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Of Holy Words & Beauty for Ashes: a guest post from Bianca Lisonbee


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A preface: 
"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified." —Isaiah 61:3
Bianca's Essay:

A few years ago, not long after my sister was diagnosed with cancer, I became immobilized by my fears.  I could not get rid of the pit of anxiety in my stomach that I would wake up with each morning and that would stay with me throughout the night and day.  

I feared losing Rita, feared watching her suffer, feared the lack of my own ability to help her through her illness. Every scenario that presented itself induced in me great fear.  I prayed to have peace.  There were moments when I had glimpses of peace, but they were short-lived. I figured that one reason they were short-lived was because the Lord wanted me to recognize how precious they were and that they truly were a gift from him and that maybe if I felt that way all the time I would grow to take that peace for granted.  So I assumed that I just had to live with the fear.  That was until I attended a [devotional] at BYU with Elder Roger Merrill.  I will never forget the effect his words had on me.  He said that Satan was getting to otherwise good and faithful members of the Church through doubt and fear.  He said, "We must have zero tolerance for doubt and fear in our lives!" 

Zero tolerance?  I thought to myself,  "How do you have zero tolerance for something that is an involuntary reaction?"  I could see having zero tolerance for drug abuse, or pornography, or whatever else it seems like we have a CHOICE in avoiding, but how could I reject what for me seemed out of my power to control?

I thought about this for days and then I reflected on how Christ handled His temptations in the wilderness.  Each time Satan tempted Him, he used the power of the scriptures to dispel him. Sure I knew that reading my scriptures was a good way to dispel fear and doubt, but I couldn't really spend my entire waking moments reading them, could I?   But was I really using the power of the Word in the way Christ exemplified?

I took a very close look at the thoughts I was allowing myself to entertain.  Many of them were full of doubt and fear.  Although the initial appearance of those thoughts and feelings felt involuntary, was I really making any effort to cast them out?  I've heard it said that a bird may land on your head, but it doesn't have to build a nest there.  I discovered that I had been harboring in my mind the tangled nests of the birds of prey of fear and doubt.  

I realized that many of the thoughts I had been "innocently" entertaining were a direct affront to things I was supposed to believe. They were in essence an insult to the Lord.  No wonder I was not at peace. I was driving the spirit away.

I knew what I must do. By increasing my awareness of these thoughts I would identify each time one came into my mind and I would treat it like a fiery dart aimed at me and I would then have to hold up the shield of faith with the power of God's word to combat each one.

For example: When I would leave Rita's house seeing that she was going downhill and thinking of all the things we were not going to get to do together that we had anticipated all our lives, the thought would come, "This wasn't supposed to happen…."  I would immediately say, (sometimes out loud) "All things shall work together for the good of those who love the Lord" or "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, lean not unto thine own understanding.... 

Or, when I would think about what she was going to miss out on in life, I would think to myself, "She's being cheated—it's not fair."  I would immediately say what Joseph Smith taught, that  "All your losses will be made up to you in the Resurrection if you remain faithful, by the power of the Almighty I have seen it." 

Another twig in my nest of fear and doubt had come from thoughts of self pity: "Why did this have to happen to me?"  I would then cast this away with, "All these things shall give thee experience and be for thy good, the Son of Man hath descended below them all. art thou greater than He?" or "The Lord loveth whom He chastenteth."

One of the very hardest thoughts for me was "Why does she have to suffer so much?"  I then reminded myself of Peter's words that "Her trials will be more precious to her than gold."  And I knew that even though I would do all in my power to relieve her suffering I must not charge God foolishly for it was in her extremities that she was coming to know Him.

The marvelous thing that I found was the immediate effect this exercise had on me.  It was as if the Holy Ghost was so attracted to these thoughts that doubt and fear could not persist.  I found the Lord honoring my effort with such an added measure of His spirit that my anxieties began to dissipate quite instantly.  And the peace that attended these words and thoughts was not short-lived. 

[The peace] still persists today, even after all those terrible things I feared came to pass. [The peace] was there to sustain me through the last days and moments of her life and beyond. 

And now I have found myself having to continue to do the same thing with other fears in my life—[…] What if our business fails?  What if ?  What if? What if?  And each time I hold up the shield of faith it truly deflects the fiery darts of fear and doubt that can be so crippling to the abundant life and to my ability to serve.

In the past, I certainly could have come up with those scriptures if I had been preparing a talk or lesson on the subject, but I found I had not been using them as the Savior did to fight the temptation of doubt and fear.

When I told my BYU class about this, we decided to practice this exercise in class.  I would have them call out a negative thought or fiery dart. They said things like—

"I am such a loser" 

We would then come up with a scripture to quote to quench that dart such as "The worth of MY soul is great in the sight of God." 

Or if our thought was, "HE is such a loser." 
"The worth of HIS soul is great in the eyes of God."

"I have too many weaknesses, I'll never make it." 
"I will come unto Christ and be perfected in Him."

"This is just too hard for me."
"With God nothing is impossible."

"I'm too tired." 
"I will give you rest."

"I'm afraid."
"I have not given you the spirit of fear."

"I feel all alone."
"I will never leave or forsake you."

Within minutes the spirit in that classroom was so strong, illustrating to all of us once again the power of the Word. 

I realized this is because these are more than mere words.
They are more than nice phrases in a Hallmark card. 
They are more than positive affirmations.  
These words, uttered in faith, unleash the power of the truths they represent. These words are the words of Christ which allow us to speak with the tongue of angels and to be ministered to by them.

These are words that The Word Made Flesh uttered and words that by Him and through Him the power to create all things was manifest. These words, uttered in faith, give us access to a divine source of grace and truth that can be found in no other way.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have struggled with fear and anxiety.  I know that this is a truth that has had to be learned and re-learned in my life.  But I testify of the power of demonstrating faith in the word of God to quench the fiery darts of the adversary. 

I testify that in my own life I have not had to assume that I just have to live with crippling anxiety whether it be over having to fly on airplanes or in worrying about the welfare of my children and grandchildren.

In literature, there are legends that tell that if one were in possession of a certain word that with the utterance of that word, ones enemies could be vanquished or that by the use of a word, power, not before accessible, could be accessed.

Perhaps these ideas have been born out of the truth that it is in God's Word, Christ, who gave us His words, that all these things can be accomplished for those that love him and seek to know and live by His words.

Elder Holland has said:
“The Savior said, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give unto you … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’ (Hon 14:27)

I submit to you that may be one of the Savior's commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-Day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder if our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord's merciful heart. 

I can tell you this that as a parent: as concerned as I would be if somewhere in their lives one of my children were seriously troubled or unhappy or disobedient, nevertheless I would be infinitely more devastated if I felt that at such a time that child could not trust me to help or thought that his or her interest was unimportant to me or unsafe in my care.

In that same spirit, I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of the Savior of the world when he finds that his people do not feel confident in his care or secure in his hands or trust in his commandments."—Come Unto Me, Ensign, Apr. 1998, p. 19

And I would add— trust in his words.

"Look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not."
                              —Doctrine and Covenants Section 6:36

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What are the holy words you use to fight worry or anxiety? frustration? fear? anger? jealousy? What are the scriptures you use to usher in beauty for ashes?

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3 comments:

  1. Thank you! I needed this reminder.

    I use Romans 15:13 to combat doubt with hope.

    A very wise roommate read to me Romans 8:35-39 when I was very heartbroken. I keep going back to it when I need to calm a troubled heart.

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  2. Corinne! thank you! can't wait to look up those verses.

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  3. This really resonated with me....Awesome!

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