How to Discourage Discouragement
It is an exciting time to be here. I can feel it. I hope you are excited about being in this institution that was established by the Church. We have a lot of invitations that come to us as General Authorities to speak in different settings. You ought to know that this particular assignment to come here and speak is assigned by the First Presidency. I think it says something about how strongly they feel about you, my wonderful brothers and sisters. You are being educated continually in the things of the Spirit, as well as in the things that pertain to the world. Those things of the world that are true are important to learn and understand, but they must always be secondary, in my judgment, to the things of the Lord, to the pure truths that come from Heaven and bring about our salvation.
I have felt a great spirit in each one of you. I want you to know that. As I sat on the stand, I thought to myself, if the Lord were here speaking to you, I am confident of one thing He would do. He would throw His arms wide open, and He would tell you how much He loves you, every single one of you. There might be some here who think, "Well, I don't know if He'd love me very much," or even maybe one who may think, "If you know what I know, Brother Cook, about how bad a person I am or the things I have done in the past, I have doubts whether the Lord would love me."
Well, you do not know Him if you think that. You are one of the ones He would throw His arms around doubly and bring you to His bosom and express His love to you. And when you felt the depth of His love for you personally, you would humble yourself to the dust and ask for forgiveness. You would desire above all things in this world to be with Him all the time, and to feel the love that emanates from Him all the time. I testify that the Lord is full of love.
I hope that there are not those here who would be really down on themselves or think that they are not worth very much. That is the devil speaking, my friends. He is the one that keeps pounding away to make you feel that you are not worth much. That is not the Lord. If you had even a small inkling of who you really were in the pre-mortal life and what you accomplished there, and why you have been sent to this last generation of time, you would stand - at least in your heart - a lot taller than some of you do. You would know in a humble way that the Lord has called you for a very special purpose; to be here in this very day and time to accomplish some specific things that only you can do, in the way only you can do them. So if you don't remember anything else about what is said today, remember that one thing. I repeat again, I am confident that if the Lord were here today, He would throw His arms around you - one by one - and He would express His love to you and how much He honors you for doing your best to try to keep the commandments and stay clean in this wicked world and do the things you ought to do.
Be strong, young people. The devil is really out there, and he is after you in a thousand different ways. He will work and work to find some weak spots of yours to try to work on you. Do not let him succeed.
Now, I have in mind this morning to talk to you about how to have more of the Spirit of the Lord with you on a constant basis. Before I tell you the title of my talk, let me ask you a question. How many of you struggle sometimes with discouragement? [Most raised their hand] How many of you struggled with discouragement in the last month? About everybody. How about this last week? [Again, most raised their hand] How about even getting here this morning? Well, it's a pretty common ailment, isn't it? We all struggle with that to some degree, but I want to tell you how to remove discouragement; how to not even have any more discouragement. Are you interested? I am going to entitle my talk, How to Discourage Discouragement.
May I share with you something I have learned that may be of help to you. How many of you went on a full-time mission? Let me see your hands. Look at that, President Woodhouse. Isn't that wonderful? How many of you are yet planning to go? Great. How many of you have been in a meeting with Elder Cook somewhere before or heard one of his talks? How many of you have been with me somewhere in the mission field? Isn't that amazing that there are so many.
You know in the scriptures, in Moroni 10:22, there are some conclusions the Lord gives. I am going to read these very quickly because I can see that the time is going to go by very fast, and so I may have to just hit some highlights.
The twenty-second verse says: If ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair, or in other words you must be discouraged. If you have little hope about something, you are in despair and discouragement. And then comes this great conclusion, Despair (or discouragement) cometh because of iniquity. That is an interesting bottom line, isn't it, that despair cometh because of iniquity. In other words, we have not yet learned to have the Spirit of the Lord with us in such abundance that we are able to be like Christ and shun discouraging feelings all the time. And because we don't, and we are tempted and we fall, we get discouraged. That is the bottom line.
So, how are we going to fix it? Well, you would imagine where we are heading with this. You have got to have more of the Spirit of the Lord.
Look at these wonderful conclusions in the scriptures in Helaman chapter five. These brethren are in a prison. You remember that story. There is a dark cloud hanging over the Lamanites and they are asking the question, "How do we get rid of this dark cloud?" I would see this as an analogy. Discouragement is a dark cloud when it is hanging over you – a dark, dark cloud. How do you get rid of it?
