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Today in our Relief Society lesson we were discussing Dallin H. Oaks’ talk “Be of Good Cheer” I read through the talk yesterday and then I came across this quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland –

“We should honor the Savior’s declaration to “be of good cheer.” (Matthew 14:27) Indeed, it seems to me we may be more guilty of breaking that commandment than almost any other!”

Jeffrey R. Holland, “Created for Greater Things

I was somewhat distressed by the notion of being of good cheer being a commandment. I am in no ways pessimistic by nature, but I have long held the belief that it’s very important that we acknowledge hard experiences as being hard. I don’t believe we would have been given the commandment to mourn with those who mourn to just brush off trials as no big deal. Obviously it’s not helpful to wallow in misery and sadness, but there’s a huge range of things to experience between wallowing and just pretending everything is sunshiney while a hurricane rages. The two notions had been battling themselves out in my head when I arrived at Relief Society this afternoon.

Our teacher started her lesson by talking about how being of good cheer didn’t necessarily mean being happy all the time. I started listening in hard. Wait, it doesn’t? Isn’t that what it means to be of good cheer? If you think of someone who is “cheery” isn’t that someone who is always sort of naively smiley and happy? I felt like both a giant idiot and a huge nerd but I decided to stop and pull up the dictionary to get the definition of “cheer”. Obviously I knew what the word meant, I can use it in a sentence, but I felt like I needed some perspective. Here’s what I read –

cheer /CHir/

1. shout for joy or in praise or encouragement.
2. give comfort or support to.

1. a shout of encouragement, praise, or joy.
2. cheerfulness, optimism, or confidence.

From the Oxford English Dictionary via

I don’t know why but in the context of “Be of Good Cheer” those definitions hadn’t even crossed my mind. You know what I didn’t read in that definition? Happy shiney Pollyanna naivete – which was everything I had always heard in the commandment to “be of good cheer.” In fact, happy didn’t even factor into the definition. I was most struck by the fact that cheer was first a verb – it’s the act of giving encouragement. Of course I knew that, I come from a sports family. Do you know how many Saturdays I have spent sitting in bleachers cheering for my siblings as they played baseball, basketball or soccer?

When you are cheering for someone you’re not celebrating an accomplished victory, you’re in the midst of the struggle. You may give a final triumphant cheer at the end of the game, but most of the cheering happens long before the contest is decided – in fact cheering is a thing because the contest isn’t decided. It wouldn’t do you any good to tell a pitcher after the game “hey, we believe in you, you’re going to do great!” – it’s a little late at that point.

That completely changed my perspective on what it means to “be of good cheer”. The purpose of being of good cheer is optimism and hope. I can recognize that things are hard and hope that things will get better. In fact isn’t that exactly what Jesus said when giving his commandment?

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33 (emphasis added)

Jesus is not saying everything is going to be great and sunshiney and perfect. In fact, quite the opposite. He doesn’t tell us that we might have tribulation, he tells us we shall have tribulation. How can he then tell us to “be of good cheer”, aren’t tribulation and cheer mutually exclusive?? No! Even though we have tribulations – we can have hope, we can have confidence, we can have optimism. Yes, the things we are facing now are hard – but Jesus has overcome them. What could be more hopeful than that?

We’re still in the middle of the game. We might even be down in points. The other team might look bigger, scarier and stronger than we are. They may have even roughed us up a little bit and we’re hurting bad. But with Christ we will prevail. As we turn to Him and put our trust in Him we have every reason to “be of good cheer” because He is the giver of perfect confidence. He has already won the game, we just need to stick through to the end to join him in victory. I can think of no greater encouragement than that.