I have anxiety. To the point that I either feel like I’ll throw up or pass out. But it only happens in certain situations, and generally, that means I try to avoid those things. Well… That’s kind of hard to do when those things are pretty important to what I’m doing with my life. About a month ago, I faced one of my greatest fears. Actually, it is my greatest fear. No questions asked. I say that because it’s something I have been almost forced to face and I hated almost every second of it.
Until I decided to put my faith before my fear.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Now, this story I’m about to tell is my own personal story. Anyone who reads this may or may not be able to relate (my guess is you probably can, even if our stories are extremely different). Whatever the case, whatever your life story, I hope that you can find something here that you can apply to yourself and help you gain greater faith and come closer to your Savior.
A while back, I think I may have written about my decision to change majors (both here and here). To make a long story short, I’ll just say that I started out as a Music Composition major and came to realize that I really disliked the program. I also did not want to do that for a career anymore. As I searched for a new degree in music, trying to find the one that fit me just right, I sort of got smacked over the head by Heavenly Father and shoved in the direction of the Piano Performance degree (which I had been avoiding like the plague). This may not have been the path I ever thought I would take, but I had no doubt what Heavenly Father was telling me to do – develop your talents as much as you can in order to better bless the lives of others throughout your time on Earth.
Honestly, I have to say this has been the biggest trial of my faith. Ever. Not even the death of my brother three years ago can top this one. I’m completely serious. Why? Because it’s something that I have to CHOOSE to do. Having Tyler pass away unexpectedly was unavoidable and there was nothing I could do to change it. Choosing a major that scares me more than anything else… That takes even greater faith than having a trial forced upon you. Actively choosing to face your greatest fear is actively choosing to have faith – it is choosing the Lord’s side.
But making that decision to move forward with this goal has not been a one time thing. At least once a week for the past year, I have had to choose over and over again to put my faith before my fear.
I went into this knowing that I hate performing. I only realized about a year ago that the reason I hate it so much is because I’ve developed pretty bad anxiety in certain situations, performing being the main one. So having discovered this, I took a class and went to a psychologist to figure out how to overcome my anxiety because I had absolutely no doubt that this is what I needed to be doing. I found some good techniques that helped a lot with calming my racing heart and upset stomach and keeping myself from passing out. I was more confident in my ability to do this without freaking myself out too much and I even became excited to perform. Any time I had doubts about my abilities to do this recital (which would get me switched into the performance major) were often easily quelled with a few relaxation and meditation methods.
Speed up to about a month or two ago. My recital was getting closer and the doubts had come back in full force. I wondered why I was doing this and how I could be crazy enough to think I was good enough. My fears were returning bigger than ever and I wasn’t sure I could go through with the performance – what if I messed up in front of everyone? What if I crashed and burned and had to stop in the middle of the recital and leave? What if I passed out on stage? It would be humiliating if any of those things happened. How could I put myself in such a situation and come out feeling like I was still good enough? And an extremely negative thought would even make the occasional appearance – how could I come out of something like that feeling like I personally still had worth?
“…Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.” (Matthew 8:26)
I turned to the scriptures and words of the current prophets and apostles. In a recent Ensign magazine, there was an article that related to anxiety. While I studied and pondered that article, I realized that my anxiety is just a physical manifestation of my fears. And I am not my anxiety. I am not made of fear.
“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:9)
I realized that I am a divine being whose body tends towards fear, but my spirit tends towards faith. I am a daughter of God and I knew, at least once, that He believed in me. I took time to remember how I felt when I first realized I would need to pursue a degree in performance. They were memories of joy and excitement. As I had those moments to remember, I found comfort and peace. I remembered again and again that this wasn’t just a good thing to do. No. If I’m being honest, this was the clearest answer besides knowing I needed to serve a mission that I have ever received. This was what the Lord had explicitly told me to do. And if He tells me to do something, I have to have faith that He will be with me as I do it.
About two weeks before my recital I received the greatest blessing, one that I know came directly from the Lord: a new professor who, even in his corrections, was only ever positive and encouraging. Both of my professors who were with me in this insane endeavor never stopped believing in me. I lost sight a few times of what I was capable of, especially as the recital drew closer and closer. I forgot that I am good enough, both as a pianist and as a child of God. I sometimes couldn’t remember why I was doing this or even that I wanted to do it. But these two men – angels in disguise – never forgot, never lost sight and never stopped believing.
