Physical Trials are Really Hard -1 Nephi 16:20

You can read 1 Nephi 16:20

Context and General Information

  • Lehi and his family are enduring a physical trial – after days or weeks of journeying, they have no food.
  • Nearly everyone, including Lehi, begins to murmur.

Physical Trials

I know I talked about a lot of this yesterday, but I guess it is still on my mind today…oh well.

Earlier in 1 Nephi 16, we read how Nephi broke his bow. This was a huge challenge to his entire family. Of course the usual people (Laman and Lemuel) murmured. Their murmuring extended to the sons of Ishmael. And, unlike other times, this murmuring even spread to Lehi. We read:

“And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness; and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord.” – 1 Nephi 16:20

We are so lucky these days. I can’t say that I’ve ever really been that hungry. I typically eat every single day. And I have almost always had plenty of food in my house. I don’t need a bow and arrow to get food. I just go to the store.

This physical trial was difficult.

Though I haven’t been that hungry before, I’ve experienced other difficult physical trials. I’ve had kidney stones. PAINFUL!!!! I mean, excruciatingly painful. Thankfully, I passed the stones and was able to feel good again after that. But in the moment of my kidney stones, it was hard to really think about anything other than the immediate pain in my back. When my husband drove me to the hospital, I was somewhat irritated by his desire to obey traffic laws like stop signs and red lights. I was in pain.

I’ve also had shingles. This was another physical ordeal. It started as a twinge in my back – that lasted about a week. It would keep me awake at night, but kind of felt like I had just tweaked my back during a workout. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Every day, though, it got a little worse.

The pain started on a Sunday night. It continued through to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. On that Saturday night I got very little sleep. Sunday morning I told my husband that my back hurt too much. I wasn’t going to go to church. I couldn’t imagine sitting in chairs for three hours. It would kill my back. (I still had no idea that I had Shingles at that point.) So I stayed home. I read my scriptures. Then I put on my headphones and went out for a short walk – hoping that walking would loosen up my back.

Instead, I was focusing too much on the pain still. I tripped over nothing, and then I sprained my ankle. It was a pretty good sprain, about a half a mile from my house. Someone happened to be driving by as I fell. She offered to take me home, but I had a bit too much pride to accept. She went on her way.

It took a moment for me to gather my courage. I was feeling so defeated. I stood up, putting all of my weight on my good, right foot. And I dreaded the walk home – slightly up hill – about half a mile. I hobbled for a few minutes, and then noticed a car pulling up. It was the same woman. She told me that she couldn’t get me out of her mind, and turned around. This time I accepted her ride very graciously – knowing that it was a tender mercy from my Heavenly Father.

I thanked her profusely and then went back into the empty house. I should mention right now that we were living at my dad’s house. Yes – with my entire family (four kids and husband) – in my late thirties…living with my dad.

I should also mention that I have this problem with dishydrotic eczema from time to time. It’s caused by stress and then certain food sensitivities. The food sensitivities are also brought on by stress. It’s confusing because there are times when I can eat whatever I want with no real problem. Then there are other times when I eat the same foods, and my hands are covered in itchy blisters. This was one of the times when my hands were covered with itchy blisters.

So – I had blistering hands and a fat, throbbing, newly-sprained ankle. I laughed when I got home, thinking – well – maybe now that my ankle hurts so much, my back will stop hurting.

I sat down on the couch putting up my foot, and was dismayed to noticed that not only did my foot hurt, but my back was still hurting, too…a lot. So, I decided to carefully get up and go to take a bath. Maybe that would make me feel better.

I got to the bathroom, and started to disrobe, and then I noticed a huge rash – spanning the upper part of the left side of my chest. This rash was all over my breast, extending out – to underneath my armpit, and even to my back. It didn’t itch at that point (not compared to my hands anyway), but where did it come from!?!?!?! This rash didn’t look like hives, but when I saw it, I’d had it.

I put my shirt back on and went down to the couch and cried. I felt like I was at a breaking point. Now, it wasn’t life-or-death, so I know that it is no comparison to what Lehi and his family were feeling. But I absolutely felt the temptation to complain to God. In my mind, I wanted to complain – I wanted to think I’m doing everything that I’ve been commanded. It’s humiliating, but I’m okay with it. I’ve given up so many of my material goods, but I’m okay with it. I’m living at my dad’s house, and that’s okay. My hands are cracking, bleeding, and rashy, but I can live with it. My back hurts, and I can deal with it. My sprained ankle – I hate getting sprained ankles, but I can rest. … But isn’t that enough. Now I have a giant rash on my body, too? I don’t know if I can take much more.

