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The word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying:
Fear not, Abram:
I am thy shield,
and thy exceeding great reward.
There is no fear in love;
but perfect love casteth out fear.
(1 John 4:18)
for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people.
An enlightening exercise for us might be to look inside and see just how fear is affecting our personal world. Don’t you notice that fear wears us out because we’re working all the time to keep something from happening or to make something happen—trying to control, manage, manipulate events or people, afraid that if we don’t, things will fall apart? This is exhausting. As an anxious child of an alcoholic, I’ve been there! But what if all our fears were just illusions?
Let’s begin with a true story:
Katie was on a hike, alone, in the Mojave Desert near her home when she came face to face with a rattlesnake, almost stepping on him. No one around for miles and this could be a painful, slow death. “My heart was beating to pop out of my chest, [I’d] broken into a sweat, I was paralyzed by fear. But then…my eyes began to focus: I dared another glance at the snake—and miraculously, I saw: it’s a rope! That snake is a rope! Well, I fell to the ground and began to laugh, cry, and to just take it in. I even had to poke it.”
“What had happened? I knew one thing: I was safe. I knew that I could stand over that rope for a thousand years and never be frightened of it again. I felt such gratitude and ease. The entire world could come upon this snake, scream, run away, have heart attacks, scare themselves to death—and I could just remain here fearlessly, and pass on the good news. I would understand people’s fears, see their pain, hear their stories about why it really is a snake, and yet there would be no way that I could believe them or be frightened of that rope. I had fallen into the simple truth: That snake is a rope.”_
That thing lying on the ground was an old rope, not a snake. There was no snake there.
The premise here is that fear is an illusion, that life events masquerade as snakes, and that we don’t perceive them as ropes because of the blindness of our human condition.
Let us speak lovingly and respectfully of the fears that perhaps you are dealing with, for example:
- the loved one who comes out and tells you he’s gay
- or one who’s doing drugs and may be in danger of dying on the streets
- or the marriage that is going sour
- or the fear that we are not loved
- or struggles with depression or addiction or financial crisis
- or perhaps a hidden sin that we’re afraid will come out
- or the debilitating health problem we never asked for
- or the sense of not being enough for the demands placed on us—never good enough
- and sometimes we can’t even put our finger on the particular fear—we’re just aware that we carry an undercurrent of anxiety and don’t feel entirely safe in our own skin or in our own world.
These are among our most common kinds of snakes.
But is it possible that each of these fears, these snakes I mentioned, is nothing but a rope? What would it take to know that, to feel that, and to be changed by that realization? It could be a miracle.
These kinds of miraculous changes happen all the time. “[There is] an ever-present human potential for remarkable change.” _
Change comes when we are able to see things differently, to recontextualize our perception, due to new information or some miraculous intervention that lets us experience a higher realm. Often the people who experience these changes can’t put into words what has happened to them. And not only is there a sudden new perception, but the person instantly recognizes the new revelation as authentic truth. People often report after the experience, “Right then, I knew that I would never be the same.”
We have accounts in scripture of sudden transformations—Alma the younger; Nephite dissenters and Lamanites in prison with Lehi and Nephi who were encircled about as by fire, “filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory” (Helaman 5); Paul on the road to Damascus; Benjamin’s people upon whom…. “[The Lord]…poured out his Spirit and…caused that your hearts should be filled with joy…that your mouths should be stopped that you could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy” (Mosiah 4:21). None of these people were the same after their experience.
What is really interesting about these particular quantum changes in the scriptures is, as mentioned before, that all these people (with the possible exception of Benjamin’s people) were, by nearly any definition, “unworthy” of the divine thing that happened to them. That’s significant for us to know. Because we want to talk about divine change and coming to Christ and how that might change both our perception of fear and of worthiness.
When we think about coming to Christ we may be tempted to feel that we’ll really come to Christ when we can get ourselves together a little better—when we’ve done more of the things on our lists of things-to-do to improve ourselves or to be more obedient. Because, we think, with the list undone and awareness of our many faults, we don’t feel worthy to really come to Christ; we feel even the temptation to shrink (see Ether 3:2–4).
