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Dr. Carolyn S. Brown

Let Go and Trust the Lord

Thank you, choir, for that beautiful rendition of one of my favorites. Another favorite is the hymn that we sang at the beginning, and Adam, you touched on a subject that I was originally going to talk about today.  But given some of the things I’ve learned from students in my interpersonal communications class this semester and just listening to students in the hall, I was prompted by the Lord to go in a different direction. I am grateful for this opportunity, though a daunting one, to speak to you today and it is my humble prayer that the Spirit will prompt you to hear whatever you need to hear from this message.

A student of mine a few years ago offered a classic excuse as to why he was late turning in his literature paper. He said he decided he needed a general spiritual housecleaning and arranged to go hiking for the weekend, away from his wife, children, and material possessions. He had fasted the night before and during the day while hiking felt at one with his Father in Heaven—so much so that he didn’t even register the time. Finally, realizing that the time was late and that his wife would be waiting, he started quickly for home. As he neared a narrow part of the trail, which was sheer cliff on both sides, a gust of wind suddenly arose and swept him over the edge.

Instinctively, he reached out to grab for support and caught hold of a root of a tree. He called for 15 minutes for help and realized that no one was around to help him. So finally he called on the Lord to get him out of his predicament. He hung there for five minutes or so and then he heard a voice say, “I heard your prayers. Do you know who this is?”

“Yes, I believe it is you, Lord,” he replied.

“Do you believe I could create a wind that would lift you back on the trail?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes. Yes, I trust you . . . but please hurry. I can’t hang on any longer.”

“If you trust me, then let go!”

There was a long . . . silence. Then the fellow said, “Can anyone else hear me?”

Although clearly apocryphal, the statement, “If you trust me, then let go,” is provocative. It suggests two questions: First, do we really trust the Lord? And second, what is it that we need to let go of? What does the root of the tree represent to us?

Let’s take a moment to explore these questions in terms of some examples. As it says in Proverbs 3:5, are you willing to “trust the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding”?

One of the best examples from the Scriptures can be seen in the life of Abraham. We’re familiar with the story. After waiting a century, the Lord blessed Abraham and Sarah with a precious son. But one day after Isaac had grown to be a lad, Abraham received a gut-wrenching revelation to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Although there is no recorded conversation between Abraham and the Lord, we can only imagine that Abraham would have been feeling bewildered and heartbroken and may even have been reasoning: “Why would the Lord give me this commandment? It is against the Lord’s previous commandments and the teachings of all the patriarchs, including me. And if Isaac is sacrificed, how will God fulfill His promise that in Isaac my seed shall be called?” (Genesis 21:12)

But the heavens were silent. With the trust and obedience of a little child in his Heavenly Father, Abraham arose early in the morning and took Isaac to Mount Moriah. It wasn’t until Abraham lifted the knife to plunge it into Isaac that an angel stayed his hand and the Lord spoke.

We, like Abraham, must learn the principle of trusting the Lord and letting go. For Abraham, it was obeying without question and being willing to let go of his precious child. I believe many of us have a level of trust but are frustrated in meeting those Abrahamic challenges in our lives.

These challenges, of course, are never at a convenient time, and in fact, often seem to come all at once.  As Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve once said: “Though God always meters out life’s challenges so that they don’t exceed our ability to cope, there may be times and seasons, mightn’t there, when, from our standpoint we feel we are encountering a fire-hydrant’s torrent of tribulation?” (Neal A. Maxwell, We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ, Deseret Book, 1984, 70)

Six years after my husband and I were married we experienced a three-year period of what we felt was a fire-hydrant’s torrent of tribulation. Our home was burglarized—ironically, the week we had attended the temple and determined we would begin our food storage plan.  My mother, who was my mentor, role model, and confidante while I was growing up, died. The Emigration Canyon fire threatened to wipe out the home David and I had carefully built together and wipe out everyone else’s home. I had another miscarriage and was told my biological time clock had run out. And David’s business partners were not fulfilling their responsibilities.