I prayed that somehow the rash would magically disappear. I wrote a text to my husband – who was at church with the kids. I told him I was okay – he didn’t need to rush home or anything. And I sat on the couch, crying, reading my scriptures, and praying. I tried as hard as I could not to murmur against God.

***

I don’t think that I’m any better than Lehi or anyone else. I have an advantage – I have the examples of those who went before me.

Like Lehi, I’m on a “journey” of my own, and I’m doing everything that I can to follow the Spirit so I can arrive to my own “promised land.” This journey has been emotionally demanding. And that’s the way it goes. We don’t grow without being pushed out of our comfort zones. We don’t make it to the tops of the mountains without climbing a mountain.

When we first embark on a journey (of any kind – physical, spiritual, emotional), it is hard, but also kind of easy. There is this initial excitement and rush we feel. We are stoked. But then, time passes – and we are still on the journey. It isn’t as exciting as at first. The reality of the difficulty of the journey sets in.

With a really big journey – like Lehi’s – we may get through the doldrums. But there’s more to it than that. A big reward (the promised land) requires a big sacrifice (8 years in the wilderness). It’s just the way it works. You can’t plant a green bean and then expect apples. No, if you want an apple tree, you plant an apple seed and then tend to it for years before it gives you a single piece of fruit.

So – Lehi got through the doldrums. He had kept the commandments. Yet he was still tested. Right to the brink of what he could handle.

And we have these examples. We don’t have to repeat the mistakes (understandable ones!) that Lehi and others made – because we know better. We have Lehi and Nephi as examples. We know the ending of their story – they would make it. They would eat. It wasn’t worth the murmuring because they would be okay.

As I sat on the couch in my dad’s house that Sunday morning – ankle throbbing, hand itching, back aching, and my mind racing with worry about this new rash that had popped up – I wasn’t particularly happy. But I knew that I shouldn’t murmur against God. I needed His blessings. I needed to do what I could to get into a state of mind that would bring about a solution to these physical problems that I was having. So – after I read my scriptures,  I just started reading a book. It wasn’t anything spiritual or special. It would just get me into a better mood.

***

This is longer than I anticipated. That’s how it goes. It is helpful for me, and I hope it will be helpful for you.

My family got home from church, we hung out, it was a nice day. Then, later on the kids went to bed. I was spending time with my husband, and letting him know that I was feeling quite defeated. I wasn’t murmuring against God, but I did admit I don’t know how much I can take. But I also knew that if God thinks I can do it, then I can do it. There are so many people who are suffering so much more than I am.

So – in this situation, I was talking with him about my problems, but I want to emphasize I wasn’t murmuring. There is a difference. And there have been times that I have confused identifying a problem in our lives and murmuring. It is good to identify problems. Pretending problems don’t exist is not an exercise of faith. Instead, we have faith when we accept our problems, identify them, and then either endure them or – if it is appropriate – work to find a solution (usually it’s a bit of both).

So – I was telling my husband about the day, and I told him about my rash on my chest. As I was talking to him about it, I admitted that it seemed different than my usual hives. He patiently listened. When I started describing my rash, I had a thought come to my mind Shingles.

I didn’t know anything about Shingles really – other than they were painful and that they were from the Chicken Pox Virus. But the thought Shingles was a prompting from the Spirit. I had my phone next to me, so I picked it up and googled “Shingles.” I read the symptoms, and knew – I have Shingles.

At first, I wasn’t particularly comforted, even though the prompting was a blessing and a comfort. I still wanted everything to magically disappear. (I hope that I’m not the only person on earth who wants things to magically disappear. But I’m childish sometimes). I didn’t want shingles because that meant that all of this – the pain, the rash, etc. was a real issue and wouldn’t just go away with a good night’s sleep.

I told my husband that I thought I had Shingles, and I started to cry. I didn’t want Shingles. (Funny…I already had it. It’s not something I could choose at this point!) We talked for a little while longer, and I’m so grateful that I’m married to a faithful man. His words comforted me, and then before going to bed, I asked for a blessing.

***

I went to the doctor, and they gave me anti-viral medication. They told me that I should take the medication, and that I would also still be in pain. (They weren’t lying). The pain got exponentially worse before it got better. I took the medication for a week, and it cleared up the rash – which meant the virus was no longer active. But, Shingles often causes a bit of nerve damage, and I had pain in my back and side for about 4 more months.