But, you know, the only way that any one of us can come to Christ is in his or her inescapable unworthiness. So we can come boldly, with confidence in the Lord’s deeper understanding of us than we have of ourselves; John says, “Beloved, if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things” (John 3:20). Sometimes we’re inhibited by man-made formulas we’ve heard.
In our church classes we may hear or even teach these formulas, where we say that the Lord can only respond if we do this and this and this. But my experience, and likely yours too, is that the Lord is not following many formulas. I’ve been blessed so many times beyond any diligence or extraordinary worthiness on my part. He has His own ways, and they may not fit what we think we know. We may unwittingly create veils of unbelief.
You and I exist on a developmental ladder that leads up ultimately to perfection, and as individuals we’re distributed across this ladder, some of us lower, some higher—which doesn’t really matter as long as we’re on the ladder and willing to undergo development. We want to ascend this ladder because it leads to a richer, freer life than what we may experience currently, where we may still be dealing with the anxieties of the world-mind. We want to go up and transcend as much of the world sorrow as we can.
We ascend that ladder initially, not by our definition of worthiness, but by our intention to be changed and to accept Christ’s power to lift us up that ladder. It seems to be our sincerity that releases the power of the Atonement (as in Alma 33:11).
It also seems to be that the more people have direct experience with the Divine, the less fear they have; and the more there is a shift from ego and fear issues, the more they experience their true self as part of God. This is a new person who feels, “I was blind, but now I see.”
Let us consider who we are and who Christ is.
Who We Are
We are by primordial creation, beings of light, life, love, goodness, and joy. For the most part, we spend time disconnected from who we really are because we have forgotten. One of the reasons for that is that when we were born here, into a world that is lower on the developmental ladder, we found ourselves in a world where fear was the reigning dynamic. We learned fear and weakness from our experiences in what seemed like a chaotic, dangerous world, and we filled with fear about our personal selves, about those around us, about events, about God Himself. This is all an illusion. It’s all based on misinformation, but we tie up a great deal of energy trying to manage fear. Though this fearful state was all according to divine plan, we were not designed to remain in fear—simply to experience it for a while.
Fear can become an habitual way of approaching life, of doing life; we can become addicted to fear and to suffering and to worry and to anxiety. And notice that lots of advertisers or news media want to make you fearful to serve their own financial purposes. Also, we live in the midst of unseen forces that try to recruit you and me to fear or emotional upset, and/or to make us feel obligated to feel outrage over things. We want to become aware of that because emotional upset is contagious and fills us with toxic feeling. We can refuse to respond to this emotional hype, these temptations to entertain defilements. Of course we can take steps for the betterment of society, but fear and outrage will not serve us well. Simply becoming aware of these dynamics in our culture can cause us to make wiser and more independent choices.
Some sources of fear are not so obvious because they are considered “normal” in our society. One thing we spend a lot of energy on is the quest for love, approval, attention, appreciation—these “fearful child” goals that can accompany us into adulthood. We’re seeking things outside ourself, apart from our divinity, things we feel we need as though we had some sort of inner vacuum that we have to fill. One spiritual teacher writes:
From childhood on, most people spend much of their energy in a relentless pursuit of [love, approval, and appreciation], trying out different methods to be noticed, to please, to impress, and to win other people’s love, thinking that’s just the way life is. This effort can become so constant and unquestioned that we barely notice it anymore._
But in the spiritual realm this way of thinking is seen as dysfunctional because each of us is a special creation for expressing God uniquely, and no one in the Heavens wants to be anyone but who he is.
Our True Relationship
In the midst of this world-mind and culture, including the adversarial forces around us, there is also an additional, powerful reality—mostly unperceived.
The scriptures describe it: D&C 88:41, 49-50 (“I am the true light that is in you, and…you are in me; otherwise ye could not abound”). What does this mean to me? Why don’t I perceive this reality—that He is shining His love into all creation and also is infused in me? Brief answer: because of our misunderstandings and our unbelief; but, we get to rend the veil of unbelief—and see what’s behind it.
