Overcoming our fears
As a Mormon missionary in Santiago, Chile, my mission president challenged us to “conquer our fears” on a daily basis.
Fear robs us of blessings. You can’t be a good missionary if you are afraid. Conquer your fears and open doors of opportunity, he would say.
That theme of facing your fears and overcoming them no matter what has stayed with me and blessed my life in many ways.
Naturally, I’ve tried to instill that idea in my children. But each child has reacted differently to that challenge. It takes patience (I really struggle with that one), encouragement, gentle prodding and sometimes bribery. I’m still trying to come up with a good reward system.
One of my sons has struggled to find the courage to speak or stand in front of a crowd, large or small. I guess that’s natural for any kid, unless you are part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In our church, it is not uncommon to see little kids, as young as 4 or 5, get up and speak or even sing a solo in front of hundreds of people on Sunday. I’ve never seen so many fearless kids. They get up on their own, many without parents, and speak boldly, naturally, and with humor. It’s impressive.
My son is 10 years old. He’s a social kid with plenty of friends and even gets in trouble daily for talking too much in class. But ask him to say a few words in front of a handful of people he doesn’t know and he clams right up. For years he refused to participate in the big primary program, where all the children in the congregation (upwards of 75 kids, depending on the size of the ward) sing and share a spiritual message. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd of kids, but he wouldn’t budge from our bench.
This troubled me. If he is going to be missionary at age 18, something he has said he wants to do, he needs to overcome his fear of speaking now, or at least there needs to be progress in a positive direction.
I really appreciated a message shared by President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, in Oct. 2012. In his talk, “Help Them Aim High,” President Eyring first prayed for revelation to know how he could help each child individually prepare for opportunities to serve God, he said.
“Then I tried to help them visualize, hope, and work for this future. I carved a board for each son with a quotation from scripture that described his special gifts and an image that represented this gift. Beneath the picture and the legend, I carved the dates of each boy’s baptism and ordination into priesthood offices, with his height marked at the date of each milestone.”
One of President Eyring’s sons sounded a lot like mine.
“The boy you are encouraging may seem too timid to be a powerful priesthood servant. Another one of my sons was so shy as a little boy that he wouldn’t walk into a store and talk to a clerk. He was too afraid. I worried as I prayed over his priesthood future. I thought of him in the mission field—that didn’t sound promising. I was led to a scripture in Proverbs: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
“I carved ‘Bold as a Lion’ on his board, beneath an image of a large lion’s head roaring. On his mission and in the years that followed, he fulfilled the hope in my carving. My once-shy son preached the gospel with great conviction and faced dangers with bravery. He was magnified in his responsibilities to represent the Lord.
“That can happen for the young man you are leading. You need to build his faith that the Lord can transform him into a servant braver than the timid boy you now see.”
That inspired me. I wish I could say I carved something for him, but no. What I did do is try to spend more time with him. I also tried to share stories of courage that I hoped would inspire him. And I prayed.
I don’t know what changed, but when the primary did its big program a month or so ago, my son was asked to share his testimony of the priesthood. He was reluctant, but didn’t shirk. We practiced and he actually did it! My wife and I rejoiced.
From time to time, each age group in primary is given the chance to speak during their meeting, to share a short talk or scripture. My son had always rejected this opportunity. But hoping to capitalize on the momentum of his participation in the primary program, I challenged him to give a talk. Honestly, this took a small bribe on the side, but I spun it as a well-deserved reward for him finding his courage.
I couldn’t believe it when he told me he’d accepted an assignment to speak in church this week, and on the topic of missionary work no less.
On Saturday night we went over the talk again and we could tell he was feeling confident. He even confessed to us that before we finalized his remarks, he had planned a fake claim of sickness for Sunday morning. I appreciated his honesty, and we teased him a little, but I knew he would go through with it. We also talked about Doctrine and Covenants section 38, verse 30: “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” The idea appealed to him.
At the appointed time, I quietly slipped into the back of the room and listened to him give his talk. Although he said he was shaking and very nervous, he didn’t show it. He delivered the talk without a hitch and sat down. My wife and I exchanged big smiles. It was a parent power moment. No one else had any clue as to how meaningful it was for us to see our son give that talk.
He still needs help, but we are happy with his progress. As we continue to work, I like these words by President Eyring:
“God knows our gifts. My challenge to you and to me is to pray to know the gifts we have been given, to know how to develop them, and to recognize the opportunities to serve others that God provides us. But most of all, I pray that you will be inspired to help others discover their special gifts from God to serve.
“I promise you that if you ask, you will be blessed to help and lift others to their full potential in the service of those they lead and love.”