That little vindictive virus. It sits – dormant -on a nerve for decades before attacking. Oh – and typically you’re immune system has to be compromised for it to proliferate. Meaning, you have to be either elderly or really stressed out. So – this feels like you’re being kicked when you are down!

I was already stressed out. The last thing I needed was some idiotic virus attacking my nerves! But that’s the best opportunity for this virus. It attacks when you are at your edge.

***

I didn’t plan on writing about this, and I’m not really sure why I did. Other than I know that even while we are faithful, we will experience trial. Sometimes those trials are mental. Other times, our trials are physical. Physical trials can also become mental trials – as they are very taxing.

These trials aren’t a statement from God that we lack faith. They aren’t a statement from God that he doesn’t like us. Trials don’t come to us because Heavenly Father is ignoring us. Trial come to us because that’s life.  I saw a quote recently:

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Heavenly Father doesn’t promise us that He will clear our lives – free from trials and difficulties. Instead, He lets us know that He will allow us to experience trial, but we don’t need to fear. He can consecrate those afflictions for our gain.

So – when we find ourselves experiencing hardship, even when we are faithful, even when we are keeping the commandments, we can still put our trust in Him. It’s okay to identify the problem. It’s okay to accept it. It’s okay for it to be hard. It’s okay for us to plead – just as the Savior did – that our trials are lifted from us. And, like the Savior, we need to be willing to accept Heavenly Father’s will. As we do, we may not have the trial lifted, but we will be strengthened. We will weather the storm, and we may just find that the storm cleared the path for us.

 

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Confidence that Comes from Keeping the Commandments – 1 Nephi 5:20-22

Read today’s scripture block – 1 Nephi 5:20-22 here.

Context and General Information

  • Lehi and Nephi had kept the commandments of the Lord so far.
  • They obtained the plates of brass – according to the wisdom of the Lord. These plates would aid them in traveling to the promised land.

Keeping the Commandments Gives us Confidence

I love the following scripture:

“And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us.” – 1 Nephi 5:20

It’s so simple. Nephi takes the time to proclaim that he and his father had kept all of the commandments that the Lord had given them, personally.

So far, these commandments included:

  • Any of the already well-known commandments…Such as the ten commandments, giving sacrifices, tithes, and offerings, etc.
  • Preach repentance to the people of Jerusalem.
  • Flee from Jerusalem because the people wanted to kill them.
  • Follow the promptings of the Lord to get to a promised land.
  • Return to Jerusalem to get the plates of brass.
  • Study the scriptures engraven on the plates of brass.

Other than the first point – to keep all general commandments like the Sabbath day or giving offerings, the rest of the commandments that were kept by Nephi and Lehi were personal promptings or commandments.

I feel like I have overlooked the validity and importance of these commandments. Maybe because we don’t call them commandments. We call them “inspiration” or possibly “promptings.” We tend to downplay that these are personal commandments from God. 

Yet, the truth is, these promptings are personal commandments to us from God.

Nephi kept these commandments, and at this point is able to say that he had kept the commandments that the Lord had given them. He isn’t saying this to brag. It is a statement of truth, and in my opinion it gives him confidence.

***

I think that in the past, I have underestimated the importance of personal commandments, revelations, or promptings. I have thought that these can be dismissed as optional. And, of course it is always our choice to do anything. We don’t have to keep the commandments, but we have to remember that if we don’t keep the commandments we are given, then we can’t receive the blessings associated with those commandments.

You can read more about Nephi and personal commandments here.

Nephi didn’t underestimate the importance of personal commandments. He took them seriously, and then, after the difficulty of doing as he had been commanded, he can evaluate and say, I kept the commandments.

It would feel really good.

***

I think that these little checkpoints – in keeping the commandments – help to give us confidence to continue on. Think about it – this is 1 Nephi 5. Lehi, Nephi, and their family has a long way to go – many more years. They will need all of the strength and confidence that they can get in order to make it to the promised land.

We read:

“Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.” – 1 Nephi 5:22

Nephi is talking about carrying the plates of brass with them in the wilderness as they journey to the promised land. Notice that last phrase, “as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.”

After getting those plates, they knew that they had left Jerusalem for good. They won’t be going back. There isn’t a “plan b.” It’s promised land or bust. They didn’t have a set date for the promised land. They didn’t say, “If we don’t make it to the promised land in 459 days, then we’ll just turn back to Jerusalem.”