After months of prayer and fasting and scripture study, and still receiving no answers from the Lord, we had reached our lowest point. We began thinking and feeling we were failures when a very dear friend in the Canyon visited us . . . Ed Brown—no relation. He brought with him a giant piece of a Sequoia tree. As we talked, Ed asked us, “Where do you think the strength is in the tree?”

We responded, as most do, “Well, it’s in the heart.”

But, he replied: “It is actually at the edge, barely underneath the bark. It is right here and now. It is fragile and not thick, but that’s the part that brings strength to the whole tree.” See where the rings on that picture are wider apart? Those are the years of abundance when there was lots of sun and water. See where the rings are closer together? Those are the trials, or the lean years, when the sun and water were scarce.

The giant Sequoia tree has roots just below the surface of the earth. They grow only in groves with their roots intertwined. When strong winds blow, they hold each other up—they pull together.

Then Ed asked the ultimate question: “If your soul, like a tree, had rings to measure the years of greatest personal growth, where would those growth rings or lean years be?” Clearly, we were in the lean years.

How would you respond to that question? Some of you may only have to think of this year, or maybe this semester. Others of you may be thinking of past years. How did you, or how are you getting through these challenges? Certainly seeking out the Lord by fasting and praying would be at the top of the list. Would pondering the Scriptures and your patriarchal blessing be part of that list? And as we posed with the story at the beginning: are you trusting completely the Lord? Are you letting go of something that is preventing you from becoming what the Lord knows you can become?

Elder Maxwell taught that learning to let go is “built right into the structure of life. It includes the stern and demanding isometrics of being pitted against our old selves the sternest competition we shall ever know, and we must come off conqueror.  In that stern competition, what we are in the process of becoming is assaulted and attacked by that which we are. We are to pull free, and cast off that which is not good.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “If Thou Endure It Well,” BYU Fireside, Dec. 4, 1984)

Moses is an example of experiencing this process. You remember that after killing one of the Egyptians who was whipping an Israelite slave, Moses left the comforts of the palace in Egypt where he had been raised and he fled into the wilderness to live with his people. He was minding his own business having settled into being a humble shepherd in Midian.  The Bible says that Moses was “content.” (See Exodus 2:21)

And then Moses experiences the Lord speaking to him from a burning bush. The Lord tells Moses that He plans to come down and deliver His people from their afflictions at the hands of the Egyptians. Moses must have been overjoyed with this news . . . until the Lord said, “I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)

With the scriptures that follow, we can be pretty sure that Moses suddenly changed from being overjoyed to being afraid. His negative thinking may have gone something like this: “Yes, but I’m not a person of any consequence in Egypt anymore.” “Yes, but I will be killed the moment they identify me.”

Here is how Moses actually recorded his conversation with the Lord, from Exodus 3: “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (verse 11)

Now, the Lord immediately reassures Moses: “Certainly I will be with thee.” (verse 12)

And Moses responds: “But… they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice.” (Exodus 4:1)

So what does the Lord do? He performs several miracles with Moses’ staff and Moses’ hand. These miracles are meant to reassure Moses, and then the Lord authorizes him to perform the same miracles to the Israelites so they will know he has come to them with the power of God.

Now, you’d think Moses would have been convinced and hastened off toward Egypt with great confidence and enthusiasm. Instead, Moses offers up to the Lord a few more important negative thoughts he has had: “I am not eloquent…but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)

From the Scriptures, we know that Moses had to first trust the Lord, and then to let go of his comfort zone and his negative thinking.  Now, did this happen all at once? No . . . But by doing what the Lord commanded him to do, the way was opened up for Moses to accomplish it.  And as a result, Moses reached his potential of becoming a great prophet and leader of the Israelites during 40 challenging years while leading the children of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness until they reached the borders of the Promised Land.

Clearly, the task of letting go of one’s old self is not easy. It is a lifelong process. Already, some of you may be thinking, “Well, yes, but that was Moses, an important person to the Lord.” And what voice is talking to you now? Not that of the Savior, but of Satan. Each one of you is important in the eyes of the Lord. He will help each one of you if you just trust in Him and let go of those parts of your old self that are holding you back from discovering your gifts and becoming all that the Lord wants you to be.