Listen to this interesting, simple solution. Helaman 5:40-41. What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us? Good question. You must repent [There is a bottom line, isn't it?], and cry unto the voice [meaning unto the Lord, to pray], even until ye shall have faith in Christ... and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.
The Lord is teaching here that the reason we are down is that we have sinned. We have done something wrong. And if we will repent and humbly ask the Lord to forgive us, in faith, His sweet Spirit will come back. You will feel good about yourself again and be on your way.
When I was a missionary, if you would have graphed my days of discouragement, it would have had many peaks and valleys. Can you relate to that? One day you are ready to take on the whole world and the next day you are in the bottom of the pit. So how do you remove many of the peaks and valleys and have it more level with maybe only a few little dips.
President Boyd K. Packer has said that it is not a bad thing to have a discouraging day once in a while, meaning that you wouldn't appreciate a happy day unless you knew about bad ones. But deep peaks and valleys are not the way to do it. That's a wild ride, and the difficulty is that if you are really down in the trough and discouraged, there is a greater chance you will do something that could really set you back. If you will stay with the Spirit most of your days, you are on your way. So here are some specifics on how to do that.
The first one I am going to mention is what you heard in the scripture; you have to pray. If you really want to not be discouraged, one of the best solutions I know of is to pray so you don't get into it. It means to really, truly be praying all the time throughout the day. Most of you have been taught that during your lifetime; to have a prayer in your heart always. It is not an easy thing to do, is it? It is hard to remember to do it all the time. But to the degree you will learn to pray your way through a day, you will find that Satan and his evil influence will leave, the Spirit of the Lord will come, and you will be on top and be able to go through the trials that come your way.
Pray about everything. I repeat, pray about everything. Check in with the Lord frequently during each day. It does not have to be a full prayer, even. Sometimes some of my best prayers are a couple of words when I have been in a crisis. It might be as simple of a prayer as, "Help me." That may be the prayer: "Help me, please, help me." I may be about ready to fail a test: "Help me; save me." That would be a pretty good prayer. Pray, brothers and sisters, because it will chase the spirit of the evil one away. Let me give you a quick example of that.
A few years ago we moved to Ecuador where we lived as a family. We have been blessed with eight children, and our daughter who was then about fifteen was with us. We arrived on a Thursday in Quito. She learned that day that there would be a big algebra test in this international school on Monday. This test would determine whether or not she could even take algebra in this school, and if so, if she was going to be in the advanced or beginning algebra. She had had algebra before and wanted to be in the advanced class, but when she heard about this test, she said, "Dad, I think I forgot all I ever knew about algebra. Summer's wiped it out. I'm going to fail this test." She was really worried.
What increased her anxiety was that she was trying to get an algebra book to study from. Most of the people had been there already for two or three weeks and had been studying for the test for a couple of weeks, but she could not get her hands on an algebra book to study. No one wanted to give her a book. She didn't get a book in her hands until Saturday night about seven or eight o'clock when some girl said: "I think I am ready for the test. You can have my book."
Well, my daughter started studying, and she studied for two or three hours that night. Sunday morning came. She came into our bedroom and was quite emotional. She said, "What am I ever going to do? I should have been studying for this test for a week or two. I've had two or three hours on it. What will I do? This is Sunday, the test is tomorrow morning. I know that the Brethren have taught that you shouldn't be doing your homework on Sunday, but this is a little different, isn't Dad?"
That is the real test of faith, isn't it? I said, "Is it different?" And she said,"Well, it sure seems to me that it is." She gave me all the reasons some of you may have given me why you'd better save yourself by studying on Sunday. We were blessed to say to her, "Dear, we won't tell you what to do. You are old enough to decide that for yourself. But you must decide what the Lord would want you do to. Why don't you go back into your room and you pray about it. Whatever the Lord tells you to do, you do that."
Well, she disappeared. About ten or so minutes later she was back, this time very emotional, and said something like the following: "Mom and Dad, I'm not going to study on Sunday. I believe what the Brethren have said, but I'm sure going to prepare hard today for tomorrow by praying and humbling myself. And I'm starting a fast right now that the Lord will help me."
We were touched by her response. We told her, "We'll join you in the fast."
We prayed for her and fasted with her that day. About five o'clock Monday morning she was up and studied a couple of hours. I drove her across the city for an eight o'clock test. As she walked in the door, she said, "Dad, (she knew I'd be waiting outside) would you pray for me the whole hour?" I answered that I would.