They were going to the promised land – even though they didn’t know where it was, they didn’t know how to get there, and they didn’t know how long it would take. There were no landmarks, no checkpoints. It was just a journey that they were on for as long as it took to arrive.

Because there were no “checkpoints” or landmarks, the Lord blessed them in other ways. The commandments he gave to Lehi and Nephi were such blessings. Being able to say “I’ve kept all of the commandments,” blessed them with the confidence to keep moving forward on an unknown path to an unknown promised land.

***

I will give a personal example. In late 2004, I found myself at a major crossroads in my marriage. My ex-husband was not really…into marriage…let’s say. I had huge decisions to make.  I remember feeling a distinct prompting: that if I stayed married, then my eternal life and possibly the eternal lives of my daughters were at stake.

Even though I had the choice, I knew that I was prompted to get divorced. Perhaps Nephi would have called it a commandment. In any case, I chose to listen to the Lord. I divorced and started my life as a single-mom in her mid-twenties.

Divorcing was a difficult decision to make. I was living in my mom’s house with my two girls. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even know where to start. I remember reading statistics about women, children, and divorce, and the statistics were against me. But, I also knew that this is what the Lord prompted me to do. I knew that he wasn’t setting me up for failure. I knew that he would help me to keep the commandments that He had given me. Because I moved forward in faith and obedience, I was blessed.

I found a job. I bought a car. We were getting on our feet.

Fast forward about a year and half. In mid-2006, I was on a run with my kids one day after work. They were riding their bikes, and I was running along and we were approaching our house.

The White House PA

The “White” House – our humble home in PA.

I can’t really describe the feeling that washed over me as we approached our home. Well, I know what it was – confidence. This was mine. It was my house. Made possible because I was keeping the commandments of the Lord.

My dad didn’t get me this house. My mom didn’t get it for me. I found my own job. Bought my own car. Signed my own contract for a cell phone. Saved my own money. Paid my own deposit. And paid rent each month on my own for this little one-bedroom house in Chester County, PA.

It was cold, drafty, there was a huge pile of nuts in one of the closets -obviously a squirrel’s stash…it was perfect for me and my two girls. We were safe and cozy. A neighbor had several cats. One of those cats adopted us and slept on our front porch most nights. He helped to keep the mice and squirrels away!

Of course I had help from my family. None of us can really do anything alone, but while running up this back country road, I felt the confidence that comes when we can say, “thus far I had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord hath commanded me.” I felt the confidence that comes when we see that the Lord will empower us and enable us to keep the commandments.

I still had a long road ahead of me then. I wouldn’t meet Homey for several more months. I still had to deal with child support issues, work, bosses, holidays, parent-teacher conferences, and everything else that a single, working mom must juggle in order to survive. Not only did I have a long road ahead of me, but I actually knew I that I had a long road ahead of me. I didn’t know how long it would be, but I knew I hadn’t quite yet reached my promised land.

But the Lord blessed me with the confidence that comes from keeping the commandments. And that confidence is what fuels us as we push forward on our own unknown paths toward our own unknown promised lands.

So – this is one of my favorite scriptures. It’s a good litmus test. How am I doing? The Lord doesn’t measure “how we’re doing” on our possessions, bank accounts, or callings. We shouldn’t either. The thing we each need to focus on is being able to be like Nephi and say that we have kept all of the commandments God has given us.

 

 

Lack of Vision: An Impediment to Overcoming Adversity (1 Nephi 17:17-21)

“And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters.

And thus my brethren did complain against me, and were desirous that they might not labor, for they did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord.

And now it came to pass that I, Nephi, was exceedingly sorrowful because of the hardness of their hearts; and now when they saw that I began to be sorrowful they were glad in their hearts, insomuch that they did rejoice over me, saying: We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment; wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work.

And thou art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart; yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.

Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.” – 1 Nephi 17:17-21

Laman and Lemuel lack vision. They have no vision! They are too prideful to see what is possible. What a setback! This is can be a problem for anyone, actually.

In our world, it is a little bit more…acceptable…to be cynical. The world is full of cynics who complain and criticize nearly everything. No vision.

Laman and Lemuel, when Nephi is commanded to make a boat, criticize him. They recount their troubles to Nephi and then compare their troubles in the wilderness with a romanticized fantasy of what their lives would be like in Jerusalem.

