My comments below are based upon the April 2015 Conference talk “Choose to Believe” by Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy. I will present these comments in sacrament meeting today. This is what I believe, and so I should also make them part of my personal record, here.
Elder Clayton’s talk was hard for me to listen to during this last conference. I get queasy very easily, and this talk had descriptions of some pretty harsh injuries. He described how a young girl named Sailor lost both her parents in a plane crash and, in spite of the darkness of a Kentucky winter night and her own harrowing injuries, she braved the wilderness and made her way to safety. What guided her to safety? A light, in this case, from a house.
Elder Clayton chose his example because of the extreme conditions the protagonist endured – but nevertheless survived. She survived because of hope. She survived because she had faith that the light she saw was the answer, that it was the solution to her problem. She survived because she had that faith – and then because she acted upon that faith.
Elder Clayton took a quote from Alma Chapter 32 to illustrate his point further. Alma 32 is a powerful description of not only what conditions must exist for us to have faith, but also instructions on what to do to acquire that faith. Let me emphasize again – there are things that we must do in order to get our faith, for faith does not fall gently into our laps from angels passing overhead. Faith is something which we must rise up from our beds and walk towards. It is something which we must tend to, both with care and with regularity.
Consider these words from Alma:
26 Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
I want to call attention to how Alma said that there are things we say within ourselves that increase our faith. We bear testimony of this faith: we must needs say that the seed is good. One could argue, perhaps, that Alma is making a suggestion on how one would observe the swelling and growing. I hold the view that this is an action to take, for Alma tells us that after we bear this testimony, “Behold, will not this strengthen your faith?”
So we bear our testimonies in church on Fast Day. If we cannot face the congregation, we should bear our testimonies to our friends and family at more intimate gatherings. If that is too much to bear, then we should confide a testimony in our most trusted friend. And, should we be even too shy for that, there is always the mirror, where we can look ourselves in the eye and bear our faith-growing testimonies there. The habit will improve our courage and deepen our faith, for faith truly is the opposite of fear.
Imagine that poor girl, if she were immobilized by fear. She would have perished in the cold. That would have been her choice, and perishing would have been the consequence of that choice. We are free to create as many reasons as we desire to allow fear to rule our lives. But that fear is the emotional manifestation of the power of Satan’s chains on our souls, and there are many sins that we can fall into that will intensify that fear, but provide us with a lie to justify their influences in our lives. We are free to fall into a trap of fear and then help Satan to chain ourselves down harder and tighter with his awful powers.
But the young girl chose instead to walk out of the trap that she was in. The sorrow of losing her parents was a chain that did not bind her. The injuries she had suffered did not bind her. The darkness, the wilderness, the cold, none of those bound her. She allowed her faith to guide her steps, until the spiritual hope became a very real physical hope. So it is with us.
We all face a wilderness in our lives. We all face something that we know to be our greatest challenge. We all face something that we know to be our most protracted battle with sin. All of these things are traps. The most important thing about a trap is knowing how to get out of it. Nothing else matters. Complaining about the trap does nothing. Lamenting about how unjust the trap is does nothing. Studying, analyzing the trap can be helpful if one does not know the way out of the trap, but clear instructions from someone that knows how to get out of the trap are the best. Follow them to the letter, and you can’t go wrong.
So how do we emerge from the wilderness of sin, depression, and hopelessness? We have clear instructions from Jesus Christ, both in the scriptures of old and the revelations of today. Choose to believe. Choose to act on faith. Follow that faith from consequence to liberating consequence. Note that God will not compel us in this matter. Satan, however, will compel us as much as he and his minions can to keep us in our traps of faithlessness, our prisons of unbelief, our private hells of inertia.
Satan will tell us lie after lie, that we cannot succeed if we leave behind our sin. He will lie that we need our sin to get through the night. He will lie to us to build up our self-absorbed pride, that we would reject any help offered to free us from his grasp. Depression is the same thing, as it is a lie we tell ourselves as skillfully as Satan does that we cannot hope, that we cannot have faith, that we might as well give up.
Should we rise up and begin to cast aside his chains, he will throw them back at us. He will bellow out threats and curses and all manner of evil things. He will surround us with darkness, spiritual and physical, that we might not discern the gleam of hope that pours forth from the Kingdom of God.
I find it fascinating that in Hindu religious teaching, following sacred duty is considered to be the best path. Following the pride of one’s own passion will lead to misery, according to their teaching, and inertia is considered worst of all. I find this resonates with the truth of the Restored Gospel. We do not find happiness in raging against this thing or that thing in the world, and we absolutely do not find it in spiritless inaction. We find it in disciplining our souls, in doing the hard but necessary work of faith, and in accepting the love, grace, and care of the saviour Jesus Christ as we do that work.