For those who engage in this process, there is a consistent pattern of action. It’s the pattern you are using in your classes right now. It’s the Lord’s pattern of learning—prepare, teach one another, ponder, and prove.

First, prepare. Pray and fast so you can get your hearts and heads, your feelings and thoughts aligned. Second, teach one another. Reach out and listen with the Spirit to someone in your support system as the Lord directs. It may be a family member, a spouse, a friend, an instructor who the Lord knows has insights from their own experiences that they can share. Third, ponder. Study and listen to the words of the Lord. Let Him speak to you from the Scriptures and from your patriarchal blessing. Fourth, prove. Trust the Lord and let go of whatever is impeding your progress.

With the permission of one of our students, I’d like to share with you her experience as she described it to me. “Looking back 16 years ago, I remember driving around Salt Lake City with a six-month-old baby in the car after signing divorce papers. I was sobbing aloud while silently asking the Lord how I would care for my three young children with no education. The Lord’s answer was clear, that if I would serve Him and keep His commandments, He would always take care of me. And He did. Through miracles and blessings, I was able to raise my children with jobs that allowed me to stay home.”

As her children grew older, she was able to find work outside the home, and every day went to work happy—that’s what we’re told we should do, right? Be cheerful, even amidst our trials. But after many lean years of struggling from one low-paying job to another, and always being passed over for better employment because she did not have an education, once again her pain spilled over in tears. She said the more she fasted and prayed about going to school, the more confused she felt. Has that ever happened to you? It has to me. She did not have enough money to go to school, and she kept rehearsing something negative she had heard many years earlier. Three different professionals in the education system told her she was too stupid to learn math. The third time, she closed her books and walked out of the university feeling totally demoralized and vowing to never return.

Every message and event in our lives, whether negative or positive, that we see and hear, triggers a picture like a camera, which in turn triggers an emotion of how we feel about ourselves. And those pictures get catalogued in our minds. And as we know, those pictures are there, no matter how far back. It’s the way we choose to interpret those messages and events that becomes our self-image.

As Joyce Meyer has said in her book The Battlefield of the Mind, “Satan takes our circumstances – no matter what they are – and uses them to build strongholds in our lives.” (Joyce Meyer, The Battlefield of the Mind, Time Warner Book Group, 2005, 24) When it appears that we are trying to break free from such strongholds, he bombards us with fears and doubts. When we have moments that remind us of some perceived inadequacy or some weakness, we must guard against the habit of rehearsing negative thoughts. They are a powerful tool of the adversary. He wants to make us miserable like he is. He wants to prevent us from seeing our self-worth and fulfilling our potential.

To continue the story of this student, she was studying and pondering the Scriptures one day when she came to 2 Nephi 4:33-35: “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.

“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arms of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh….

Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee.”

She had read those words before. This time as she pondered and listened to the Lord, those words took on a new meaning given her current circumstances. “Enemies” and the “arms of flesh” she likened to those who had said hurtful things to her, especially the three teachers. She realized she was hanging onto the equivalent of an internal enemy by rehearsing the words “stupid,” and that she was staying in her current rut because it was comfortable, and after all, it would pay the bills. “Stumbling block” she likened to the fear of education. “Clear my way before me” and “if I ask Him”—she had much experience in many other areas of her life of trusting the Lord, and she had faith He would help her now even though she didn’t have money to go to school. But she was still afraid.

That weekend she asked her oldest son, a returned missionary, if he would fast and pray with her, and that night she cried unto the Lord and pleaded with Him about what she was feeling and that she didn’t even know what to think anymore. “Go back to school” was the answer. The answer confirmed what she had heard the Savior saying through those scriptures.  And right on schedule, Satan’s voice began bombarding her: “Yes, but I don’t have any money,” “Yes, but that isn’t one of my choices because I’m stupid.”

