Andrea Lystrup is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Tucson, AZ. She owns a private practice that specializes in helping Latter-day Saint couples and individuals navigate faith, addiction, and sexual intimacy issues. Writing books, articles, and blogs is a passion for her, and her work has been featured in the church Ensign magazine. She is a perpetual Young Women leader in every ward she has lived in, and currently serves as the Tucson Stake Sister Support Specialist. In this role she provides training about abuse prevention and mental health awareness for ward and stake leaders. Her husband is a sports medicine physician in the US Air Force and she is a mom to 3 young rowdy boys.

Enter Andrea…

Fear not: comfort or command?

The phrase “fear not” appears 84 times throughout the standard works.

You could take that phrase as a message of comfort, a reassurance from God that we have no need to fear.

You could also take this as an admonition, a warning from God, that fear has immense capacity to undermine our best intentions.

My clinical experience as a therapist leads me to focus on the warning. I can’t imagine my Heavenly Parents offering me a trite “don’t worry about it” in the face of valid fear. This seems especially unlikely when I know that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) in the face of real sorrow. Christ knew that he would fix the problem and raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet he wept anyway.

Empathy was built into the plan of salvation through our baptismal covenant. We promise to “mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” (Mosiah 18:9) Those scriptures lead me to believe that our Heavenly Parents are eager to empathize with us, and not dismiss our feelings. However, I can absolutely believe that our Heavenly Parents want us to reduce our fear.

We are here to learn how to love, and as John said,

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear.” 1 John 4:18

Consequences of Unresolved Fear

When I think through some of the worst experiences with church leaders my clients have recounted, fear is the common denominator sending good intentions awry.

I think of a woman counseled to stay in an abusive relationship. Perhaps her church leader was worried about the state of her eternal family, or concerned about how she would support her family without their primary breadwinner. I think of parents advised to push mission service on a teenage boy struggling with suicidal thoughts, confident that a deeper conversion would fix his depression. This leader didn’t understand that for this boy, a faith crisis was a precipitating factor to his suicidal thoughts. That teenage boy was afraid his family would reject him if they knew of his concerns about religion. He probably mapped his family’s anxiety about his church membership accurately, and pushing mission service further reinforced his fears. I think of a dejected young father who felt like a burden to his bishop because after many months of regular meetings, his struggle with porn wasn’t “fixed” yet.

I can empathize with a bishop who is feeling burned out. Perhaps he is afraid to set boundaries because he has big shoes to fill from a previous bishop, or fears abandoning the young father in his time of need and making the problem worse. Resentment seems like a more noble price to pay than potentially hurting someone else.

I think of a young woman struggling with drugs and self-harm, whose Laurel class presidency avoided her because they didn’t want her negative influence. While I understand the caution, how are we to leave the 99 and reach the one if we are unwilling to be around them?

In each of these cases, fear got in the way of effective ministering. These people needed someone who could just be with them, while trusting in the healing power of the Atonement. Instead, they got someone who couldn’t see past their own fear to connect with what each person really needed. Instead, they defaulted to fixing, coercing, resenting, or avoiding instead.

I understand where each leader was coming from. It can be exhausting to make space in your life for problems that are outside your comfort zone. It is scary to think of sharing any responsibility in helping people work through challenging issues like abuse, self-harm, sexual infidelity, or mental illness. What if you get it wrong? But this is exactly why it is so important to learn how to fear not. Otherwise, your fear leads you to avoid, fix, or resent others, instead of loving them. In the words of President Thomas S. Monson,

“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”

How to Overcome Fear

Intellectually, you probably understand the value of reducing your fears so that you can have more room for love, but how do you do that in real life? I recommend confronting a common mindset that reinforces a feedback loop of anxiety: a belief in scarcity over abundance.

A scarcity mindset is believing there are not enough resources to go around. When you think about the experience of many church leaders, it is easy to see how this mindset develops. There are probably very few wards where there are enough people who are willing to help accomplish all the work that needs to be done. Callings are hard to staff, substitutes are hard to find, no one wants to clean the church building, and you’re pulling teeth to get people to minister. When this is your experience, you often ask yourself, “if I don’t do it, then who will?”

While I have empathy for why a scarcity mindset develops, this way of thinking will keep you stuck in a negative feedback loop. First you believe that there is not enough support to go around. Then you either do it yourself and resent it, or you coerce your old standbys to do more. Then they get burned out and avoid you, or maybe even move to the side of town with the “better” wards. Then you have even fewer people to work with, and the problem amplifies.  Now it is even harder to set boundaries around your own time, because there really is no one else who is going to do it.