An hour later this wonderful daughter walked out of the classroom, and her smile would have filled the whole valley of Quito. She said, "I think I only missed one or two, Dad."
Amazing isn't it, brothers and sisters, the power of obedience, the power of having faith in the Lord, the power to pray and expect that the Lord will answer your prayer. That is a powerful principle; to pray and believe beforehand that He will answer your prayer. Again, it will always be subject to His will, and sometimes He will teach us some lessons along the way that may not be exactly what you want or the way you wanted it. But trust in Him, and you will see discouragement totally leave.
Read the scriptures. Read in the scriptures prayerfully every day. You know that when you are going to school there is a great temptation to stop that because you are reading so many other things. Sometimes it seems that some teachers think that you only have one class, their class, and they give you enough homework to utilize the entire evening for that one class, don't they? And with all this material to read and study, it is very easy to set the scriptures aside.
Do not set aside your scripture study or you will be inviting in the devil who will try to discourage you. There is great power in reading the words of the Lord every day. You may have some times when all you can read are five or ten minutes. That's better than nothing. Just don't skip it. Read some every day. Be prayerful about what you read. The Lord will give you revelation. He will quicken your mind. He will quicken your understanding. He will make you able to memorize more quickly. If you will trust in Him and let the words of the Lord come into your heart to humble your heart, you will open the door to the Spirit of the Lord, who knows more than anybody in all the world anyway. All you have to do is tap into that Spirit and you will be all right, won't you? One of the great keys is to read and study prayerfully the scriptures.
Be especially careful to keep yourself clean. One of the ways that can surely discourage you very quickly is to get involved in some kind of a sin that is against the commandments, large or small. That will really bring discouragement. Be very careful because the devil is really anxious to get hold of someone about your age. He knows that if he can corrupt you when you are young and get you to do something that you shouldn't do, that it will have great impact on you later when you are a husband or wife, and upon your children to be.
Think of how great an accomplishment he would have obtained if he could grab one of you right now and turn you out of the pathway. He would have accomplished a major thing on his agenda.
Let me be specific about that. It means to be careful when you are out dating, young men and young women, to not be alone with a member of the opposite sex. Don't do that. Stay more in groups. Be in settings where you're not absolutely, totally alone because the devil will go to work on you if you are. Be careful if you find yourself in any setting where it is starting to heat up. You know what I mean by that. Maybe they are starting to drink or smoke or swear or somebody puts on a bad video. What ought you do? Run! That's what you do. Leave immediately. Don't even give it another thought. Don't sit there and debate in your mind about it because the devil will win.
I say again, don't sit there and think, "Well, it probably won't hurt if I stay here a little longer." I've heard that too many times. What's the answer? Run; leave. If it is starting to heat up, if it is not what it ought to be, do not stay.
Guard yourselves by keeping the Word of Wisdom, one hundred percent. If you will be sure and do that, you will not open the door for Satan to come in and get you through smoking, or drinking, or drugs, or alcohol, coffee or tea. Those things will bring down your willpower and keep you from being able to have the Spirit of the Lord.
Avoid pornography one hundred percent. Pornography is a destroyer. I interviewed a man yesterday who has been involved in that since he was fourteen. Can you imagine that? Of the very worst things that you can possibly imagine, he's been there. He is probably thirty-five now and is so hooked that it is going to take all his power to rely on the Lord to get free of it.
Don't think that you have got to check out some of these porn sites or other things on the Internet. Are you young men listening especially? The young women get into it some too, but it's more the young men. Please, young men, just trust us. Pornography is every bit as bad as drinking alcohol, and worse. It will become an addiction that will pull you down, down, down, until the devil will take you. Your only safety is do not do it.
Some of you be may struggling with that right now, and you know what discouragement is because that is what pornography will bring with great severity. Any of you involved in any of those kinds of things, my best counsel to you would be to go to the bishop right now, immediately, today, tomorrow. Honestly talk it through with him. Don't be embarrassed about it. Remember this - the devil loves to keep things in secret. Think about it. He loves darkness. He loves to keep things in secret. If he can keep it a secret and keep you from talking to someone who has light and truth like your parents or the bishop who could help you, he's got you.
If you are hiding anything, you better take a good look at it because it's more than likely of the devil. Be careful.
Sisters, be careful about dressing modestly. Dress your body in the way you ought to. You know how the brethren have taught that. You are beautiful young women. I haven't seen a woman here this morning that I wouldn't count to be a beautiful woman.
