When we think of the Prophet Joseph Smith we recognize that he was a man who possessed many great attributes. Courage was certainly one of these. Even at the tender age of seven, he would not take counsel from his fears. He had contracted typhus, from which he developed a fever sore that settled into his left leg. To save his leg, doctors cut a deep incision and removed several pieces of affected bone. There was, of course, no anesthetic available at that time, and already the seeds of greatness were sprouting as the brave young Joseph endured this excruciating operation with only the comfort he could draw from his father holding him.
I can relate to the Prophet Joseph’s experience because of something that happened to me. When I was a boy, I used to love to walk in the fields and in the meadows and to swim in the creeks and in the ponds. My father taught me to hunt and to fish. One summer our family went on an outing near Wanship, Utah. We camped in tents among the trees that grew along the banks of the river. A group of our parents’ friends and their families went with us and pitched their tents close to ours. One afternoon some of my young friends and I went out hunting varmints, which were considered pests because they ate the tender feed the sheep needed as they grazed. We had .22-caliber rifles, and I was accidentally shot in the leg above the knee at close range. When the bullet passed through my leg, it felt like a hot poker was going through the flesh. Then I felt the warm blood running down my leg from the hole where the bullet had passed through it. I called my father to show him what had happened. He and the other men administered first aid to control the bleeding, then helped me into our family car to go to the nearest doctor, who was in Coalville.
After laying me on the operating table and examining the wound carefully, the doctor decided that he must first sterilize the hole in my leg through which the bullet had passed. When I saw how he was going to sterilize it, I was afraid of two things: I was afraid of the pain and I was also afraid that I would cry. I didn’t want to cry, because I wanted my father to think I was no longer a child. In my heart, I said a silent prayer that Heavenly Father would help me so that no matter how badly it hurt, I wouldn’t cry.
The doctor took a rod like those used to clean gun barrels. On the end of the rod was a hole through which a small piece of gauze was threaded and dipped into a sterilizing solution. The doctor then took the rod and pushed it into my leg. When it came out on the other side, he changed the gauze, put fresh antiseptic on it, and pulled it back through the hole, pushing it back and forth three times. It hurt quite a bit, especially when he got near the bone. But my father held my hand, and I gritted my teeth and shut my eyes and tried to hold still. Heavenly Father had heard my silent prayer, because it did not seem to hurt as much as I thought it would, and I didn’t cry. The wound healed quickly and completely. I was never bothered again by that leg, even when I participated in sports in high school and college. I have felt something of a feeling of kinship to the Prophet Joseph ever since, knowing that he, too, had had a painful wound in his leg and had been healed and that he was later described as being a hale and hearty man.
As problems and difficulties have come in my life since, I have tried to face them as best I could, relying more on the help of our Heavenly Father than the comfort from tears. I learned the lesson that life’s burdens don’t seem to be so great if we don’t allow ourselves to get paralyzed into a stupor of inactivity by our sorrow and pain. As children of our Heavenly Father, we should learn to be happy, to trust in Him, and to not be afraid.
The United States and much of the world have been plunged into a state of fear by the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. But this is nothing new in the history of the world. The roles of terror and killing were integral parts of the Gadianton strategy in the history of the Nephites. This terror perpetrated in this new millennium has been skillfully designed to frighten us, but fear need not control us. The subsequent anthrax scare is perceived as being more psychologically damaging because it is less obvious than a plane crash. Yet we deal with far more prevalent risks such as staph infections, which happen every day. We are more ready to accept risks that we are familiar with, such as riding in an automobile or even crossing the street.
Satan is our greatest enemy and works night and day to destroy us. But we need not become paralyzed with fear of Satan’s power. He can have no power over us unless we permit it. He is really a coward, and if we stand firm he will retreat.
In the children’s classic The Secret Garden, author Frances Hodgson Burnett tells the story of the orphan, Mary Lennox, who is taken to her uncle’s house, where she meets her cousin, Colin, who is a recluse. Even though there is nothing wrong with him, he is paralyzed by the fear he will become a hunchback if he lives, and he has convinced himself that he will soon die.
