We Might Have Been Happy – 1 Nephi 17:21-22

You can read 1 Nephi 17:21-22 here.

Context and General Information

  • Laman and Lemuel are murmuring against Nephi.
  • They complain about their journey in the wilderness – that they suffered. They complain that instead of suffering in the wilderness, they could have been in Jerusalem and enjoying their possessions. They claim that “they might have been happy.”
  • They say that they know that the people of Jerusalem had been righteous. That they kept the statutes of the Lord.
  • Laman and Lemuel say that Lehi wrongly judged the people of Jerusalem and then led his family away because they would listen to him.

We Might Have Been Happy

Yesterday we studied a little bit about Laman and Lemuel and their response to discovering that Nephi was going to build a boat. You can read it here. They had a problem for every good solution. They had no solutions whatsoever, and then a list of ill-contrived complaints.

Complaint One – Suffering in the Wilderness for Years

Okay. So this legitimately happened. Even Nephi expressed:

“And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness;…” – 1 Nephi 17:1

Of course, Nephi’s response to the recognition of such trial is very different than Laman’s and Lemuel’s. Instead of complaining about these trials, Nephi is quick to notice the blessings that they experienced that helped them to bear these trials better. Nephi, even in the midst of trial, could find the tender mercies of the Lord. He could find reasons to be happy and rejoice.

And that begs the question – would Laman and Lemuel have been happy if they wouldn’t have suffered any afflictions? The answer is No.

Happiness does not mean that we live in a vacuum – free from any kind of trials or afflictions. This is such a basic thing to understand, and we must understand it, otherwise we will make the same mistake as Laman and Lemuel did. We will constantly think that the grass is greener over there…that if only our conditions were perfect, then we’d be happy.

This really could be the topic for an entire book, but what is coming to mind right now, is that we need to recognize there is a connection between sacrifice and joy. If you think of the most joyful experiences you have had, I bet that there was a measure of sacrifice that you endured to get there.

For example, I have joy in my children. And trust me – I’ve sacrificed for them. Even before they were born, I was sacrificing. Every good parent that has joy in their children has made a sacrifice.

I had joy when I crossed the finish line of a marathon. This required hours and miles of sacrifice.

I had joy when finishing a hike and viewing a magnificent vista. But the view didn’t come easy. It was work to get here!

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You can’t just drive here. You have to get out of your car and hike. But the walk is worth the crisp air, the pine scent, the blue skies, and the clear view.

Now, they hadn’t come to their promised land yet, so even though Nephi could see the tender mercies of the Lord, doesn’t mean that he had experienced the full measure of happiness that would make the sacrifices feel like nothing at all. He still felt the weight of the sacrifices. But he clung to hope – that the Lord would deliver them from their afflictions and trials, and that they would soon experience the joy of being at the promised land. They would experience the joy of knowing that they had crossed the wilderness and the many waters; they endured; and they were able to live freely and blessed by the Lord.

The happiness was yet to come. But the happiness would only come as they sacrificed and endured their trials well – not because they never faced a trial in the first place.

Complaint Two – We Might Have Enjoyed Our Possessions

This is an interesting one.

I suppose it is connected to the first complaint – being in the wilderness. They had to leave all of their comforts and possessions to go into the wilderness.

Not only that, but maybe this is also in reference to what they lost back in chapter 3 – when they tried to “buy” the plates of brass from Laban, and instead he stole all of their precious things and tried to kill them, to boot.

In any case, Laman and Lemuel complained because they haven’t been able to enjoy their possessions. And, as I said before, it’s kind of interesting.

There is something enjoyable about possessions. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. We have gotten rid of 95% of what we own for the moves we have made in the last few years. Yes, there are times when I miss some of my stuff.

But, for the most part, I have learned how little we really need. And while possessions can be enjoyed, and they can make life easier, I know that it isn’t our possessions that make us happy.

Complaint Three – We Might Have Enjoyed the Land of Our Inheritance

I can also see how this would be difficult. They left their land – their home, their friends, the conveniences, the culture – to wander in the wilderness. It would be hard.

By the way – even though Nephi never complains against God, he also never calls these experiences easy. They are afflictions. They are trials. But Nephi accepts these trials with the faith that 1) the Lord will strengthen him. 2) They will soon make it to the promised land. 3) The Promised land will be even better.