Let us once again briefly review our true relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ that it may distill more deeply into our soul. It is that our beautiful self is embedded with the Lord. That is, we live on a life-support system in Christ, and we could directly experience that. “Abide in me, and I in you…. I am the vine; for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:4–5). If we could do that, abide in Him, and feel it, what would it do to our fear factor? He says, ”If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you…. Continue ye in my love. If ye keep my command-ments, ye shall abide in my love;. . . These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:7, 9–11).
If we want to abide, how is that done? We want to keep this really simple, because it is.
The Lord says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). It is in the stillness of our own soul that we know Him, that we find the Lord if we are looking for Him. Within our soul is the sacred sanctuary of our own true self, and connected with that, the conscious presence of the Lord Himself. Closer than our breath, more intimate than anything within or without, is this loving, patient Presence—waiting for our conscious awareness. Perhaps for the very reason that it is so close, we are not often aware of it.
What’s beautiful about this is that communing with the Lord isn’t so much a matter of trying to get the attention of a God “out there,” as it is to remove the things in here that are in the way of our perceiving His presence—that “veil of unbelief.” This process of finding the Lord within is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 24, “Abide in Me.”
Elder Boyd Packer speaks on the Light of Christ, and thus the literal presence of the Lord:
There is something inside all of us…. [It] was in you before you were born (D&C 93:23, 29-30), and it will be with you every moment that you live and will not perish when the mortal part of you has turned to dust. It is ever there…. [It] is always there. It never leaves. It cannot leave…. All of this is a dimension of gospel truth that too few understand.
Elder Packer points our minds to that fact that we were designed from before the foundations of the earth to exist in this relationship with the Lord. It’s the way of Heaven. It’s the way that everyone there lives, in a conscious relationship with each other and with Divinity, vessels of His will and power. We get to learn that relationship here, and then it’s just natural that we could walk into exaltation. The Savior models this relationship in the Gospel of John: “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10).
His presence is a spiritual reality that can be experienced directly—not just theoretically. So the more we bring our focus to bear on being directly with Him or in Him, the more we’ll know that we have indeed been there. This is best practiced in a quiet, private place until we establish that knowingness in our own soul. Many ordinary people can testify of this felt presence. I think our hearts long for the security of this personal relationship.
It is good to practice as often as we can because we’re so well programmed by the world—we have to thin that veil through our own practice. Let us have faith that we can teach ourselves to stay centered in our true self and in the Lord within, acting continually out of that centeredness. That way we keep our true perception alive, because it’s when we’re disconnected and act out of that disconnectedness that life fills with distress.
And no matter where we are on the developmental ladder, God is there too, with us. We feel His acceptance as we so imperfectly work out our development in Him.
Consider some additional realizations that strengthen our ability to trust the Lord and what shows up in our life:
It may be that the purpose of our life, rather than a focus on “the list of spiritual to-do’s” is, first, to learn to abide in Christ._ When this awareness is established in us, the commandments and obligations become more effortless because we’re not working against our own resistance. We find that in any moment, as the Lord gently tells Martha, “only one thing is needful” (Luke 10:42).
That is, through abiding in Christ, life just seems to unfold instead of our feeling we have to control it. One woman reports after a “quantum change” experience:
Some really interesting things just unfold out of the day. I know to trust that the day will unfold. I don’t have to be scurrying all over doing eight thousand things to keep myself…active. I trust that what I need to do next will be right in front of me, will be real obvious…. I’m learning to trust in my Higher Power and not to be afraid.
And as we go along, if our desires are centered in the Lord, we begin to notice that He provides everything we need in our “wilderness,” as the scripture teaches:
And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them;…. And all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish… I will…be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore,…ye shall be led. (1 Nephi 17:3, 5, 13)
And we can come to see that life just unfolds right—no matter what it brings—because it’s all been foreseen and orchestrated. [Please see Supporting Statements below.]
People often say how afraid they are that they might do something wrong. It’s so reassuring to know that the Plan of Happiness is not a mistake-less plan, but rather a laboratory for learning what works and what doesn’t—learning good from evil by our direct experience. All mistakes are foreseen and compensated for. Everything is in place for our personal spiritual success if we’ll practice staying in alignment with the Lord.