Laman and Lemuel claim that they could have been in Jerusalem and enjoying their possessions. It’s kind of a silly thing to say. They wouldn’t have enjoyed their possessions. Their father’s life was already in danger. I’m sure that some of the hatred that the Jews had for Lehi could have easily transferred to a hatred for Laman and Lemuel.

Not only that, but Jerusalem was on the verge of destruction. Its destruction was so severe, they would have been lucky to die. People in Jerusalem lost all they had, starved, and experienced horrors described by Jeremiah in Lamentations.

Yet, Laman and Lemuel persist in their fantasy-mindset. And so they remain angry.

This mindset is persistent still. I’ve seen it in my own life – even with friends. Instead of living in the present moment, we compare our current troubles with a romantic and pernicious lie. This silly mindset will blind us and make us incapable of any achievement or success. And then we will find ourselves, like Laman and Lemuel, without any vision.

Anger and Acceptance (1 Nephi 16:18-23)

In learning about how people navigate obstacles in their lives, I’ve observed two main reactions to adversity:

acceptance

In the past, I tended to confuse acceptance with endorsement. There are times when acceptance means, this, but a few years ago, when I started a deeper meditation practice, I came to realize that acceptance actually means something a little different. In terms of “accepting” the obstacles in our lives, it isn’t that we give a ringing endorsement, but that we are regarding it as true, we are understanding it.

anger

Anger is an emotional response to adversity.

We see both of these responses in 1 Nephi when Nephi broke his bow.

“And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food.

And it came to pass that we did return without food to our families, and being much fatigued, because of their journeying, they did suffer much for the want of food.

And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness; and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord.” – 1 Nephi 16:18-23

Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael react to Nephi’s broken bow is anger. They murmur and complain. But what does it do? What is the point? They are all starving in the desert. How is standing around, murmuring or complaining going to improve their situation?

Being angry is a waste of time and energy.

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did speak much unto my brethren, because they had hardened their hearts again, even unto complaining against the Lord their God.” – 1 Nephi 16:22

Even though Nephi didn’t react with anger, no solution can be found. He is diffusing the anger of his brethren. What a waste of time! Nephi isn’t doing the wrong thing here, but notice how much effort he must make to calm their anger.

I think that this is usually the result of anger. We waste our energy on murmuring and complaining instead of resolving the solution. Additionally, we have to waste time and energy to abate our anger – before we can finally see clearly to solve our problems.

I get that there are times when we have a physical, emotional reaction. There have been times when I have been hurt that I have felt anger. But my anger never has solved anything. It usually makes things worse, then takes a lot of energy out of me before I finally shake the angry feeling.

This is why meditation and prayer is so helpful. There is not a better way to learn to detach and accept our adversities with a discerning and understanding heart than through meditation and prayer.

Finally,

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?” – 1 Nephi 16:18-23

When we use our energy to accept the problem, then we are able to find solutions! Nephi accepted his loss of a bow. I’m not sure he was feeling super gung-ho and happy about it. But he accepted it. Then he was able to analyze the situaiton and figure out a way to make a new bow.

It’s such an easy solution.

His brothers could have done the same. They could have had food before Nephi went out and procured it. But they wasted their energy and effort, which was already in limited supply, by murmuring and complaining.

Accepting and Overcoming Adversity (1 Nephi 11:32-33)

“And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.” – 1 Nephi 11:32-33

The Savior is a perfect example of accepting and overcoming adversity.

At the time of Christ, many of the people didn’t believe in the Savior. They were so exasperated with Him, they had Him crucified. We read about Christ’s experience on the cross:

“And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,

And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,

He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” – Matthew 27:39-43

While suffering on the cross, people mocked Christ- that he couldn’t save himself from death, even though He claimed being the Savior.

But, the thing is, suffering and dying was a part of Christ’s mission. It was an obstacle he needed to endure in order to fulfill His mission on this earth. Had he given in to weakness, then He would not have completed His divine mandate. He would not have been able to overcome death and hell. He wouldn’t have been able to save us.

As I write this, I realize that maybe there are a few distinctions while experiencing trials.

One – Obstacles
In this life, we all must face obstacles. For the most part, this is what I’m interested in learning about. These obstacles exist and persist, and depending on how we exercise our agency – these obstacles can propel us toward the future that we were designed for. They can help us to achieve the missions we were created to complete.