So – yeah – the trials are hard. It was hard for them to move away.

However, their assumption that they could have “enjoyed the land of their inheritance,” might be off. Their father would have been killed. Lehi fled for his life. I don’t think that Lehi would have been around for the Babylonian takeover of Jerusalem. He would have died at the hands of the Jews before that time came.

And who knows how this would have effected Laman and Lemuel. They would have been the son of a condemned prophet. I don’t think that they would have done much “enjoying” of their land of inheritance. I don’t think that they have a good idea of the reality of their situation back in Jerusalem.

Complaint Four – We Might Have Been Happy

Sounds like a nice argument. But just because Laman and Lemuel think and say this, doesn’t make it true.

Happy?! In 586 BC, about 14 years after Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, Jerusalem was invaded and destroyed by the Babylonians. This destruction was recorded and described by the prophet Jeremiah in a book called Lamentations (doesn’t sound all that happy to me).

The condition of Jerusalem was deplorable when the Babylonian takeover happened. Many were killed. Others were forced into slavery. The people were distressed, forsaken, and utterly powerless. Children and babies wasted away – with hunger – in the streets of Jerusalem.

This is not the land of inheritance that Laman and Lemuel had in mind, but it was the reality.

I highly doubt that Laman and Lemuel would have liked this scenario. I doubt that they would have then repeated the refrain, “We might have been happy.” Because they wouldn’t have been happy.

***

The problem with murmuring and complaining, as Laman and Lemuel did, is that it will blind us to the truth.

And one more thing – do you really think, with the kind of attitude that Laman and Lemuel had, they would have ever been happy?

I don’t think it’s possible. I think that no matter what – even if the conditions of their lives were “perfect,” they would have found something to complain about. They would have created another fantasy-filled alternatives and then complained about perceived “wrongs.”

We need to learn from Laman’s and Lemuel’s mistakes. We need to remember the root of their murmuring:

“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

We need to learn from them and then strive to be close to the Lord and understand His dealings. It is through understanding His dealings and accepting some of the sacrifices that come with His dealings that will lead us to true happiness and joy.

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Bountiful – 1 Nephi 17:5-9

You can read 1 Nephi 17:5-8 here.

Context and General Information

  • After traveling in the desert wilderness, Nephi and his family arrived at a land that they called Bountiful. It had fruit and honey. It was also next to a see that they called “Irreantum,” meaning “many waters.”
  • They pitched their tents near the seashore. Despite their many afflictions, when they arrived at the seashore, they rejoiced. They named the place Bountiful because of its many fruits. They were happy to reach this point.
  • After being in the land of Bountiful for many days, the Lord told Nephi to go up to the mountain. Nephi obeyed and prayed to the Lord in the mountain.
  • The Lord commanded Nephi to construct a ship (the Lord would show him how to do it), so that they could cross the sea.
  • Nephi’s immediate response was one of humility – he asked the Lord where to find ore so that he could make the tools he would need to make the ship.

Bountiful

First of all, I don’t want to take much time writing about it, but there is a really interesting article written by Warren P. Aston and published by the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies here. This article talks about the probable location of Bountiful (in modern-day Yemen). There are also many pictures of the landscape there. This spot – Bountiful – is an anomaly on the Arabian Peninsula. It is no question that the Lord was directing Lehi and his family.

If you choose to read the article, you will find that this part of Yemen has a lot of rain from monsoons. This fresh water supports many trees. There is an abundance of sycamore fig, tamarind, and date palm trees in the area. There is also a mountain nearby. And there are cliffs (the ones that Laman and Lemuel probably wanted to push Nephi off of!)

There were also big trees there – capable of being used to build a ship.

Anyway – I just found this article interesting, and it helps to visualize the landscape where Nephi and his family found themselves.

There is also a great blog here with a lot of pictures of the area. I wish I had pictures, but I don’t really want to violate someone else’s copyright on their own private pictures, so you can get a nice sense of the area if you look at their blog post.

***

For several years I lived in Phoenix, Arizona. Though it isn’t the Arabian Peninsula, Arizona is most definitely the desert. When I think of Nephi and his family traveling through the “wilderness,” I try to visualize them journeying through a landscape similar to that of Arizona and southeastern California (the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, respectively).