The next morning as she and her son broke their fast, he suggested that she attend the LDS Business College with him. He then said, “Mother, it’s time to let go, to take the leap of faith and trust the Lord.” And so, trusting and letting go of her fear of education, Sherrie Cope walked into the College. The first person she met was a woman who had been widowed at a young age. She had raised her baby daughter, returned to school, graduated, and now was the director of enrollment management. Now was that by chance? No. God doesn’t work by chance; He works by miracles.

Sherrie learned about the Single Parent Scholarship, applied and received one. While deciding on a program of study, her eyes focused on entrepreneurship, and she suddenly remembered she said, “a part of my patriarchal blessing that indicated that I would have experiences that would change my life. I understood that this program was something that would change my life and change my financial situation. I remember being scared.  But that first day in class I saw the love the instructor had for his students and knew I was going to be okay. And I believed in the Learning Pattern.”

Sherrie was quiet and pensive in class, which caught the attention of the instructor. “After learning of her plight, the instructor promised that, together, she would succeed. There would be no failing on his watch.” By diligently using the learning pattern in her studies, she passed the class with an A-. One success has led to another. She has learned that she can learn. She has developed new skills and a newfound confidence. And she has fulfilled a long-held dream, to produce and market the family pancake recipe, a project begun by her grandfather. Her pancakes have gained quick fame.  And most of all, Sherrie, who had practiced the principle of trusting the Lord through many lean years, learned to apply the principle of letting go—in this case, of those negative thoughts about herself and education.

As the author Vash Young expressed it: “There is no finer sensation in life than that which comes with victory over one’s self. It feels good to go fronting into a hard wind, winning against its power; but it feels a thousand times better to go forward to a goal of inward achievement, brushing aside all your old internal enemies, your “Yes, Buts, as you advance.”

Letting go might mean to stop being angry over the death of a loved one. Letting go might mean to stop trying to be in the middle, arranging all the outcomes. Letting go might mean to stop blaming others.

As Elder Neal A. Maxwell said: “Of course our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts,” Proceedings of General Conference, Nov. 1996, 21) Thus, it is not only our personal privilege, but also our personal responsibility to act, to trust the Lord, and let go.

That was true with me. My father died when I was 2 years old. My other siblings were 11, 12, and 17. My mother, who was 45 at the time, renewed her dual teaching certificate and returned to the classroom to support us. Her motto? “Be prepared; you never know what you may have to deal with in your life.” The message was clear. I focused on getting my education. My plan was simple—complete my bachelor’s degree, teach high school, get married, and have children, just like my mother and my older sister.

But when I did my student teaching, I discovered that teaching high school was not for me. And to make matters worse, there was no husband anywhere on the horizon. My David had not come along yet. Where did I go wrong with my plan? My plan. I searched my patriarchal blessing and the Scriptures. President Monson has said of a patriarchal blessing: “The same Lord who provided a Liahona for Lehi provides for you and for me today a rare and valuable gift to give direction to our lives.” (Thomas S. Monson, “Preparation Precedes Performance,” Ensign, Sept. 1993, 71)

As I reviewed my patriarchal blessing, I noticed the words “trust” and “peace.” I wrote each word on a separate 5” X 8” card and filled the cards with scriptures on each word—two cards front and back for “trust” and one front and back for “peace.” Let me share just one of the scriptures that resonated with me. In Alma 38:5 we read, “And now, my son Shiblon” [I heard the words, “And now, my daughter Carolyn”] “I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions.”

According to Webster’s Dictionary, “to trust is to be confident in God’s character and declarations with an unreserved surrender of our will to his guidance.” (Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828)  I believe many of us find it easy to trust in God’s character and declarations.  But we find it much more difficult to do so with an unreserved surrender of our will and our plan for His will and His plan for us.

My mother, sensing my frustration, encouraged me to talk to my professors. One of them said, “Well, Carolyn, I thought you were going on for your doctorate degree so that you could teach at the college level.” The thought had never entered my mind. After all, I really just wanted to get married and have children. No sooner had I begun to ponder that option when, right on schedule, the negative thoughts kicked in: “Yes, but how could I afford more school?” and “Yes, but am I that smart?”

