Fighting Anxiety with Faith

In my last post, I addressed our common mismanagement of guilt. Today I’d like to offer the solution as outlined in the scriptures.

We’re trying to find the balance between two extremes: complacency and overstress. On the one hand, there are those who settle in their complacency, believing that Christ has abolished the necessity to actually follow him; on the other hand, there are those who live in a constant state of stress, worried that there’s always something more they should be doing (as a side note, it’s my observation that men typically err on the former, whereas women, the latter). These are factors that play a role in managing guilt properly. The Savior prescribes a simple yet beautiful pass down the middle.

There is, in all reality, only ever one thing you have to worry about at a time. When you train a young baseball player to hit baseballs, you do not start by correcting his hands, shoulders, wrists, elbows, foot position, stride, upper body loading, torque at the mid-body, counter-rotation, release, contact, and follow through in one lesson. If you do, you are neither a good teacher nor will the batter develop any skill. There is too much going on for anything to actually improve. You teach complicated or intricate skills one step at a time. There should be in the mind of the student only one thing to do. There is always only one thing to do. There is never more than the single thing to be addressed. It is the thing most wrong at the moment. Once that is addressed and corrected, then you can move on to the next thing, where again there is only one thing to do—and it is the next thing in the sequence. When the next skill is acquired, then there is still only one thing to do.

The same principle applies to living the gospel. There is only one thing for you to do. The Spirit will tell you what you need to do within the context of your own life, and it will always be the thing that most hinders you which requires your immediate attention.

Learn to hear his voice from hour to hour. Go where he prompts you to go, say what he gives you to say, and do what he asks you to do. He, whose ways are higher than our own, will guide you through your life with perfect precision. He will tell you when, where, and how to act.

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4).

Consider what it means to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. What would that look like in your own life?

3 …Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do (2 Nephi 32).

Most of our anxieties in life come as a result of our plans not being aligned with God’s. When we have a million options laid out before us, we need only be concerned with the one God wants us to take at that moment.

Sometimes we sense our own weakness when considering all that we need to do. God has a solution for this dilemma as well:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them (1 Nephi 3).

Again, there’s only ever one variable we have to worry about: is God commanding you to do it? If he is, then your own capability doesn’t matter. Nephi and his brothers had no idea how they’d get the plates from Laban when they left for Jerusalem; they just trusted the Lord would prepare a way. If it’s not God’s will, then it either doesn’t matter enough in the grand scheme of things, or there’s something else he’d rather you do.

We know that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). When we consider that those who love God are those who keep his commandments (John 14:15), and keeping his commandments involves living by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, we understand how by controlling this one variable, he will cause every external variable to work for our eventual benefit.

There is only ever one thing at a time God asks of you. Learning to take life one step at a time, obeying every prompting he gives you, will bring your life in perfect harmony with his will. When you’re aligned with God, nothing else matters.

It is possible to be be completely reconciled to him. Not while you’re carrying a load of sins that trouble you and worry you and distract you, but that’s what the Lord will remove from you. He can take all of that away, but it is entirely up to you to choose, then, to do follow obey his voice. That kind of faith will bring you the blessings King Benjamin’s people received:

And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them (Mosiah 4).

Consider the experience of this Book of Mormon writer’s experience:

And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

And I said: Lord, how is it done?

And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen… (Enos 1).

What made Enos’ experience real and authentic? How was it that he actually felt his guilt swept away?

Trusting God is not something we learn to do all at once. It comes gradually. The more we trust him, the more we’ll obey him. The more we obey him, the more we learn to trust him. As we learn to trust him, our faith will grow to the point that, like Enos’, our own guilt will be swept away. These things are all connected.

Alma the younger had a powerful conversion experience over the course of a few days. Note the distinction here between his pains and his memories,

17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36.)

Alma doesn’t say that he could remember his sins no more. He said he could remember his pains no more. He wasn’t “harrowed up” by the memory of his sins. He still remembered them, and I’m sure reflected on them with some amount of regret. I’m sure he wished he would have rather not done those things. He was totally forgiven in God’s eyes, but likely had remorse for his past. It’s my opinion that that serves as a protection to keep us from repeating our errors. It’s among the spiritual intelligence that we gain in this life.

The remedy to all of this is faith in Christ. Not mere belief, but an actual abiding trust in him.

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