I lived in Arizona – with irrigation, a pool and air conditioning! And yet, I get it – it’s HOT! Haha! Sometimes hot doesn’t even begin to describe Arizona in the summer. (and late spring and early fall!). In fact, I moved away from Arizona three years ago, and I haven’t felt hot since!

But the heat is consuming. I remember one of my first experiences in the Arizona sun and heat. I had just moved there from Pennsylvania. It was June, actually. And I left my sneakers in the car. No big deal.

Hahahaha!

I went to get my sneakers out of the car, and something wasn’t right. They were funny. The glue in the sneakers had melted! My sneakers were falling apart! I hadn’t even imagined such a problem. I learned then never to leave anything in the car. It will melt! The heat and sun would warp CDs, melt shoes, and one of my friends even baked a batch of cookies in her car. (She did it on purpose. She put a cookie sheet with 12 blobs of cookie dough on her dashboard during church. Afterwards – fresh, warm, baked cookies! A perk of being in AZ in the summer, I guess!

But I imagine this heat, and then I try to imagine being in Nephi’s group – traveling in the desert heat of the Arabian Peninsula.

You’ve heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder? It’s something that happens in the winter – where you feel a bit depressed because you haven’t seen the sun in so long. Well, there is another variation of that in AZ. We got 330+ days of sun in AZ. You never long for the sun.

But in September, when it is still over 100º and you are just sick of the heat, you get a little angry. I’m talking a bit of low-level rage. It’s just there.

Or, in July, when you turn on the news and see the forecast, (This actually happened to me one day) and it says that the high is 117º you get angry. Not low level-rage, but legit crazy! This is when I realized why the Middle East is such a hornet’s nest – it’s TOO HOT!!! The heat has gotten to their heads and made them angry. Let’s stop warring and just send over A.C.s for everyone!!!!! (I’m not trying to make light…I’m just saying – that it gets sooooo hot.)

And THIS is what Nephi and his family were journeying through.

Thankfully, AZ winters are great. Maybe it took Lehi and his family so long to venture through the wilderness because of the intense heat of summer. Maybe they spent more of their time traveling during the winter? Who knows. All I know is, based on my time in AZ (which I actually truly loved it there), I can’t imagine the affliction that Nephi and his family faced. I can’t imagine having children there. I can’t imagine being in that intense sun, day in day out – only tents as shelter.

I can’t imagine the thirst.

And after all of this traveling, they make it to a land – filled with fresh water!, fruit, honeybees, trees (shade!!!!! Quick side note – in AZ, when you are looking for a parking spot, you don’t pay much attention to the first few rows of parking spots. Instead, everyone is vying for the spot that is under a tree. I never loved shade more than I did when I was in AZ).

I imagine that if I was in Nephi’s family, and I had been traveling through the wilderness, then made it to Bountiful, I imagine that I’d figure that Bountiful was the promised land!

I don’t know their situation. Maybe the Liahona made it clear that Bountiful was not their promised land. Maybe they understood that Bountiful was a respite before one last push – another “desert” experience of another type (the ocean is a desert with its life underground and the perfect disguise above…). I’m not sure if they knew this or not.

But one day, Nephi receives the command to get up the mountain, and there the Lord tells him this.

” And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters.” – 1 Nephi 17:8

Wow.

Nephi’s response:

“And I said: Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?” – 1 Nephi 17:9

This response garners a lot of admiration for Nephi. Often, I hear people say (and I’ve said it myself) – Wow! Nephi didn’t know how to build a boat, but he doesn’t even say that! He just asks, “Where can I get the ore to make the tools.” He is so obedient!

And yes, he is so obedient. He doesn’t murmur that he doesn’t have the experience building ships.

However, there is another reason why I admire Nephi by this response. I think that I might have said, “Build a ship?! But look at where we are! Isn’t this the promised land?!?!?! It’s Bountiful! We’re still going?!?!?! We’ve been at this eight years! Bountiful is good enough for me!”