Christ’s obstacle was to suffer in the garden of Gethsemane and then to die on the cross. It wasn’t a judgment on His righteousness. His suffering wasn’t a curse or because He had made a wrong decision along the way. His suffering and the obstacles He faced were the way.

Two – Resistance
I’m not completely sure if there is really a difference between obstacles and resistance. To be honest, I’m writing this and thinking this at the same time. This isn’t a final draft that I’ve been formulating for a while. So – I guess I should apologize in advance.

I’m thinking that there is a difference though. I’m thinking that resistance is more than an obstacle. I feel like resistance is actually a force of evil. Again, it could be lumped into the “obstacle” part of this blog post because Heavenly Father allows us to be subjected to evil.

I also think that it is good to make the distinction because it helps us to understand that the obstacles we face aren’t always just abstract, arbitrary, events in our lives.

There is a real power that is also trying to keep us from any kind of advancement, progress or joy. This power is coming from Satan.

Satan’s primary objective is to keep us from progress. He distracts us, mocks us, poisons us, scares us – anything he must do to get us to let go of the rod. He doesn’t want us to make it to our goal of love and joy with God in heaven.

Thankfully, we also have power. We can hold on to the rod – amidst obstacles and against resistance. We have access to Christ’s power. We also have been empowered ourselves. We have our own will; our own agency – we can keep holding on. We can keep moving forward.

We can follow the Savior’s example and persevere through both obstacles and resistance. We can accomplish the work we have been sent here to do, and then we can feel the joy that God offers us when we do it.

The Vision of the Tree of Life and Success (1 Nephi 8)

The vision of the Tree of Life is a great allegory that can help us to learn to overcome adversity and obstacles. It can be found in 1 Nephi 8.

Here are a few points that Lehi’s landmark Vision teaches us about successfully overcoming obstacles and adversity – about enduring and making it.

One – Listen

“And it came to pass that I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me, and partake of the fruit, which was desirable above all other fruit.

And it came to pass that they did come unto me and partake of the fruit also.” – 1 Nephi 8:15-16

Listen! Be humble! Listen to those who know, who have experienced what we want. We live in 2016. We have an advantage. We have 10,000 years of recorded history to inform us. We don’t really need to experiment. We can listen to those who have gone before. We can learn from their mistakes and their triumphs. They know what it takes to overcome and achieve.

Two – Hold to the Rod

“And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.” – 1 Nephi 8:19

The Rod of Iron, or the Word of God will lead to the tree. The Lord has given us His word and His wisdom. This will empower us only if we choose to let it empower us! If not, then it is simply a rod – an inanimate object. Our faith is what gives His word power in our lives.

“For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.” – 1 Nephi 10:19

We must choose to hold fast to the iron rod – and press forward. It will give us stability and strength. But if we don’t press forward, if we don’t hold fast, then it’s just an iron rod. Catch a hold of it and do something.

Three – If we Get Distracted, then We Will Fail
The path is strait and narrow. Take a moment to remind yourself of the definition of “strait.” (Hint: NOT straight). In other words, this path is “narrow and narrow.”

As mentioned in the previous point, we have the Iron Rod – and that will anchor us, if we choose to grasp a hold of it. But we can’t be tempted into letting go – because the path is narrow. Any kind of distraction may lead to perilous results.

Often, I have thought about the idea of living “on the edge.” There are many people who want to be as far from that edge as possible. However, it is probably wise to note that being a safe distance from “the edge” isn’t possible. Especially if the way is strait and narrow. We don’t have time for distractions – no matter how innocent they seem.

I know this so incredibly personally. I’m constantly distracted, then I wonder why on earth I’m so far from my original position (let alone destination).

Four – We WILL Face Difficult Adversity, Blindingly Difficult

“And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.

And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.” – 1 Nephi 8:19

So – notice, these mists of darkness aren’t in some far corner. They are directly on the path! They appear in our lives, after we have commenced. After we have begun trying.

We start on the way with a vision of our desired goal – the Tree of Life (and its fruit). But then, we get into the “trenches,” and at times a mist of darkness surrounds us.

To those who steadfastly hold to the rod, their vision helps them through this mist of darkness. Now, I don’t mean their immediate vision – it is dark! The vision, and the hope that they had from the outset. I suppose that this is what is meant by “visionary.” We don’t get bogged down by temporary difficulties.

For those who lack vision, they wander off and are lost. Even though they know that the rod leads to the tree of life! Crazy! Don’t get distracted! And don’t choose to be blinded by the temporary mists of darkness and adversities that are simply part of the path.