The Lord made your bodies such that they are attractive to men. It is supposed to be that way. That attraction is not wrong; it is right. A woman is supposed to be attractive to a man. That is what will cause you to be married later and be cleaved together as one flesh. What a great blessing.
But be careful sisters that you dress modestly. Don't attract some young man to your body. You want to attract him to your soul, to your spirit, so he falls in love with the real you, not just with your body. Be careful because Satan is really working on that one, to try to get women to do certain things that would greatly tempt men.
Be very careful, young men, of pairing off too early with one single young woman, especially before your mission. There is a great danger in that, to start going steadily with one individual before you go on your mission. After your mission it is different because you are trying to get married. But before your mission, be careful because it will restrict your ability to come to know a number of the opposite sex, which is good and healthy.
Of course, I need to say to avoid petting one hundred percent. That is like dynamite. That is totally against the commandments to be touching one another, or even stimulating self in any way.
We talked about discouragement, and I've just given you a pretty long list of what can really bring you young people down. Your answer to that must be, "I will not do any of those." And if you will be true to that, you will not need to worry about being discouraged.
I have talked to you about prayer, the scriptures, and now here is number four.
Testify. Look for opportunities to bear your testimony. If you want to chase discouragement away, find some nonmembers and bear your testimony to them, or maybe to your roommates, or maybe to just a friend that's a little down today. You don't have to say "I 'm going to bear my testimony, Susie." That wouldn't work too well. But you could say: "You know, Susie, let me tell you something I was reading yesterday in the scriptures. I was really touched by something. May I share it with you?"
That is bearing your testimony which will bring the Lord into Susie's life, as well as your own life. She needs you right now. Say something spiritual; a story, an illustration; bear your testimony to her; tell her of your love of the Lord. You will build her and help her, and in the process lose any discouragement you may have had.
Look for people with whom you may share the gospel; to whom you may testify. Build them up and strengthen them and in the process your own discouragement, if you have any, will be gone.
Use the hymns of the Church. This is a great way to stay above discouragement. I used to think when I was younger that I would sing when I got discouraged. To me, that is a good way to get free of discouragement, but it's a little late. A better way to do it is to be singing all the time. And if you will do that, you won't go down into one of those troughs. For example, sing with me for a minute:
Teach me to walk in the light of his love;
Teach me to pray to my Father above;
Teach me to know of the things that are right;
Teach me, teach me to walk in the light.
("Teach Me to Walk in the Light" Hymns, No. 304 )
Whenever I hear the song of a bird
or look at the blue blue sky.
Whenever I feel the rain on my face
or the wind as it rushes by.
Whenever I touch a velvet rose
or walk by a lilac tree,
I'm glad that I live in this beautiful world
Heavenly Father created for me.
( "My Heavenly Father Loves Me" Children's Songbook, No. 228)
Could you be discouraged, brothers and sisters, if, with your heart, you sang a few of those? I think not. Then don't wait until you are down to sing. Get in the habit of singing every day.
What I am really describing is the pattern we teach the missionaries in the mission field. As a missionary, you get out of bed, you read the scriptures, you sing, you testify to your companion, you read the scriptures together. Some missionaries leave the field and say: "Well, I'm sure glad I'm through with all that." That's no way to think, is it? This pattern of studying scriptures, praying, singing, testifying, etc., will keep you above the troughs of depression throughout your whole life.
Sing in the shower, for example. You will sound better there. Have a song in your heart while you're driving along, or turn on some Tabernacle Choir music.
Be aware of the music of the world, too. Some of you really need to dispatch with that, and destroy it if you have some in your possession. Some of you heard Elder Cook's story about sitting next to Mick Jagger on an airplane some years ago. I don't have time to tell you about that, but talk about discouragement and a man who was down in the very pits. Without speaking evil of him, he was teaching of hell itself, and his music represented that as well. If you have any of those types of CD's at your home, not just from him but anybody like that, if you have the courage having felt the Spirit here today, when you go home, throw them in the garbage. I wouldn't even justify it by saying, "Well, there's one good song in there I really like." Have the courage to throw it out. Make sure you have some good music to listen to, and it will carry you through some of those tougher days.
Think of other hymns like –
Come, come, ye Saints,
no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
‘Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell–
All is well! All is well!
("Come, Come, Ye Saints" Hymns, No. 30)
I repeat, could you sing that song with your heart and still be discouraged? I don't think so because you are inviting God into your life in a very direct way.