***

Of course Nephi is wiser and more faithful than I am. And I’m so grateful for his example. Because of this experience that he has shared with us through the Book of Mormon, I’ve been blessed when I’ve reached “Bountiful” points in my life – points that were a blessing and respite, but they weren’t the end of the journey.

Bountiful was bountiful, but it was not the promised land.

***

I think that we all have these “Bountiful” experiences in our lives.

We travel and wade through “much affliction” during the wilderness of our lives. We may not be perfect. (We AREN’T perfect), but we are trying our best. We endure.

And then, we make it! We make it to the land of Bountiful…except it looks an awful lot like “the Promised land.” We have rest. We have ample blessings that we were missing out on for so long. We have “fruit, honey, and shade.”

And while we revel in these blessings, we get a message from the Lord, “time to prepare to move on….” We find that Bountiful isn’t our promised land, but we have to build a ship and then do the impossible – cross the sea!

The impossible after what already seemed impossible (going through that desert)!

The trial isn’t over.

We can learn from Nephi because his story is done, and hindsight is 20/20. Though we don’t have hindsight on our own trials, we do have it on his. We know that yes, Nephi will construct a ship. And yes, it will sail across the ocean. Yes, he will make it to the promised land. And that promised land will be exponentially more bountiful than Bountiful.

We can then apply the hindsight of Nephi’s experience to our own lives. When we reach the “bountiful” of our lives, we can rejoice in the blessings of Bountiful while we gear up for the next phase of trial.

Instead of focusing on that “deep sea” we face, we can focus on what comes after the sea – the promised land.

With this, when we hear the command of the Lord, to build a ship so we can cross the deep waters, we won’t get upset. We won’t plead with the Lord to stay in Bountiful. We, instead, will be like Nephi and ask where we can go to find the ore to make the tools.

We will trust God, implicitly. Understanding that His promises are sure, and if Bountiful is good, then imagine how good the promised land will be!!!!!!

From Mourning to Murmuring – 1 Nephi 16:34-36

You can read 1 Nephi 16:34-36 here.

Context and General Information

  • Ishmael died, and they buried him in “Nahom.” (Nahom means consolation, be sorry)
  • The daughters of Ishmael mourned exceedingly for the loss of their father. Their mourning turned to murmuring against Lehi. They murmured about being brought out to the wilderness, affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue.
  • They also murmured against Nephi and desire to return to Jerusalem.

From Mourning to Murmuring

In 1 Nephi, we read:

“And it came to pass that the daughters of Ishmael did mourn exceedingly, because of the loss of their father, and because of their afflictions in the wilderness” – 1 Nephi 16:35

As I think about mourning, I can’t help but think of the words uttered by the Savior, Himself:

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4

The Lord doesn’t promise that when we are keeping His commandments, then we will be freed of life’s trials. The Lord didn’t tell Lehi, Nephi, or anyone else in the family that the path to the promised land would be simple, easy, and free of difficulty.

I don’t know what the Lord said to Lehi, specifically, when he urged him to flee from Jerusalem.

I do know the personal experiences I’ve had, though. A few years ago, my husband and I were considering the idea of starting our own business. It was an idea that we had been throwing around for a while. So we did it. My husband has always wanted to do his own thing, rather than work in the corporate world. He started working on several ideas, and would do this after he came home from his corporate job.

Eventually, we got to the point where we needed to make a decision. He needed to spend more time on his business if it was going to really work. We had to make a decision – whether or not we should take the risk of him quitting his job and devoting his time to his business instead.

We discussed it, prayed, about it and felt it was the right thing to do. And this is the point that I want to bring up: When we made this decision – I remember – it was an evening after work. We were sitting on the couch discussing. We both were feeling a surge of energy – the energy that comes from the Spirit, when you are on the right track. We knew we should do it. And immediately, in my heart, I also felt the spirit prompt me with a feeling – remember the pattern…You will be pushed to your limit, but don’t worry – that’s when you’ll be delivered.

What does that mean? The Lord blessed me with an understanding before the challenges even came that the challenges would indeed come. He didn’t give us the warm feeling that we should start our business, and that everything would work out quickly and easily. We knew the pattern – it would be hard. We would be pushed and tested. But if we would rely on His Spirit with complete diligence, then – just when it seemed like failure was sure – we would be delivered. This is just how it works. There are examples of this pattern time and time again – both in the scriptures and in the world, at large.

