You Are the Master of Your Thoughts, Sister Reeves Teaches

Contributed By Sister Linda S. Reeves of the Relief Society general presidency

  • 16 July 2015

Church leaders have counseled that memorizing the words of the hymns or scripture passages can help members learn to control their thoughts.

Article Highlights

  • Like bark beetles can kill a tree, bad thoughts can kill our spirits.
  • You are the master of your thoughts.
  • Don’t put yourself in situations where bad thoughts are welcome.

“If you can control your thoughts, you can overcome habits, even degrading personal habits. If you can learn to master them, you can have a happy life.” —President Boyd K. Packer

On the day my husband, Mel, and I moved into the mission home in Riverside, California, a 30-foot pine tree was uprooted from the front yard by a tree-removal company.

We were told that one week earlier, two other pine trees of similar height had also been removed. The top branches of the trees had become yellowed and diseased. These mighty trees were decades old. What was the cause of their demise? Bark beetles—tiny insects, each about the size of a piece of cooked rice! How could something so small kill something so big? These tiny beetles burrow their way into the bark of the tree, weakening them and eventually killing the tree. I felt drawn to compare the tiny bark beetles to thoughts that we allow into our minds that can infest our spirits, cause spiritual illness and lead to sin.

Our dear late Apostle, President Boyd K. Packer, gave a wonderful talk over 40 years ago that has helped to guide me and my thoughts. He testified, “Probably the greatest challenge to people of any age, particularly young people, and the most difficult thing you will face in mortal life is to learn to control your thoughts. As a man ‘thinketh in his heart, so is he’ (Proverbs 23:7). One who can control his thoughts has conquered himself.”

President Packer compared our minds to a stage with performers who occupy that stage during every waking hour of our lives. “They will enact for you ... anything to the limits of your toleration. ...

“If you let them, they will devise the most clever persuasions to hold your attention. ... Even convince you that it is innocent—for they are but thoughts.

Church leaders have suggested memorizing a favorite hymn to keep our minds focused on worthy and worthwhile thoughts.

“If you can control your thoughts, you can overcome habits, even degrading personal habits. If you can learn to master them you will have a happy life.

“This is what I would teach you. Choose from among the sacred music of the Church a favorite hymn. ... Memorize it. ...

“Once you learn to clear the stage of your mind from unworthy thoughts, keep it busy with learning worthwhile things” (“Inspiring Music—Worthy Thoughts,” Oct. 1973 general conference). [Watch a video illustration of this talk.]

“How can I better control my thoughts?” was one of the questions that youth asked Elder David A. Bednar and Sister Susan Bednar at the Face to Face broadcast on May 12. Sister Bednar stated, “It’s easy for a bad thought to come ... but [the Lord says] ‘Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.’ And if we're trying to remember the Savior [and] ... our baptismal covenants ... then our thoughts will be clean and pure. And if they’re not, ... we need to pray for help.”

Heavenly Father will help and bless us as we daily seek His help to keep our thoughts clean and virtuous.

Elder Bednar added, “Sometimes [bad thoughts are] almost thrust upon us. ... If you didn’t seek it out, if you didn’t invite it, it’s only a sin if once you’ve seen it, you let it stay. ... [If] all of a sudden you [see a bad] image, well, cast it out!”

He also suggested using memorized scriptures and, like President Packer suggested, committing hymns and “other edifying, uplifting material to memory,” replacing the bad with the good. He urged, “Get up and move and change your activity and do something else.”

Sister Bednar promised, “Ask the Lord to help you. He is the best person in all of this. He’ll help you.” Sister Bednar shared an analogy that Elder Bednar has used—imagining your minds as a tube filled with grains of sand with a hole at each end. Bad thoughts are represented by black grains and good thoughts, white grains. “If you’ve accumulated a lot of those bad thoughts in your head, they come back and ... haunt you ... at the worst possible time,” Elder Bednar added. “If you will be patient over time and keep putting in white grains of sand, every time you do, you’re popping out one of those dark ones. It won’t happen fast, but ultimately you change the entire content of that container, and it can be filled with pure white sand” (Face to Face with Elder and Sister Bednar, May 12, 2015).

One of the most tragic and well-known stories in the Bible is that of King David and Bathsheba. The scriptures tell us that “at the time when kings go out to battle,” David “tarried still at Jerusalem.” In other words, David wasn’t out leading his troops, as he should have been, but stayed home at the palace. “At eventide” he got up out of his bed and walked upon the roof. Perhaps he had earlier seen something he should not have seen or looked at and hoped he might see it again. As David looked upon the beautiful Bathsheba bathing, he did not look away as he should have. His unrighteous thoughts and desires eventually led to adultery and a web of deceit that cost him his eternal inheritance.


President James E. Faust, formerly of the First Presidency, stated, “I ... turn to mastery of our own private thoughts. ... If not bridled, our thoughts can run wild ... Conscience [and the Holy Ghost are] the only referee[s] that can blow the whistle when we get out of control. I believe reading the scriptures is the best washing machine for unclean or uncontrolled thoughts. ... The sanctity of the holy temple can [also] lift our thoughts above the earthly. ... One of the great foundations of personal power is purity” (“The Power of Self-Mastery,” April 2000 general conference).

What else can we do to protect ourselves against bad thoughts?

Remember that YOU are the master of your thoughts. Satan cannot force you to do anything you don’t want to do. Take control of your life!

We all struggle with “the natural man.” Plead with Heavenly Father to help you change your desires. Through the Savior’s Atonement, sincere repentance can cleanse us.

Evaluate where you are, who you are with and what you are doing when your mind is most challenged with bad thoughts.

Turn off your phone, your television, your computer. Don’t take your phone into the bedroom.

Go through your home and get rid of anything that might cause bad thoughts. Surround yourself with things that lift your spirit.

Church leaders have counseled that memorizing the words of the hymns or scripture passages can help members in learning to control their thoughts.

Ask for help from parents or leaders.

In a favorite scripture passage of mine, the Lord promises to each of us, “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then will thy confidence wax strong in the presence of thy God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:45-46).

I testify that our Heavenly Father will help and bless us as we daily seek His help to keep our thoughts clean and virtuous.