Conquer Fear with the Fire of Faith
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
April 18, 2015
Bishop Gary E. Stevenson
Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Thank you President Wheelwright, members of the Board of Trustees, esteemed members of the faculty, husbands and wives, restless toddlers, crying and sleeping babies, proud parents and friends. I congratulate all of you. However, particularly, especially, congratulations to you, the BYU–Hawaii graduating class of 2015.
Seeing you, as you are before me, is rather spectacular. This is hardly a homogenous group of graduates. Certainly, your diversity goes beyond ethnicity and culture. Some among you represent a tradition of education which spans, perhaps, generations. Conversely, others among you may be at the beginning of this education tradition in your family–the first generation to earn a bachelor’s degree. Whatever your circumstance may be, congratulations on a major life milestone.
Not surprisingly, this causes me to reflect on my graduation day, some years ago. Married just over a month at the time, I remember well that day. I, frankly, don't recall what I am sure were very well prepared commencement addresses, or even the deliverers of such that day. I presume in a few years hence, you may not either. However, I do remember the feelings of that day. I felt a deep sense of relief with a crescendo toward “I have really accomplished something,” as a diploma was placed in my hands. Those feelings were shared by my wife Lesa, family, and loved ones. You too, right now, this minute, should rightfully enjoy similar emotions.
Let this be one of the days that you always remember. What you have done is no small accomplishment. It puts you in a rather small group of achievers. The First Presidency counsels us that "Education is an important part of Heavenly Fathers plan to help you become more like Him.”  The Lord smiles down upon you this day and promises, “Whatever principle of intelligence [you] attain unto in this life, it will rise with [you] in the resurrection.” This provides an important eternal perspective on the education you have received here at BYU, and on your continuing education. As significant as this day is for you, I suggest that you find a way to memorialize your graduation some way. Recently, I walked into the home of my son and daughter-in-law to see—newly framed and nicely placed on the wall—their diplomas. I was impressed with this. I thought, what a nice way to instill in their children the significance of their formal education. So, this is my first advice of the day.
The Fire of Faith
Now, if you will permit me to share a personal story. Some years ago, I was in the mountains camping and hiking with my sons and friends. I wanted to head out on my own, so I informed the group of the terrain where I would be hiking and set off for the afternoon. As I enjoyed a beautiful, brisk, fall day, I hiked a considerable distance in just a few hours.
After a while, I determined I had better head back if I wanted to return to the campsite before dark. Too soon, however, darkness began to set in. I had a general idea where I was, and knew I couldn't be too far from the base camp, yet the darker it became, the more difficult it was to orient myself towards camp.
I stopped and tried to logically direct myself, which became more and more difficult in the dark. As my heart started to pound harder, and my breathing began to increase, fear began to take over. I found myself walking faster, almost wanting to run, but without knowing which direction to head. Adrenaline coursed through my bloodstream. I realized I needed to take special care so as to not lose rationality or allow panic to overtake my emotions. This, unexpectedly, required considerable concentration.
By now it was dark enough and the temperature cool enough for me to know that our group would be comfortably settled around a campfire, and that if I found the right vantage point, the fire would be visible from a long distance.
It was with great relief that I spotted a golden flicker far off in the distance. Remarkably, this small speck of light provided the perspective necessary to immediately reorient myself and plot my return course. The fear that had been building inside of me dissipated faster than it came, and was replaced with peace.
Does it feel like I am building a foundation on the topic of fear? Well, I am. Fear is a normal part of life. In fact, many suggest it is a survival mechanism built into our DNA to protect us. I can rattle off a list of many common fears: fear of flying, fear of the dark, fear of heights, fear of spiders, fear of crowds, fear of closed in spaces, fear of germs, and the list goes on. But I would like to address different types of fears, which hold more eternal significance. The types of fears that contemporary sociologists observe have become more pronounced among you, the millennial generation.
Not coincidentally, some weeks ago, Elder Holland of the Twelve, in an address to CES educators around the world, framed the basis of his remarks around . . . fear. Furthermore, as I was discussing this speaking assignment with President Wheelwright, our conversation turned to this topic. He even suggested that I might offer insight to you today about how to overcome fear. He too observed that your generation of millennials, like no other, seem to be filled with fear, even at BYU–Hawaii. What are some of the fears you face that are causing this confluence of inspiration among prophets, seers and revelators, as well as your university president to make this such an important talking point—the fear of getting married, the fear of having children, the fear of seeking employment opportunities—perhaps because you’re terrified that in doing so you might fail—and the fear of being ridiculed for your peculiar beliefs.
With that as a backdrop, I’d like to direct my remarks towards a few specific fears and then suggest several ways to conquer them.
Fear of Marriage and Family
I have sat in a number of meetings, in councils and committees, among brethren and sisters at Church headquarters, where we have discussed the prevalent fear of entering into marriage and starting a family. Many of you are worried about the economic and political climate we live in. You’re waiting to finish school, or pay off debt, or buy a home, or establish your career before getting married and starting a family. For some, it is fear that marital bliss may not be so blissful, or even worse that it could end in a divorce. Let me offer my perspective on these feelings.
Satan understands that the family is central to the Lord’s plan of happiness. His strategy is to cast shadows of skepticism in your life. He is striving to sow the dark seeds of fear in your heart, anything to keep you from experiencing the most glorious, rewarding part of mortality: the bright holiness and happiness that comes from finding an eternal partner and bringing Heavenly Father’s children into this world.
As you face the decision to start your own eternal family, do not wait because you are afraid. Remember the scripture, “be not afraid, only believe.” My marriage and family are the center of my life and are a literal personal manifestation of the great plan of happiness for me. I promise you that the same can be true for you. Focusing the joyous light family life brings will cast out fear.