ANYWAY.

What I’m trying to say is – I kind of wonder if Lehi had a prompting like this at some point – that the path would be hard, but if he would trust in the Lord, then he would surely make it to the promised land. Not sure.

The death of Ishmael was one of those low points. And back to what I was writing before. The Lord didn’t promise that He would shield Lehi and his family from the “low points.” Instead, we know that the Lord will strengthen us and comfort us – even as we navigate the difficulties of the path.

As Lehi taught to his son, Jacob, later on:

“Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” – 2 Nephi 2:2

Our afflictions can be consecrated for our gain, and I think that this fact is what helps us to be comforted when we mourn. We have no need to fear. I’m reminded of the scripture:

“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

In this scripture, Jesus is talking to His apostles. He has just washed their feet, and had the last supper with them. Judas has gone to betray Him. The Savior has taught the rest of the Apostles about “many mansions.” He has taught them that He is the Way. He has taught them to love one another. He has promised them the comforter. He has taught that He is the Vine. He has taught them about the Holy Ghost. He has taught them of His death and resurrection.

He will not be with them much longer, and they will have a mission to carry on His work without Him. It will not be easy. In the world, they will experience tribulation, but they shouldn’t fear – He has overcome the world.

So, yes, life in the wilderness for Lehi and his family was hard. And yes – they experienced a variety of afflictions. Hunger, thirst, heat, fatigue, and now death. I don’t think it would have been easy. Not even remotely easy.

But in the time of mourning, we need to seek the Lord. If we do, then we will have the opportunity to be comforted.

Receiving Comfort Is A Choice

The Lord truly honors our agency.

Even though He has promised that they that mourn will be comforted, He will not force His comfort. When we mourn, we can turn to Him and find comfort, or we can “refuse to be comforted.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:

“We, too, can “refuse to be comforted.” … Or, like Enoch, we can be intellectually meek enough to look and to accept the truths about God’s being there and about His personality and plans.” – Neal A. Maxwell

When we choose to accept the comfort of God during our times of mourning, the experience becomes holy. It may not be something we want to experience again, but we will see the benefit of it. We will be grateful for the blessings that came out of the harrowing experience.

However, if we choose not to accept the comfort of God during our times of mourning, then what usually follows is a hardening of our hearts…and murmuring.

This is exactly what happened with the daughters of Ishmael:

“…and they did murmur against my father, because he had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, saying: Our father is dead; yea, and we have wandered much in the wilderness, and we have suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue; and after all these sufferings we must perish in the wilderness with hunger.

36 And thus they did murmur against my father, and also against me; and they were desirous to return again to Jerusalem.” – 1 Nephi 16:35-36

And notice the result of such murmuring. They desired to return to Jerusalem! Let’s think about that for a minute. We have been reading how they have been traveling, traveling, and traveling. In chapter 16, alone, we read that they travelled for the “space of many days” three different times. And this is much later on in their journey.

Going back to Jerusalem was not a very rational idea. Most likely, they would have died if they attempted it. Their inconsolable mourning, their choice to refuse comfort, and then their murmuring blinded their minds to rational ideas and risks! And how often does this happen to us?

How often do we get frustrated, do we murmur, and then we wish to take some action that will actually take us farther away from our goal?

Not only that, but this idea – to return to Jerusalem – how does it honor their father’s memory? How might Ishmael feel that He suffered and even died in the wilderness, and after all of His sacrifices, his children turned around and went back to Jerusalem?!?! Where they would die!?!?!? If they would have gone back, then Ishmael’s death would have been in vain.

Murmuring…once again, we see that there is no point to it. It is a complete waste of time. There isn’t a single advantage. It blinds us, it makes us stupid, it separates us from God and from comfort and happiness.

So – we can learn from this experience. We can choose, when we mourn, to accept the comfort that God promises to give. We can choose to put our burdens on the Lord and by coming unto Him and yoking ourselves to Him. We can choose to allow Him to work the miracle of turning our afflictions into blessings that strengthen and refine us.

Confidence that Comes from Keeping the Commandments Part 2 – 1 Nephi 16:7-8

Well, if you read this blog, then you know it has been about a week or so since I’ve posted. We had a move, and it was hard to find time to actually blog. There are a lot of changes happening in my life, and they are good.

