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. See Kevin J Worthen, “Fear Not,” BYU devotional address, 12 September 2017.
2. Virginia H. Pearce, “Fear,” General Conference address, October 1992.
3. See, Russell M. Nelson, “Choices for Eternity,” Worldwide devotional for young adults, 15 May 2022.
4. Gary E. Stevenson, “5 Ways to Conquer Fear,” New Era, February 2017.
5. See Joy D. Jones, “An Especially Noble Calling,” General Conference address, April 2020.
6. Gary E. Stevenson, “5 Ways to Conquer Fear,” New Era, February 2017.
7. 2 Kings 6: 16-17
8. 1 John 4:18