Mary Lennox is a lonely child who is determined not to be interested in anything. One day while walking on her uncle’s estate, she stumbles upon the key to the entrance of a garden enclosed by a high wall. Once she enters the garden, a transformation takes place. In working to restore the garden to its former grandeur, she experiences a freshening of her spirit. Colin is coaxed from his gloomy room into the garden, and the author writes this commentary:
“So long as Colin shut himself up in his room and thought only of his fears and weakness and his detestation of people who looked at him and reflected hourly on humps and early death, he was a hysterical half-crazy little hypochondriac who knew nothing of the sunshine and the spring and also did not know that he could get well and could stand upon his feet if he tried to do it. When new beautiful thoughts began to push out the old hideous ones, life began to come back to him, his blood ran healthily through his veins and strength poured into him like a flood. … Much more surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has sense to remember in time to push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.
‘Where you tend a rose, my lad,
A thistle cannot grow.’”1
Remember, the Lord has said, “The very hairs of your head are all numbered” unto the Father. “Fear ye not therefore” (Matt. 10:30–31). He knows us, He loves us, and He knows our needs. He will comfort us if we will only trust in Him and His goodness and wisdom.
There are many things that we cannot change. We all have difficulties and disappointments. But often these turn out to be opportunities. The Lord can measure how strong we are by how we handle these difficulties in our lives. As the Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).
Sometimes the Lord allows us to have trials to shape us into productive servants. In our desire to achieve, we often fail to see that the Lord is trying to prune us away from false pride and vain ambition so He can teach us discipleship. His all-seeing eye is over us and ever watching us as our Eternal Heavenly Parent. When trials come, as surely they will to all of us during mortality, let us not sink into the abyss of self-pity but remember who is at the helm, that He is there to guide us through all the storms of life.
The story is told of a ship that was in distress during a severe storm off the coast of Holland:
“A rowboat went out to rescue the crew of the fishing boat. The waves were enormous, and each of the men at the oars had to give all his strength and energy to reach the unfortunate sailors in the grim darkness of the night and the heavy rainstorm.
“The trip to the wrecked ship was successful, but the rowboat was too small to take the whole crew in one rescue operation. One man had to stay behind on board because there simply was no room for him; the risk that the rescue boat would capsize was too great. When the rescuers made it back to the beach, hundreds of people were waiting for them with torches to guide them in the dreary night. But the same crew could not make the second trip because they were exhausted from their fight with the stormwinds, the waves, and the sweeping rains.
“So the local captain of the coast guard asked for volunteers to make a second trip. Among those who stepped forward without hesitation was a nineteen-year-old youth by the name of Hans. With his mother he had come to the beach in his oilskin clothes to watch the rescue operation.
“When Hans stepped forward his mother panicked and said, ‘Hans, please don’t go. Your father died at sea when you were four years old and your older brother Pete has been reported missing at sea for more than three months now. You are the only son left to me!’
“But Hans said, ‘Mom, I feel I have to do it. It is my duty.’ And the mother wept and restlessly started pacing the beach when Hans boarded the rowing boat, took the oars, and disappeared into the night.
“After a struggle with the high-going seas that lasted for more than an hour (and to Hans’s mother it seemed an eternity), the rowboat came into sight again. When the rescuers had approached the beach close enough so that the captain of the coast guard could reach them by shouting, he cupped his hands around his mouth and called vigorously against the storm, ‘Did you save him?’
“And then the people lighting the sea with their torches saw Hans rise from his rowing bench, and he shouted with all his might, ‘Yes! And tell Mother it is my brother Pete!’”2
On another day and on another sea, the ancient Apostles were on a ship “in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
“And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
“And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
“But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matt. 14:24–27).
Let us not take counsel from our fears. May we remember always to be of good cheer, put our faith in God, and live worthy for Him to direct us. We are each entitled to receive personal inspiration to guide us through our mortal probation. May we so live that our hearts are open at all times to the whisperings and comfort of the Spirit.
Some examples of how this message could be shared are listed below:
Invite family members to describe a person who is courageous. Have family members take turns reading aloud the stories about the Prophet Joseph Smith and President Faust as young boys.
Show family members a plant and invite them to tell what they know about being a successful gardener. How can the saying “Where you tend a rose, … a thistle cannot grow” be applied to overcoming fears?
Show family members the painting on page 7 of this issue. Ask them to imagine how they would have felt if they had been on that ship. Read Matthew 14:22–27, and tell about a time when putting faith in God helped you be of good cheer. Family members may also want to share similar experiences.