Interestingly enough, there are some changes that impact my scripture study. There have been times in my life when I can study for about 45-minutes to an hour. In fact, there have been many years when I was able to do so.

And then, there have been times when I can’t even imagine studying for that length of time! A few years ago, I started homeschooling my children. I love it, but it has very dramatically changed my own life and schedules. One of the big changes has been with my scripture study.

Interestingly enough, I have found that whatever time we can set aside for scripture study is exactly the effective dose we need. So – if we have 45 minutes or so to study, then that’s what we need. If we only have 20, then it is just as effective. The bottom line – being honest with yourself and following the Spirit.

Also – there are many things that we need to do for self care, and they are all important. For example, I need to work-out, pray, and shower, and whatnot. Those things aren’t going to be sacrificed so that I can study the scriptures for longer. Instead, I am trying to carefully determine what is needed in each of these parts of my life. And then, I know that the Lord helps me to make up the difference!

Anyway – the old constant – change – is alive and well in my life. I’m not sure how that will really effect the blog. But I’ll keep trucking along. Thanks for reading.

***

You can read 1 Nephi 16:7-8 here.

Context and General Information

  • Nephi, his brothers, and Zoram take the daughters of Ishmael to wife.
  • Lehi had kept all of the commandments that had been given him. Nephi was also greatly blessed.

Confidence that Comes from Keeping the Commandments

I wrote about this a little while ago here. It is a concept that is still really on my mind.

The commandments that Lehi had kept were both general commandments (covenants and the ten commandments and such) and also personal commandments – like bearing testimony to the Jews, fleeing Jerusalem, getting the plates, and getting Ishmael and his family.

Having his sons marry the daughters of Ishmael was another commandment that Lehi had kept.

Lehi, though still in the wilderness, could confidently go to the Lord for help and instruction – he was keeping the commandments. I imagine that there could have been room for temptation. So often, I know that I’m VERY MUCH prone to this, we keep a commandment and then expect relatively immediate good consequences.

For example, if I had been Lehi, I think I would have fled from Jerusalem and then figured that I’d reach the promised land within a few months. Hahaha! It took them eight years to finally arrive at the promised land!

I would have been tempted to look around me – after several months and think, Okay…any day now…I’d really like to be in that promised land…I’ve kept the commandments, so the Lord is bound to bless me…any day now…

Maybe I wouldn’t have been that bratty about it. But still – I know that I would have been relatively impatient. Or I would have expected the blessings to come from my sacrifices and obedience earlier.

But that’s not faith.

Instead, we can learn from Nephi’s example. He was confident in his righteousness. He kept the commandments. He recognized the blessings of the Lord – even if those blessings did not yet include arrival at the promised land. He didn’t doubt that blessing would come. He simply trusted in God – that each challenge was a step closer to the blessings that the Lord promised to fulfill.

***

We each face challenges in our lives that will try our faith. These challenges come to us in many ways – but what they have in common: we have the choice to trust in God. We have the choice to keep His commandments. And we have the choice to notice God’s blessings in our lives.

Nephi stated:

“…And also, I, Nephi, had been blessed of the Lord exceedingly.” – 1 Nephi 16:7-8

Nephi recognized his blessings of the Lord while he still suffered afflictions in the wilderness. I suppose that recognizing these blessings will help us to navigate the wilderness of our lives better.

One last thing…maybe Nephi also had a better perspective than I do sometimes. I sit here and think Wow. Nephi was able to be grateful and praise God – even in the wilderness of his affliction. But maybe I’m forgetting something. Maybe Nephi didn’t see the wilderness of his affliction as a terrible thing. Maybe Nephi did a better job remembering that the wilderness of his affliction was the route to the promised land! Though it was wilderness and full of affliction, it was the path to blessings! It was a blessing! Without that wilderness, there would be no promised land.

Put another way – let’s imagine that the blessing, the promised land, is the top of the mountain.

Mountain Tops

The mountain tops are beautiful, and the Lord will direct us to them, but there is only one way to get there – up.

Often, we are eager to be the top of the mountain, then after the initial novelty of the trail to the top wears off, we start to curse the very trail that will take us to the mountain top!

