In Church classes I am too nervous to raise my hand and make comments. For the same reason, I rarely bear my testimony in fast and testimony meeting. How can I learn to overcome my fear?
The first time I stood in front of the congregation to bear my testimony as a new convert, I was very nervous. But I used that nervousness to impart the joy of my conversion. Afterward, a few Church members told me they liked what I said—that they were even moved.
Ask yourself, “Why am I afraid to share my knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel and the joy that knowledge brings? Is it a fear of looking foolish?” Don’t think that. Those listening will understand what’s in your heart. And who knows—something you say could touch the heart of someone who needs it. Isn’t one of our objectives to perfect the Saints? Sharing our testimonies is one way of reaching out to those who are looking for answers. Inspiring one another with our responses or questions in Sunday School, priesthood meetings, and Relief Society is an important way of spreading the word.
As a young woman, I had similar fears. Today I can teach lessons, comment in class, bear testimony, or give talks with much more ease. Getting over this fear was like knocking over a wall one stone at a time. These are some of the things I learned:
People were not as focused on me as I thought, or as critical of me as I expected. Many people were also feeling the same anxiety I was: that they would seem foolish in public, even if they were outwardly confident.
Getting interested in others got me out of worrying about myself. The advice President Gordon B. Hinckley’s father gave him while he was on his mission works here as well: “Forget yourself and go to work.” 1
Plan to stand. When it was fast Sunday, I pondered what my testimony was. Then, if I felt inspired to stand, I had an idea of what to say. That helped me get over the fear of having nothing coherent to say in front of a large group of people.
Practice (with prayer) makes perfect. As I kept trying, I would see gradual improvement. Avoiding the situation made the fear worse, so I made sure I attended all my Church meetings, even if I didn’t say anything. I would pray for help when I was losing my nerve, and I would get the help I needed.
On one occasion when I was a little boy and had to give a talk in church, I expressed my feelings of nervousness to my teacher, Sister Suitor. I was surprised to hear her say that she always got nervous too, so she would say a little prayer in her heart just before she got up to speak or pray. She told me the Spirit always answered her prayer and calmed her pounding heart just enough to give her confidence to do a good job.
I tried this and have said a silent prayer in similar situations ever since. Even many years later, when I served as a bishop and was nervous before addressing my ward, I would remember Sister Suitor’s words and say a little prayer, giving me courage to stand before the congregation. Her faith in seeking the Comforter gave me faith. I will follow her example right up to the last talk or testimony I ever give.
Many Church callings can provide opportunities to speak in front of a group, large or small. My Church callings have never been easy for me, but have blessed me by giving me opportunities to grow and serve. Changes have come about gradually as I have continued to rely on the Lord for help and as I have done my best to overcome my fears.
Before serving a full-time mission, I was very shy around other Church members and found it hard to raise my hand to answer questions. I was scared I would say something wrong. For the same reason, I never bore my testimony at church.
On my mission, I had to bear my testimony, talk in class, and teach. This is what I learned:
Don’t think you have to know everything. We cannot learn everything there is to know in this life. Before church I would prepare by studying the lessons that were going to be taught that day, and then I would think of a personal experience relating to the topic. I would share the experience if I felt the Spirit telling me to do so.
You may not know how to voice your feelings. This happens to almost everyone. You don’t need to be eloquent. All it takes is a sincere statement of what you know to be true.
Trust the Spirit. Follow the spiritual impressions you receive to share something during Church classes and testimony meetings. These impressions are given to help you and others grow.
Learning to prayerfully study the scriptures has helped me overcome the fear of bearing my testimony. I am amazed at the many verses that tell us to “fear not” and to “be not afraid.” We are told in Isaiah 41:10, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee.” If we humbly and prayerfully seek the Lord’s help, He will give it to us.
Now, when I feel afraid, I pray and study my scriptures because they are a constant reminder of why I need not fear.
I know what it means to be scared. But what did I do to overcome my fears? My answer is practice. Practice bearing testimony in smaller groups, such as family home evening or while home teaching or visiting teaching. Practice will develop confidence.
Remember, just because a person is scared to speak doesn’t mean he or she is doing anything wrong. It just means he or she has room to grow, and growth takes time. As a person grows in the gospel, so will his or her ability to testify.
Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” As long as we have Christ on our side, He will support us and strengthen us, even in small things.
Start by writing your thoughts and testimony in your journal. The more you write them down, the more you will have the desire to share your testimony and make comments in class. As appropriate, share these things with your friends and family members. Then, as you begin to share your testimony at church and make comments in classes, you will strengthen not only your own testimony but other people’s testimonies as well.
Bashful by nature, for many years I seldom spoke up in church. In those rare instances when I did participate in lessons or testimony meetings, I was embarrassed by my inability to express myself clearly before a group.
I found hope in the Lord’s words to Moroni: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
Truly, the Lord helps us to conquer our fears as we turn to Him in faith. I have known my Savior’s love and enabling power as I in my weakness have relied heavily upon Him. In the process, I have been able to rise above my shy nature and, in my small way, help to build His kingdom.
Here are some ideas to help you overcome your fear of speaking in front of a group:
Enroll in a speech class or group to develop skill in spontaneous public speaking.
If you are concerned about how you appear when you speak, practice in front of a mirror.
Try setting a goal to make a comment in class or bear your testimony when prompted to do so.
Remember that someone else is going to learn from and appreciate your comment, no matter how long you have been in the Church.
Remember that even sharing a comment can be bearing your testimony. Comments in Church classes are intended to build faith, not to identify who the brightest class member is.
Get a priesthood blessing for inspiration on overcoming your fears.
Consult your patriarchal blessing for guidance.
Pray to love those you interact with, remembering that “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Recently my daughter asked me what courage was. I told her, “Having courage means doing something you know you should do when you’re scared to do it!”
During high school, when I struggled with many fears and insecurities, I kept a small card on my nightstand that I read often. It was the scripture 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” I committed this scripture to memory, and I silently recited it when I felt nervous or scared. It reminded me of the power within me, of the love I felt from God, and that our minds are at peace and “sound” when free from fear. I knew that if God didn’t give us fear, then the adversary must. I knew that the adversary can use fear as a tool to keep us from doing things we should do. Or he tries to keep us so preoccupied with ourselves and our weaknesses that we become temporarily “paralyzed.”
Now, whenever I face one of my fears, I stop to think, “Why am I fearful?” Often it concerns something I am being prompted to do. I know that the Holy Ghost, who prompts us in what to say, will bring us comfort and strength when we need it most.
Conquer Fear with Faith
“Fears in our lives can be conquered if we will but have faith and move forward with purpose. … Roadblocks to eternal progress are cast aside when resolves are made that no man needs to walk alone. It is a happy day when we come to know that with God’s help nothing is impossible for us.” Elder Marvin J. Ashton (1915–94) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Ye Are My Friends (1982), 93.
Quoted in Jeffrey R. Holland, “President Gordon B. Hinckley: Stalwart and Brave He Stands,” Ensign, June 1995, 8.