I’m reading the Book of Mormon again. This time, as I read, I’ll be studying it with an emphasis on overcoming obstacles. (I recently read The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday, and Im pretty fascinated by what I learned there.
As I read The Obstacle is the Way, I saw many gospel parallels, and thought I should read the Book of Mormon with this framework. So – here we go. Starting straightaway – with Lehi, Nephi, Laman, and Lemuel.
” And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water.
And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.” – 1 Nephi 2:6-7
Some background. Lehi, the patriarch of his family, had been a prophet (contemporary with Jeremiah) in Israel. He prophesied of Jerusalem’s destruction – unless they would repent. The people didn’t particularly care for this message. They wanted to kill Lehi.
It wasn’t Lehi’s lot in life to stay in Jerusalem as Jeremiah did. Instead, he was directed, by God, to flee Jerusalem, and that God would guide him to a promised land.
Three days into his journey he has not arrived into the promised land. He really has no idea what he is about to face. He is in the wilderness and has left everything behind. (Oh – and Lehi was rich, so he left a lot behind). Jerusalem has not been destroyed. It would be easy to complain, to think I must be crazy. To second guess yourself and God.
Instead Lehi is grateful. He prays to God. I think that this is a key to successfully navigating difficulty and adversity in life. Instead of choosing the easy option (which is impatience and complaining), when we take the time to be grateful, we open our hearts to opportunity, and above all we broaden our perspective. A broad perspective is key to navigating obstacles and adversities well.
Laman and Lemuel: Lack of Perspective
“And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” – 1 Nephi 2:12
Laman and Lemuel instantly react with complaint and murmuring. They don’t want to leave the comforts of their home – even though a promised land awaits them. They think that their dad is crazy. They want to go back to a comfortable life.
Keep in mind, there is no such thing as a comfortable life! Their lives were in danger – if not from the Jews in Jerusalem who wanted to kill Laban – then, by the coming Babylonians who would destroy Jerusalem later. They were destined, as we all are, for some kind of adversity or another. The journey to the promised land, though arduous, could be argued as “easier” than an alternative.
Yet, Laman and Lemuel react – they complain and murmur. And Nephi explains why – because they did not know the dealings of that God who had created them. They didn’t understand the purpose or role of adversity in life. They didn’t have any perspective. They were selfish and prideful.
Nephi: Not Perfect, but Humble
“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.” – 1 Nephi 2:16
I love this example of Nephi here. We often think of Nephi as the culmination of what he is. We think of all that he did – from the outset. Many people who grow up as Mormons know about Nephi and sing songs about him. He is courageous. He is strong (large in stature!). He helps his family cross a sea. He is nearly mythical.
But if we take a second to really read, we see that Nephi is ordinary. He trusts his old man. But going out into the wilderness is still a real challenge – and who knows how long they will be in the wilderness. Nephi trusts his dad, but also wants to know for himself.
This desire is the first part of humility. Having a desire to obtain knowledge is an important admission: you don’t know it all. This kind of humility is the only way to actually gain knowledge. We won’t seek for that we aren’t even aware that we lack.
So – Nephi is humble enough to ask the Lord. And when he does, the Lord proceeds to soften his heart. I don’t know how the Lord did this, but the result is even more trust in the revelation that his father had.
And this process is the foundation on which Nephi will build – it will give him strength to carry on through the deserts of the middle east, through the threat of death by Laban, through starvation, through the task of building a boat, through sailing across the world, through building up a new society.
We learn a bit by these examples. Be grateful, Be humble, Get a perspective. When we do these things, we will be given a better capacity to overcome any obstacle that the Lord sees fit for us to face in our lives.