Nephi understood that the wilderness of his affliction wasn’t some kind of personal vendetta that God had against him and his family. In fact, it was just the opposite. The wilderness of affliction was the path to the promised land. It was a blessing. This wilderness, these challenges, came as a direct consequence of keeping the commandments. And, even though they were difficult, they were propelling him forward – closer to the promised land.

***
So – if we are keeping the commandments – and we are still in the wilderness of our own afflictions, we can take confidence. We are on the path that will lead to the promised land, to the mountain top view. We can be confident that the Lord will continue to guide us. We can be confident that He will strengthen us no matter what we face next. When we keep the commandments, we can be confident and happy – even long before we reach our final goal.

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.

The Paradox of Affliction and Joy

Like so much of life, the gospel is full of “paradoxes” – not inconsistencies, but oppositional forces – yin and yang situations.

One of these yin and yang moments of the gospel has to do with joy.

We, the faithful, can have joy, but this life isn’t always a joyful experience. It is kind of hard sometimes. We must have patience in our afflictions, in fact, if we want to have any peace and joy. Alma teaches this to his son:

“But that ye have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions.” – Alma 34:41

There will be a point when we can rest from our afflictions, but while we are still experiencing mortal life, then the joyful life is rife with affliction and adversity.

Often, the Lord comforts along the way, but joy is not about a life free of opposition or difficulty. In fact, it is through overcoming adversity that we often feel joy.

I like to think of it this way – think of hiking up a mountain or running a race. It’s hard work. You can’t do it without putting for real effort. You might sweat. You might get short of breath. You might feel uncomfortable and ready to stop.

But you put your mind over matter, push through it, and endure. Then, when you make it to the top of the mountain, or to the finish line of your race, you feel extreme joy and satisfaction. You have overcome the opposition, and you have succeeded. You are joyful because of the opposition not because of a lack of opposition.

We can apply this knowledge to our lives. Instead of balking at affliction or complaining during trials, we can remain grateful and we can seek comfort. We can take time to notice the little blessings on the way and remain full of hope for the joy we will experience when we can rest from these afflictions.

Afflictions, Meaning, and Joy (Alma 31:38)

In chapter 31 of Alma, Alma gathers a team of missionaries to preach the gospel. Before they start, Alma blesses them to have the Spirit to do the work, then they proceed.

We read:

“And the Lord provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst; yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith.” – Alma 31:38

This verse teaches us something about the Lord and what happens when we exercise our faith.

Though several things are listed, I’d like to focus on one part:

The Lord will Give Meaning to our Afflictions

This is the part that really stands out to me in this verse: “that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ.”

The Lord doesn’t promise us an affliction-free life. We will face affliction. This is a simple fact. Faith isn’t affliction-repellant, and the sooner we accept this truth, the sooner we can actually receive what the Lord does promise us.

The Lord promises us that any of the afflictions that we suffer will be swallowed up the joy of Christ. This is an interesting statement. Maybe it could still be misinterpreted – that Alma wouldn’t experience any affliction that brought him pain. Instead, these afflictions would magically be joyful because of the joy of Christ.

It’s important to consider what this statement really means. It may help us to shape our expectations and be willing to be faithful to the Lord even during times of affliction. (Remember, this is a blessing of faith, so if we aren’t faithful during our afflictions, then this result can’t be rewarded to us!)

This phrase shows that there is meaning in our afflictions. The Lord isn’t letting us experience random afflictions. In fact, He won’t let us faith an affliction that won’t have some kind of potential for joy. We may not feel the joy he promises during the affliction, but if we stay faithful, then eventually that affliction will be swallowed up in the joy of Christ.

What else in this world can give us this offer? No one, no amount of money, no amount of education – can promise to take our affliction and in return give us joy.

I have experienced this very miracle in my own life. During some of my deepest trials and afflictions, I did turn to the Lord. And because of my willingness and His mercy, I have been blessed. My greatest sorrows turned into the paths toward my greatest joys. I know that it is the Lord who made this miracle possible.

I know that the Lord wants us to be happy, and for this very reason He offered us His son – so that to us all, He could offer to take our afflictions so we could then have joy.