We can’t become so overcome by our obstacles that we flee them. We know where we want to be. Those who let go of the rod are only being guided by their emotions (fear), rather than keeping their senses and remembering that the only way is through.

Remember the wisdom of the poet:

“He says that the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As I can see no way out but through.” – Robert Frost

Five – Fear Motivated “Success” will usually end up in a very late-term (and tragic) Failure
So, there is a group of people who make it to the tree of life. We read about them:

” And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.

And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.

And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.” – 1 Nephi 8:24-25, 28

This is so interesting to me. Because, it seems like they succeed! They make it to the tree of life! They partake of this sweet fruit! They held on to the rod. They weren’t blinded by mists of darkness. They weren’t distracted while treading the strait and narrow.

However, the way I interpret this success is that they were driven and motivated by fear. What will people think if I don’t partake of the fruit? What will people think if I don’t go on a mission? What will my family and friends think if I don’t get married in the temple? What will people think of me if I fail?

According to this interpretation, then their success is also shrouded in their pride/their ego. If we let our success be wrapped up with our ego, then we will eventually self-destruct. This is especially tragic because it often happens after we have reached that pinnacle of supposed success.

These people sabotaged themselves by listening to the voices of that silly building. Then those people who had tasted the sweet fruit doubted their own work and accomplishments. Their ego led to thoughts of penetrating shame – causing them to leave the tree (which they had fought for)!

Fear isn’t really a great motivator. It might get us where we want to be, but it is still there once we arrive. Then, it will banish us from our success faster than the climb we took to get there. Get rid of fear. Get rid of ego. Get rid of pride! Let our vision be our motivation!!!

Six – The Pride of the World is Idiotic. Don’t Listen to It!!!
This is closely related to point five, but I think it deserves its own point.

“And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.

And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.” – 1 Nephi 8:26-27

The people in the great and spacious building have not partaken of the fruit of the tree of life.

So they are laughing and mocking those who have partaken of it, but they DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT IT TASTES LIKE!!!!!! This is actually kind of insane, right? They have no idea what they are talking about, so why does their opinion even matter?

I think that this happens to us in so many ways. My husband and I started a business recently. It can be really easy to listen to people say things that might dissuade us from our path, but, more often than not, they haven’t gone down the path, so how on earth am I supposed to listen to them!?

If we have our vision – (the tree of life) and we know where we want to go, it makes absolutely NO logical sense to give the mocking, know-it-all, voices of those in the Great and Spacious building – even a fraction of a second of our attention. They simply have no idea what they are talking about. Honestly, I can’t believe I’ve spent so much time on this topic because it is so silly. Yet we always seem to get so caught up in it.

The Key – Press on and Hold Fast

“But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” – 1 Nephi 8:30

It’s not fancy or sexy or whatever. The solution is really simple. Just keep pressing forward. Hold Fast. We know that the path and the iron rod will lead us to our goal. We must simply hold fast to truth and the wisdom that will support us on our journey to our desired destination. There are no shortcuts. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s not easy, but its entirely possible.

Small Victories Fuel Our Ability to Overcome Big Obstacles (1 Nephi 5:20)

So, Lehi and his family have left Jerusalem and are traveling to a promised land. They don’t know where this will be (we have the advantage of hindsight. The promised land is located in the Americas). They don’t know how long it will take to get there. (Again, we have the advantage of hindsight – it will take them 8 long years).

I’ve thought about this journey throughout my life and during my own proverbial journeys. It is a temptation to want to know what we will face in life. It’s a temptation to think I just wish I knew what was in store for me.

But it’s wisdom in God that we don’t know. Can you imagine if Nephi knew all of the obstacles he’d face? Can you imagine if God did tell him?

Imagine for a moment:
Look Nephi, here’s what’s going to happen. On the way to the promsied land, you’ll be tested. And I mean tested. First you’ll travel for a little while. Then I’ll command your dad to have you and your brothers go back and get the records of your fathers. (The Brass Plates – essentially, the Old Testament).

Getting the brass plates won’t be easy. You’ll lose all of your riches, your lives will be endangered, your brothers will beat you with a rod, you’ll have to kill a man, and then you’ll escape Jerusalem by the skin of your teeth.

When you get back to your dad, you’ll hang out for a bit, then go back to Jerusalem to get Ishmael’s family. It will be another hard journey in the wilderness, and on your way out of Jerusalem and back to your dad, your brothers will tie you up and try to kill you.