“…Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things… that you may be found worthy.” (D&C 98:14)
Before a recital, the performer is required to do a hearing – perform in front of the faculty over their degree/instrument to make sure they are ready to perform their recital. If you fail the hearing, you have to push your recital back to a later date. Normally the hearing is at least a week or two before the recital. Mine, however, was just three days before my recital. And I was freaking out, mostly because I knew I would have to perform in front of a faculty member who I had seen and talked to maybe once for a few seconds but didn’t know and therefore, he was intimidating and scary for me to play in front of. I received a blessing of comfort and counsel the night before to try and calm my nerves. In that blessing I was told this:
“Heavenly Father wants you to know that He loves you and that He is proud of how hard you have worked towards this worthy goal. You will be blessed to reap the rewards of this work.”
There was more than that, but those words were just what I needed to hear.
“…I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)
As I went into the hearing the next day, I was still nervous, but I thought I would do well… It was a disaster. I had a huge memory slip (all pianists are required to play all their music from memory) at the beginning and it just seemed to go downhill from there. I was frustrated, embarrassed and extremely annoyed with myself. I couldn’t believe how badly I was doing. Again, I was extremely blessed to have my professors believe in me. I miraculously passed the hearing because my professors had heard me play over the previous week and knew that I normally was not that awful. I have no doubt the Lord had a hand in that.
“…Be not afraid, only believe.” (Mark 5:36)
The day of my recital came and I was feeling better about things due to an extremely good performance I had done the day before in front of the piano students and faculty. It was becoming easier and easier to see how much the Lord was giving me strength and fortitude as I approached the time to perform. And then it was about 7:25, five minutes before I would go on, and the anxiety hit me with full force, worse than ever before. I was trying to do my breathing exercises and clear my mind, but the lightheadedness persisted to the point I had to lay on the floor backstage at 7:28 and my fingers and hands started to tingle and go numb (not exactly the best thing for a pianist).
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2)
With the help of the backstage managers, I was able to distract myself long enough that by the time I needed to go on stage, I felt stable and ready to perform. With my fingers still tingling, I took a deep breath, remembered why I was doing this, said a prayer in my heart and walked into the light of the stage. I smiled (or tried to, anyway) as the audience applauded, bowed, sat down, placed my fingers on the keys, breathed deeply again, prayed again, and started. The first 30 or so minutes of the recital were not flawless… But it came pretty close. I can’t express to anyone how good that made me feel. I also cannot express my joy and surprise at how comfortable I felt as I played. It was truly a miracle.
“And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.” (D&C 78:18)
The first sentence of that scripture applied quite accurately to the final 20 minutes of the recital. I performed a Prokofiev Sonata and that was the hardest piece I’ve played thus far in my 15 or so years of piano playing. On top of that, it was my closing piece and by the time I got to it, I was exhausted and almost sweating because it was so hot in that room. There were quite a few mistakes as I played, but I persisted and continued to the end. Those mistakes could have kept me from passing the recital and being accepted into the performance program. But as that scripture says, the Lord led me along. I may not have been ready to bear that particular piece very well, but I was still positive – I still was of good cheer, and the Lord blessed me for it.
I have never before felt so serene on stage at the center of attention. As I said earlier, those kinds of things generally make me run away to avoid any feeling of anxiety. That night, though, I conquered my fear. I conquered it by exercising faith in Heavenly Father, faith in myself and faith in the talents I had worked so hard to develop. And I believe that because I chose to put my faith and trust in the Lord, His promise that I would reap the rewards of my work really happened: I passed my recital and I was accepted into the piano performance program at BYU.
I promise you, without any doubt in my mind, that if you choose to let your fear determine your destiny, you will never get anywhere that you really want to be. However, if you allow your faith to conquer your fear, no matter how badly you might want to run the other direction, if you allow yourself to trust the Lord more than anything else, you WILL be successful. It may not happen on the first few tries, but it will happen.
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and then was crucified at Golgotha almost 2000 years ago. Because of what He did for YOU, I promise you that you are capable of doing hard things. I did something I never thought I would do, something I never really wanted to do until I knew the Lord needed me to do it. Because of this experience, I KNOW I can do hard things and I know I can do them because I know the Lord is with me, providing a way for me and giving me strength whenever I need it. I have no doubt that He will do the same for you.