While this mindset is understandable, it is a fallacy that ends up causing harm to yourself and those around you. Poor boundaries always lead to resentment. It isn’t fair to be the recipient of resentment due to someone else’s lack of boundaries.

There are so many metaphors of abundance in the scriptures to counteract our belief in scarcity. According to the scriptures, our cups should be overflowing with divine support, making all things possible. So then why do so many of us feel like we’re trying to pour from an empty cup? One of the reasons our cups even can overflow is because cups are boundaried.

Boundaries create abundance. However, setting and enforcing boundaries is a skill that many of us don’t have. So instead of cups running over with more than enough to share, we run around trying to do everything with a hole in the bottom of our cups.

Underfunctioners and Overfunctioners

One of the laws of relationships is that people tend to organize themselves into overfunctioners and underfunctioners. Overfunctioners do too much work, the underfunctioner doesn’t do enough. And they always resent each other. This reality is so frustrating to the church leader who is bending over backwards trying to help someone in need. You’re working so hard, and yet the receiver is mad at them about not doing it right. You may feel entitled to the moral high ground in this situation. After all, you’re the one doing all the service. In reality, they are mirroring your own resentment back to you. When you are boundaried, this doesn’t happen.

What the overfunctioner doesn’t realize, is that they have a direct role in absolving the underfunctioner of their own necessary responsibility. There are enough resources, energy, and support to go around, you just have to build your own cup to hold it.

Being boundaried allows you to minister in areas outside your comfort zone. The classmates of the young woman worried about her negative influence could have allowed themselves to really enjoy her presence at church and class activities, but then turned off their phones at home to allow themselves adequate time to rest and fulfill other responsibilities. It surprises me how many teenagers feel too much responsibility for the happiness of their friends.

The bishop and the young father who struggled with pornography could have experienced a heartfelt connection during a single meeting. Then instead of taking on the responsibility to fix him and scheduling regular meetings, he could have expressed confidence in this man’s ability to gather the appropriate resources and heal. A 10-minute connection followed up with an expression of confidence would have been infinitely more helpful than 20 hours of resentful overfunctioning.

Being boundaried means knowing yourself well enough to know when you are going to feel resentful. When you feel resentment creep in, it is time to say no. As taught by Greg McKeown in his book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.”  Enforcing boundaries means that you are humble enough to tolerate the social consequences of someone’s disappointment in your no. It also means being confident enough to know that you are making the

“wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at your highest point of contribution.”

Your highest contribution you can offer anyone seeking to heal difficult challenges is your love. You need to fiercely protect your capacity to love, and your ability to say no is part of it.

There will be times when you need to comfort your fears about whether setting boundaries was appropriate. Much of our overfunctioning is actually our attempt to maintain an illusion of control. We want to believe in our ability to control and prevent hardship—but that belief is a fantasy. When you realize that overfunctioning is more about your own comfort than helping others, you also realize that guilt about having boundaries is unnecessary.

Part of being boundaried also means knowing when someone else’s cup is better equipped to address a problem. If you can’t offer someone what they need, it is not a failing on your part. You can connect with and love people, while also referring them to professionals and additional resources as needed.

Theological Abundance

We can also reduce fear by appreciating the theological abundance that the gospel offers. Parables like the prodigal son or the laborers in the vineyard teach us that God is patient and freely gives of all that He has to all of his children. If those parables bug you, you’re probably operating under a mindset of theological scarcity.

Scarcity makes it impossible to fear not. In contrast, there is a deep peace that comes from knowing Heavenly Father wants to take care of all of His children. Even the ones who make mistakes. With this deep peace, you can really see the pain of the young man who is afraid to tell his parents that he doesn’t want to serve a mission. Instead of fearing what will become of his life, you can be confidant that even more abundant honor will be bestowed on those who may be lacking.

 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness”.1 Corinthians 12:23

This kind of unconditional acceptance creates room for people to experience the Atonement and heal the parts of ourselves that are lacking. Whether we are a 7:00 am laborer or an 11:00 pm laborer, our reward is the same.

We can love those on a different timeline, or be afraid for them, but we can’t do both. Again as Peter said,

“there is no fear in love.” 1 John 4:18

Heavenly Father has asked us 84 times to cast out fear and make room for love, and He has given us the theological underpinnings to accomplish this. Can we trust Him enough to do so?

How do we help leaders

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