It’s obvious that we are not in control of life events, however hard we try to be; we can only control our own intention, but never the consequences of our intentions or actions. However, knowing that the consequences are in the Lord’s hands, could we give up our anxious need to control or manipulate people or events so they’ll turn out like we want them to? Could we be open to the possibility that maybe we’re wrong about what needs to happen in this person’s life now? Could we, after our best appropriate efforts, just let go and let God? Could we let life unfold and try not to interfere, but just play our part as wisely and lovingly as we can?
And is it not possible that we can’t really even know the full meaning of any experience—even any so-called mistake? Even any seeming tragedy? Is it possible that we are encouraged to trust and accept what shows up, no matter how tough, as a personal gift? Could it be that there is a benevolent, divine purpose behind every event?
Of course we change and improve what we can, with the Serenity Prayer in mind: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Then consider this prophetic insight from President Gordon B. Hinckley:
In my ninety-plus years, I have learned a secret. I have learned that when good men and good women face challenges with optimism, things will always work out! Truly, things always work out! Despite how difficult circumstances may look at the moment, those who have faith and move forward with a happy spirit will find that things always work out.
He advocates doing life with a fearless and happy spirit.
Feeling safe is not something we can instill through our intellect. It is a feeling that distills in us as we come to see how things really are and as we enter into the Lord’s love. Let us abide in Christ and there feel that we are safe in a benevolent Universe that is geared for turning us into godly beings—however it has to be done. Glory to God in the Highest.
- God’s omniscience is not solely a function of prolonged and discerning familiarity with us—but of the stunning reality that the past and present and future are part of an “eternal now” with God! (JS, DHC, 4:597)…. Since—unlike for us enclosed by the veil—things are for God, one “eternal now,” it is to be remembered that for God to foresee is not to cause or even to desire a particular occurrence—but it is to take that occurrence into account beforehand, so that divine reckoning folds it into the unfolding purposes of God. Thus, for those with faith it can be said as by Paul, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). The actual determinations, however, are made by us mortals using our agency as to this or that course of action. For these determinations and decisions we are accountable…. Our agency is preserved…by the fact that as we approach a given moment we do not know what our response will be. Meanwhile, God has foreseen what we will do and has taken our decision into account (in composite with all others), so that His purposes are not frustrated. (Neal Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, 8, 12)
- All men are the spirit children of the Eternal Father; all dwelt in his presence, awaiting the day of their mortal probation; all have come or will come to earth at an appointed time, in a specified place, to live among a designated people. In all of this there is no chance. A divine providence rules over the nations and governs in the affairs of men. Birth and death and mortal kinship are the Lord’s doings. He alone determines where and when and among what people his spirit children shall undergo their mortal probation…. [Following is commentary in which Elder McConkie cites Romans 8:28-30. I’ll include here verse 29 and part of 30: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son…. Them he also called.” He continues:] All Israel, according to the doctrine of foreordination, have it in their power to gain exaltation; to be like the Son of God, having gained his image; to be joint-heirs with him; to be justified and glorified; to be adopted into the family of God by faith; to be participators with their fathers in the covenant that God made with them; and to be inheritors, to the full, of the ancient promises. Implicit in all this is the fact that they are foreordained to be baptized, to join the Church, to receive the priesthood, to enter the ordinance of celestial marriage, and to be sealed up unto eternal life. (Elder B.R.McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 512-513)
- Can we know anything here that we did not know before we came?…. Had we not known before we came the necessity of our coming…we never would have come; that is, if we could have stayed away. I believe that our Savior is the ever-living example to all flesh in all these things. He no doubt possessed a foreknowledge of all the vicissitudes through which he would have to pass in the mortal tabernacle…. And yet, to accomplish the ultimatum of his previous existence, and consummate the grand and glorious object of his being, and the salvation of his infinite brotherhood, he had to come and take upon him flesh. He is our example…. If Christ knew beforehand, so did we. But in coming here, we forgot all, that our agency might be free indeed, to choose good or evil…. By the power of the Spirit, in the redemption of Christ, through obedience, we often catch a spark from the awakened memories of the immortal soul, which lights up our whole being as with the glory of our former home. (President Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 12–14).