Choose to believe. In that belief is the light of Christ, the saving grace for us all. Choose to believe. In that belief, there is peace and an untroubled soul. Though we will endure harrowing ordeals as we remove chains of sin in our lives and as we pass through awful wildernesses, we do have that light of Christ to guide us as we pray, as we study, and as we bear testimony.
When we seek to not struggle with a sin or when we entertain a doubt about the truth of the Gospel, we give place not to faith, but to fear or pride. When we fail to say that our sin or our doubt is evil, we allow it to grow and to spread and to take deeper root in our heart, like a weed that cannot be easily eradicated. When we are in that state, we allow contention to disturb our peace and pride to blunt our intellect. If there are things in our lives that cause contention or confusion, they are of Satan. They are not of God. Let go of them. See them for the chains that they are, and seek to struggle against them, that you may remove them from your lives.
Had that young girl Sailor sat down in the ruins of the plane crash and cried out, “Don’t judge me! This is who I am and who I will always be, for fate has made it so!” she would have perished. Even if all mankind refused to cast the first stone, she still would have had to go before the judgment bar of Heavenly Father, for He will judge us all, and he will not tolerate the least degree of sin. While it is no sin to be a victim of fate, it is a sin to try and make what is wrong to seem right. It is a sin of pride to think that not even Jesus Christ can change who you are, for he can change any one of us when we allow Him into our lives with a choice to believe.
I know a story that is the opposite of Sailor’s. It is that of an addict, who I once tried to help. He had his reasons for his addiction, and they were like golden treasures to him. He allowed those reasons to justify his addiction, and those lies allowed him to live a life that, in spite of all the physical hardships it gave him, was spiritually easy. For him to recover, he had to see those reasons for the lies that they were, and that became a painful process of admitting to himself how wrong he had been.
He hated pain. Physical pain was bad enough, but he found the spiritual pain to be unbearable. Sailor, on the other hand, endured both the spiritual pain of making the brave choice to move out into the night and the physical pain of her injuries as she crossed a briar-infested wilderness. The addict actually saw the light once – I gave him a blessing that he requested, and he had what was then, to him, an undeniable impression of the presence of the Holy Spirit – but he then chose to return to a life that was spiritually much easier and he then cast his doubts all around his eyes, that he would no more see that light. Sailor kept searching for the light until she saw it and then never averted her gaze from that saving beacon.
I suppose that addict hoped that a kick in the bottom or a bash on the head would cure him, as it would require no effort on his part. The kick or the blow would land on him and drive the sin away, and that would be that. He loved programs where everything was done for him and all he had to do was affirm with words that he was cured, that he had seen the light. In reality, his lack of action meant that those words were empty and that he would blind himself from any light that he had been shown.
I myself have been made with a brain that is prone to depression and a body that is prone to fits of pain. This is who I am, for fate has made me so. But it is not who I will always be. When I realized the grip that the darkness of my own wilderness of depression had upon me, I had to choose to believe. I had to choose to humble myself and to let others not only tell me that Christ could help me, but to believe their words and then follow up that belief with appropriate action. I have seen the path of the addict, who refused to act, and decided it was not for me. I know that the path Sailor took, however arduous and difficult it is for me to hear about, is exactly the path that I should follow. It will free me from my trap.
I choose to believe. I choose to act on that belief. It is a good thing, and it has brought peace and clarity to my life. I have to be honest about my imperfections and my sins if I want to emerge from their agonies. I know that Christ loves us when we do the difficult work of repentance, and that his light is always here in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even when others claim to be unable to see it, or say that it is visible, but only in another place. I testify that this is the place of truth, and that when we work alongside Jesus Christ to make our lives change and conform to the truth, we are truly perfecting ourselves and preparing correctly for our return to Heavenly Father.
I said Elder Clayton’s talk was hard for me to listen to. I did not say it was impossible. I took the example of young Sailor to heart and made it through the wilderness of things that I found uncomfortable and made it to the light of Christ that awaited me through it all. That is an example to us all. It is not up to us to ask for the light to be easier to reach, nor is it up to us to ask that the light change its character to suit our needs. It is up to us to be thankful that the light is there, that there is a way to reach it; to choose to believe in that light, that pure light of Jesus Christ, and then to rise up and act on those beliefs. Jesus never said, “wait right here and I’ll bring you everything you need.” He said, “Come, follow me.” Let us choose to believe, and then follow Him.
In the name of our beloved saviour who sacrificed his all for us that we might return with him in love and joy to our Heavenly Father, even Jesus Christ, Amen.