Adapted from an address delivered at Brigham Young University.
I wish to discuss a problem that is universal and that can, at any time, occur anywhere. I believe it is a form of evil. At least I know it can have damaging effects that block our growth, discourage us, diminish our hope, and leave us vulnerable to other more conspicuous evils. I wish to discuss it because I know of nothing Satan uses so cunningly or cleverly in his work. I refer to doubt—especially self-doubt or discouragement, and of despair.
In doing so, I don’t wish to suggest that there aren’t plenty of other things in the world to be troubled by. In our lives individually and as a group locally, nationally, and internationally—there surely are serious threats to our happiness. But my concerns are not for the troubles and problems we read about in the newspaper or hear about on the radio. I wish to deal a little more personally with those matters that do not make headlines but which may be important in your personal journal and history.
In doing so, however, I wish at the beginning to make a distinction author F. Scott Fitzgerald (NOTE: F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1896–1940) once made—that “trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement—discouragement has a germ of its own, as different from trouble as arthritis is different from a stiff joint” (“The Crack-Up,” ed. Edmund Wilson, New York, James Laughlin, 1945, p. 77). We all have troubles, but the “germ” of discouragement, to use Fitzgerald’s word, is not in the trouble, it is in us—or to be more precise, I believe it is in Satan, the prince of darkness, the father of lies. And he wants us to have it in us. It’s frequently a small germ, but it will work and it will grow and it will spread. In fact it can become almost a habit, a way of living and thinking, and there the greatest damage is done. Then it takes an increasingly severe toll on our spirit, for it erodes the deepest religious commitments we can make—those of faith, and hope, and charity. We turn inward and look downward, and these greatest of Christlike virtues are damaged or at the very least impaired. We become unhappy and soon make others unhappy, and before long Lucifer is happy.
As with any other germ, a little preventive medicine ought to be practiced against those things that make us depressed. Dante says that,” When we see the arrow coming we are less surprised by it.” (Divine Comedy, “Paradise,” canto 17, line 24).
And we, as an integral part of our theology say: “And angels shall fly through the midst of heaven, crying with a loud voice, … Prepare ye, prepare ye” (D&C 88:92).
“(And) if ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30).
And fear is part of that wish to oppose. The scriptures teach that preparation—prevention—is perhaps the major weapon in your arsenal against discouragement and defeat.
For example, you may be discouraged over money matters—and almost everyone is at least some of the time. It may give you some consolation to know that other people have financial problems too. Finances can be troublesome, but you have an obligation—to yourself if no one else—to see that they are not destructive.
You may be going without some thing you need, you may even consider yourself poor. Well, consider: “If God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matt. 6:30).
Prepare. Plan. Work. Sacrifice. Spend time and money cheerfully on matters of worth. Be calm and feel the assurance of having done the best you could with what you had. If you work hard and prepare earnestly, it will be very difficult for you to give in or give up or wear down. If you labor with faith in God and in yourself and in your future, you will have built upon a rock which, when the winds blow and the rains come—as surely they will—you shall not fail.
If you are trying hard and living right and things still seem burdensome and difficult, have courage. Others have experienced these things before you.
Do you feel unpopular and different? Read about Noah again and see what popularity was like in 2,500 B.C.
Does the wilderness stretch before you in a never-ending sequence of apparent burdens? Read about Moses again. Calculate the burden of fighting with the Pharoahs and then a 40-year assignment in Sinai. Some tasks take time. Accept that. But as the scripture says, “They come to pass.” They do end. We will cross over our own river Jordan eventually. Others have proven it.
Are you afraid people don’t like you? The Prophet Joseph Smith could share a few thoughts with you on that subject. Has health been a problem? Surely you will find comfort in the fact that a man who has suffered like Job of old has led this Church into one of the most exciting and revelatory decades of this entire dispensation. President Kimball has had few days in the last 30 years which were not filled with pain or discomfort or disease. Is it wrong to wonder if President Kimball has in some sense become what he is not only in spite of the physical burdens but also in part because of them? Can you take courage from your shared sacrifice with that giant of a man who has defied disease and death, has defied the forces of darkness and cried, when there was hardly strength to walk, “Oh, Lord, I am yet strong. Give me one more mountain” (see Josh. 14:11–12).
Do you ever feel untalented or incapable or inferior? Would it help you to know that everyone else feels that way too, including the prophets of God? Moses initially resisted his destiny, pleading that he was not eloquent in language. Jeremiah thought of himself as a child and was afraid of the faces he would meet.
And Enoch? I ask all of you to remember Enoch as long as you live. This is the young man who, when called to a seemingly impossible task, said, “Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight. (I) am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech.” (Moses 6:31.)