Fear of Failure
Another prevalent fear is the fear of failure. This fear can be so paralyzing that it prevents us from taking the bold actions necessary to succeed. Dr. Bernard Lown is the inventor of the defibrillator, a device attributed to the saving of numerous lives. He shared the following thoughts.
“During the development of the defibrillator, my biggest dread was failure or self-discredit, especially if I lost faith in my capacity to be active in healthcare. Each thing I’ve done in my life has involved a certain chance of not being successful. The defibrillator was a wild guess, but the health issues involved were so profound that I was ready to stick to it.
“It made no sense at the time, but now it’s changed the way we practice cardiology. I had to go out on a limb. In life, you never know if what you do has a chance of succeeding, but if you don’t take that chance, you won’t fulfill your destiny. Chance means risk, and risk means failure.”
The same has been true for me as well. I remember numerous times, walking into situations which frankly petrified me: presentations to major customers, banks and bondholders, or difficult negotiations. Even in my current role, just imagine what it is like to meet with, and present to the First Presidency each week! For you it might be working to get an interview, presenting yourself at the interview, or accepting a job with so many unknown factors.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook said, “Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face—and there will be barriers—be external, not internal. Fortune does favor the bold, and I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try.”
Now, I have a bit of bad news to share. If you take this advice and move forward with bold faith, you are most likely going to have a few failures in your life. You are going to take a few scrapes and bruises. There will be dark patches on the road ahead.
But you are sons and daughters of God. As such, you have an inexhaustible, divine source of strength burning inside of you. "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, . . . and of a sound mind." "Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I The Lord am with you and will stand by you, . . . " Let the knowledge of who you truly are and who is on your side burn away your fear of failure. With God as your Father, no failure will be final.
Fear of Ridicule
Recently, as I participated with Elder Quentin L. Cook in a conference with many other priesthood leaders, he counseled, “Don't be in camouflage.” He went on to emphasis how it is important that we stand up and stand out. I believe he was addressing another type of fear—the fear of being ridiculed for one's beliefs.
Today’s cultural landscape is full of those who would mock and ridicule our beliefs. We worry that if we express our peculiar beliefs—and they are peculiar—that this will somehow become an embarrassment, or ultimately, a disadvantage in our professional or social relationships. But we shouldn’t hide among the shadows, trying to blend in. “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” Remember how far away I was from the campfire when I was lost, and how penetrating a single spark can be in the black of night.
It is more important than ever to be willing to express your values and beliefs—particularly in today’s society, where people are stumbling around in the midst of darkness. You can express your faith with words, but especially by the way you live your life. “Be strong and of a good courage.” There are those out there who are hungry for the light of truth that you have. “Let your light so shine before men.”
Remember that the flame of conviction, truth and testimony inside you is bright enough to vanquish your fear of ridicule for your beliefs.
Conquering Your Fears
In early General Authority training I received, I well remember these words from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “Don't take counsel from your fears.” These words have had a profound impact on my life. If I may, I would like to suggest two more ways you can conquer the fears I’ve already mentioned, and any others that may come your way.
First, armor up. I often stand in front of the mirror as I am preparing to begin the day and say aloud, “Time to buckle on the armor.” I visualize myself putting on the armor of God, grasping in my hand a gleaming sword of the Spirit and safeguarding myself with a shining shield of faith. Brothers and sisters, make the daily choices that arm you with spiritual power. No dark dart of fear stands a chance when you are protected with the Lord’s brilliant armor.
Second, think more about the welfare of others than you think about yourself. Martin Luther King noted, “On the parable of the Good Samaritan: I imagine that the first question the priest and 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?” Dr. King understood that service and selflessness could eradicate fear.
My wife demonstrated her understanding of this principle when she instituted what we called “Lesa’s cookie therapy” while we were serving as mission presidents in Nagoya, Japan. Occasionally, we would have a missionary come to us who was struggling, often with doubt or fear, and ready to call it quits. Lesa would gather a few supplies, hand them to the missionary, and say, “Here’s what I want you to do. Take these ingredients and make chocolate chip cookies every morning. Package them and deliver them to someone who needs them.” This act of thinking about someone else rather than oneself often cured the missionary of his or her fears. The same is true for you. The warm, golden glow that accompanies service and selflessness has the power to melt away doubts and fears.
In the aforementioned stirring remarks to CES educators earlier this year, Elder Holland proclaimed, “We know for certain that if and when everything else in the latter days is down or dying; if governments, economies, industries, and institutions crumble; if societies and cultures become a quagmire of chaos and insecurity, nevertheless, through it all the gospel of Jesus Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that bears that gospel to the world will stand triumphant. It will stand undefiled in God’s hand until the very Son of God Himself comes to rule and reign as Lord of lords and King of kings. Nothing is more certain in this world. Nothing is more sure. Nothing could be more of an antidote to anxiety." With this knowledge and personal righteousness, fear gives way to faith and hope.
And so we end where we began. Once again, out in the darkness, looking for the way back to camp, paralyzed by fear, and then rescued by the vision of a tiny spark of light—the fire of faith, the flame of testimony, the burning brilliance of divine strength, the shining gleam of spiritual armor and the golden glow of selfless service. These will restore peace, provide direction, and eliminate fear.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 D&C 130:18
 Mark 5:36
 Dr. Bernard Lown, “The Capacity to Act in the Face of Fear”
 2 Timothy 1:7
 D&C 68:6
 Matthew 5:14
 Joshua 10:25
 Matthew 5:16
 Ephesians 6:11-17