We are here to overcome our self-imposed limitations. The greatest revelation we can have is when we realize we are not limited. We have greater powers and possibilities than we think. We have the help of God.

I fervently prayed to the Lord for guidance and was prompted to apply for a graduate fellowship. I can still remember that day in April when I was awarded that fellowship, and while walking from one end of the campus to the other, I felt that peaceful confirmation that this was the Lord’s plan for me, and He would help me. It was difficult to say “Thy will be done” and set aside what I thought was a very good plan in favor of the Lord’s plan. Now was everything smooth sailing after that? No. After completing the challenging coursework, I had to spend several days taking a myriad of written exams and an oral exam.  The pressure was incredible because I was the first female student, and a Mormon, that had been awarded that fellowship in the English department at the University of Utah.

My committee chairman gave me my first essay question and a Blue Book. For some of us, that dates us, right? A book of  lined paper with a blue cover. He put me in one of the faculty offices at the end of a hallway of Orson Spencer Hall. The noise was incredible—telephones ringing, people talking, a baby crying—and after 10 minutes I rushed to his office and exclaimed, “I can’t think with all that noise!” He quickly found another room and I completed the exam.

Driving home it dawned on me that I had been studying in total quiet in the library and at home. I fervently prayed to the Lord to know how to create that environment. The instruction came: Stop and pick up earplugs. Two days later, I returned to the campus at night, as my chairman suggested, to take the second exam. He found a room—more like a closet—with a small table and a few chairs. He handed me the Blue Book, and said he would return after teaching his class. I closed the door, sat down with my back to it, put in my earplugs, and began writing nonstop in quiet as the ideas flowed. It was amazing. The only thing that would have made it better is if I’d had a computer. But they hadn’t been invented yet.

Well, I was busy writing away and all of a sudden I felt a hand on my shoulder. I jumped up and turned around, totally startled, and pulled out my earplugs. Years later he told me I was the only graduate student he knew who had used earplugs for the written exam. Then, the night before my oral exam, I confided in my mother that I was very frightened, because there were five of them but only one of me—sort of like in the Roman Coliseum with lions five and Christians one—and they knew so much more than I did. She reminded me the Lord was on my side. As we knelt by my bedside, she offered a powerful prayer, drawing on the power of my father’s priesthood.

The next morning, I stood before the committee, who started asking their barrage of questions. I was extremely nervous, but as I was answering the second question and looking at my audience of five professors, I suddenly realized I’d seen this picture before, right down to what each one was wearing and where each one was sitting. A quiet peace filled my soul, reassuring me I would pass, and just like the Lord has said in Doctrine and Covenants 6:23, “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?”

I had learned to let go of listening to Satan’s voice of fear and doubt, to listen to the Savior’s voice of faith and hope—to humbly surrender my will and trust Him completely. I’ve been given many opportunities since then to demonstrate to the Lord that I am getting better at acting on these two principles. Does it get easier? No. However, our capacity to deal with our challenges in life is greater through consistent practice using the Scriptures, your patriarchal blessing, and the Learning Pattern.

Well, my mother had assured me:  “If you are prepared, the Lord will open up a place for you where He needs you the most.”  Little did I know where He needed me. He led me to LDS Business College where He planted me and I thrived with challenging assignments, choice colleagues, and wonderful students. And as President Richards said, this has been my passion. It is you students who inspired this talk today. I can only hope that whatever it was you needed to hear that the voice of the Lord has spoken to you. And when you reach one or more of those lean years and you find yourself rehearsing those negative thoughts which create those emotions of confusion, fear and doubt, please remember God has given you the agency to act. Use the Lord’s lifelong pattern of learning. Study and ponder the Scriptures and your patriarchal blessing. Listen to the Lord’s voice of faith and hope concerning you. Trust the Lord completely and let go. Be willing to sacrifice at any moment what you are—your old self—so He can help you accomplish what He wants you to do and become what He wants you to become, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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