Enoch was a believer. He gathered his courage and went stutteringly on his way. Plain, old, ungifted, inferior Enoch. And this is what the angels would come to write of him.
“And so great was the faith of Enoch, that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him” (Moses 7:13).
Plain, old, inadequate Enoch! Whose name is now synonymous with supreme righteousness. The next time you are tempted to think of yourself as having no value, just remember that so have this kingdom’s most splendid men and women been so tempted to think. I say to you as Joshua said to the tribes of Israel as they faced one of their most difficult tasks, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (Josh. 3:5).
There is, of course, one source of despair more serious than all the rest. It is linked with poor preparation of a far more serious nature. It is the opposite of sanctification. It is the most destructive discouragement in time or eternity. It is transgression against God. It is depression embedded in sin.
Here your most crucial challenge, once recognizing the seriousness of your mistakes, will be to believe that you can change, that there you can become different. To disbelieve that is clearly a Satanic device designed to discourage and defeat you. Fall on your knees and thank your Father in Heaven that you belong to a church and have accepted the gospel that promises repentance to those who will pay the price. Repentance is not a foreboding word. It is, following faith, the most encouraging word in the Christian vocabulary. Repentance is simply the scriptural invitation for growth and improvement and progress and renewal. You can change! You can be anything you want to be in righteousness.
If there is one lament I cannot tolerate it is the poor, pitiful, withered cry, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” If you want to talk about discouragement, that is one that discourages me. Please don’t give me any speeches which say “That’s just the way I am.” I’ve heard that from too many people who wanted to sin and find some principle of psychology to justify it. And I use the word sin again to cover a vast range of habits, some seemingly innocent enough, which nevertheless bring discouragement and doubt and despair.
You can change anything you want to change and you can do it very fast. That’s another Satanic deception that it takes years and years to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say, “I’ll change”—and mean it. Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend—indeed you had better spend—the rest of your life proving your repentance is genuine by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the Sons of Mosiah. Even if you have serious amends to make, it is not likely that you would qualify for the term “the vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 28:4) which is Mormon’s phrase in describing these young men. Yet as Alma recounts his own experience in the 36th chapter of Alma [Alma 36] it appears to have been as instantaneous as it was stunning.
Do not misunderstand. Repentance is not easy or painless or convenient. It is a bitter cup from hell. But only Satan who dwells there would have you think that the necessary and temporary discomfort of acknowledging your sins is more distasteful than permanent residence there. Only he would say, “You can’t change. You won’t change. It’s too long and too hard to change. Give up. Give in. Don’t repent. You are just the way you are.” That, my friends, is a lie which comes from desperation. Don’t believe it.
Immerse yourself in the scriptures. You will find your own experiences described there. You will find spirit and strength there. You will find solutions and counsel. Nephi says, “The words of Christ will tell you all things (that) you should do” (2 Ne. 32:3).
Pray earnestly and fast with purpose and devotion. Some difficulties, like devils, come not out “save by fasting and by prayer.” (See Matt. 17:21). Serve others. The heavenly paradox is that only in serving others can you save yourself.
Have faith. “Has the day of miracles ceased?
“Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
“Behold I say unto you, Nay; for … it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men.” (Moro. 7:35–37.)
Elisha, with a power known only to the prophets, had counseled the king of Israel on how and where and when to defend against the warring Syrians. The king of Syria, of course, wished to rid his armies of this prophetic problem. So, and I quote:
“Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.
“… (They) compassed the city both with horses and chariots.” (2 Kgs. 6:14–15.)
If Elisha is looking for a good time to be depressed, this is it. His only ally is a boy who in modern times might be the president of the local teachers quorum. It is one prophet and one lad against the world. And the boy is petrified. He sees the enemy everywhere—difficulty and despair and problems and burdens everywhere. He cannot leave, and all he can see is an evil and merciless city like Chicago. With faltering faith the boy cries, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” (2 Kgs. 6:15.)
And Elisha’s reply?
“Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
“And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kgs. 6:16–17.)
In the gospel of Jesus Christ you have help from both sides of the veil and you must never forget that. When disappointment and discouragement strike—and they will—you must remember and never forget that if our eyes could be opened we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed to come to our protection. They will always be there, these armies of heaven, in defense of Abraham’s seed.
I close with this promise from heaven. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
“And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along.”
“… I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left … and mine angels (shall be) round about you, to bear you up.
Oh yes, “we’ll find the place which God for us prepared.” And on the way, “we’ll make the air with music ring, Shout praises to our God and King; Above the rest these words we’ll tell—All is well! all is well!” (Hymns no. 13.) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.