Memorize three or four hymns that are your favorites; that move you. Memorize them, and then sing them every day with spirit, and you will find the Spirit of the Lord will increase in your life.
Express love and gratitude to God and men. You can truly express your love to someone and have the Spirit of the Lord come right now, and discouragement will leave. If you are feeling down, go find someone to cheer up. If you are down, go and tell someone how much you love them. Go throw your arms around someone in an appropriate way. I'm thinking of some of your dads and moms who need that from you. Go throw your arms around them. Talk with them on the telephone, write them a note. Your roommate may need that. There may be someone you saw this morning that was a little down. Can you not take a minute and sincerely express your feelings about that person?
Love, brothers and sisters, brings the Spirit of the Lord and discouragement will leave. Go look for somebody to love. How many of you really like to be loved? [All raised their hands] It 's pretty good stuff, isn't it? Well, if you want to be loved, then go and love someone. If you will go and love someone else, you will feel loved.
Remember this thought too, that if you don't like the way you are feeling, you need to correct the way you are thinking. That is a great truth. If you do not like the way you are feeling, you must stop and correct the way you are thinking because it is those thinking patterns that bring the feelings.
The scientists tell us that if you start thinking about something, let's say something negative or wrong, it only takes about eight seconds for that thought to be played in your entire body. If you start thinking discouraging thoughts, it takes only about eight seconds for that to be played out in your entire body. Then it gets into your feeling level and it is harder to get rid of, isn't it?
May I say one more time that if you can correct it on the thought level, when you first have a bad thought come, or a discouraging thought such as, "I'm not worth much," or "I 'm going to flunk this test," or "People won't like me," or something like that, cast it out immediately. If you wait more than eight seconds, they say, and I believe in my experience that it is true, it will play out in your emotions, in your whole body, and it is going to be a lot tougher to get out of the hole you have dug for yourself.
One more time: If you don't like the way you are feeling, change the way you are thinking.
Share spiritual experiences. If you are down a little bit, go tell someone about something positive that happened to you yesterday. Tell them about something that happened during your mission, tell them about when your dad expressed great love to you. Share a spiritual experience, and the Spirit will come right away. That is a great truth.
Some say, "Well, I do not have very many good experiences." You are not opening your eyes. They are all around you every day. Observe them. I have seen three or four right in this meeting that I could tell a story about by just having shaken hands with some of you. You are not being observant enough. The Lord is in all of His creations, and especially in you. If you will watch carefully, you will have plenty of experiences to share.
If you are really struggling with discouragement of some depth, seek a priesthood blessing, now. Get your dad to give it to you or the bishop, or home teachers, or someone close to you. Get a blessing. It takes some humility to ask for a blessing. That is part of the plan. Be humble enough to ask.
I do not have time to give you an illustration about that, but only to bear testimony that a priesthood blessing has great power in keeping Satan away from you, and gives you the strength to turn him away when he does come.
Now, my young friends, I bear witness to you that if you will adopt a pattern similar to this, it will take the dips out of your lives. I testify that a man can be happy most of his days, most every hour of everyday. The key to it is to have the Spirit of the Lord with you, to love people, to give your hearts to others, to seek to build them up, to lift and strengthen them. Do not speak evil of others. Keep yourselves untangled from all the worldly things going on out there. This will bring true happiness and true peace. I bear testimony that there is no other way to receive that happiness and peace except by keeping the commandments of the Lord.
Let me come back to where we started. Iniquity brings despair and righteousness brings peace, happiness, and joy. Righteousness causes discouragement to be a long ways from you.
I express my love to all of you again this morning. I pray that you will live with your faith strengthened, with a greater determination above all else to pray your way through your days. Remember these great words in Alma 37:36.
Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord. Yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.
What a challenge that is. Nevertheless, I bear testimony that as we do that and become better connected to Him, discouragement will be gone and you will dominate some of the things that right now sometimes get you down.
I bear witness again of His great love for you. He loves every one of you. I love every one of you, and I leave a blessing upon you as you leave here today that you may be able to have your own faith increased, that your ability to trust in the Lord may be increased, and that your ability to love God more fully will be increased. In so doing, your peace and happiness will increase as well. I bear that testimony to you, declaring that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world, the one who is the Prince of Peace, the Prince of Happiness. I testify there is no other way, except through the revealed doctrine that has come through the true Church of Jesus Christ, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. May the Lord bless you to always know that, obey it, and go forth to accomplish what the Lord has called you to do, fulfilling your own mission in life, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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