You will run out of food and break your bow. You will be married in the wilderness. You guys can’t build a fire – to maintain safety – so you’ll live on raw meat. You will wander through the middle eastern desert (do you know how hot it gets in Saudi Arabia?!) for eight years.

When you finally get to a small paradise that you will name “Bountiful,” I’ll command you to keep going. You’re not done. You will build a boat. You will make tools to build that boat. You will board it. Your brothers will tie you up again (they have this thing…), and you will all nearly die in the middle of a terrible tempest.

Then, you’ll finally make it to the promised land.

Imagine if Nephi knew all of that before he set a foot outside of his door? All of this adversity and obstacles for one main goal: the promised land? I think that if Nephi knew it all, he probably would have just…melted.

But Nephi didn’t. He faced obstacles like we all do – one at a time. And with each obstacle, he met the challenge with faith and overcame. After obtaining the Brass Plates, Nephi was able to say with confidence:

“And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us.” – 1 Nephi 5:20

Now, the “big picture” obstacle is getting to the promised land. And here we are, only at the very beginning of the journey. Nephi has already gone through a couple of “sub-obstacles” in this bigger obstacle of getting to the promised land.

At this point, Nephi and his father, had met every adveristy with faith. They prevailed. And with this success came confidence. This confidence would give them the courage and power they would need for the next, bigger obstacle they would face on this arduous journey.

We can learn from this. We need to celebrate the smaller milestones. We need to take time to say, “I’ve kept all of the commandments of God.” This will help us to develop confidence – both in ourselves and in God – which is exactly what we’ll need for the next obstacle.

And this is a pattern that will be repeated until we are all “safely dead.”

Facing Adversity: Lehi, Laman/Lemuel, and Nephi (1 Nephi 2:7,12,16)

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.

Lehi: Gratitude

” 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.

Joy in Adversity (Ether 6:9)

The Book of Ether (in the Book of Mormon) is a short abridgment of a group of people that lived in the Americas before the Nephite civilization (so – before 600 BC).

This group of people, the Jaredites, left Babel during the time of the destruction of the tower of Babel and were guided to the Americas. They had an arduous journey – including a year-long “cruise” in barges that would be occasionally submerged underwater – propelled by ocean currents and storms.

We read of the Jaredites:

“And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind.

And they did sing praises unto the Lord; yea, the brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord.” – Ether 6:8-9

So – think about this for a second. The Jaredites are in un-steerable barges. They get submerged under sea and are driven forth by these winds and currents in order to move. It doesn’t sound super pleasant. Storms are what propel these people.

I think that it is the same in our lives – whether or not we will recognize it. Storms and obstacles are the very thing that have the power to propel us in our lives. How do we react to them? Are we like the Jaredites?

During these storms and trials, they sang praises to the Lord. They trust in Him. Because of their trust in God, they were able to have the perspective to understand their trials and find joy in them.

The Righteous Path is a Joyful One

“Many times did the Lamanites attempt to encircle them about by night, but in these attempts they did lose many prisoners.

And many times did they attempt to administer of their wine to the Nephites, that they might destroy them with poison or with drunkenness.

But behold, the Nephites were not slow to remember the Lord their God in this their time of affliction. They could not be taken in their snares; yea, they would not partake of their wine, save they had first given to some of the Lamanite prisoners.” – Alma 55:29-32

Still in the thick of the war chapters, I have come to a kind of conclusion.

We see the Lamanites and their anxious reactions to the stresses of war.

Now, I know that I’ve never experienced a physical war. I can appreciate the fact that I can’t appreciate the stress of war. Still, we can learn a powerful lesson by comparing the righteous Nephites and the wicked Lamanites.

How we react to stress can tell us a lot about ourselves and our spiritual standing with God.

The wicked react to stress with fear. This is usually a rather irrational and overly-emotional response. Most often it includes poor choices that might actually worsen their situation.

The righteous, blessed with the Spirit, are comforted during stressful times. They are able to detach from their emotions, and then make smart and educated decisions. The righteous, through the comfort of the Holy Ghost, are blessed with a hopeful response to stress. They will understand that stress and afflictions aren’t causes to mourn, but are opportunities to experience the Atonement, and that their afflictions will be consecrated for their gain.

This hope results in joy – even in the midst of trial. I believe that this hope and joy enables the righteous to then make the critical decisions that will lead to their success.

The righteous path my not be the easy one, but it is the joyful one.