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.

Healing the Sick (3 Nephi 17:7-10)

In the Book of Mormon, when Christ visits the people in the Americas, we read:

“Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.

For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you.

And it came to pass that when he had thus spoken, all the multitude, with one accord, did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him.

And they did all, both they who had been healed and they who were whole, bow down at his feet, and did worship him; and as many as could come for the multitude did kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears.” – 3 Nephi 17:7-10

Christ heals the people. In my mind, this would result in unspeakable joy. Any person who is sick or otherwise afflicted grows weary of illness. I haven’t had to experience too much in life, but I’ve been sick.

While I was pregnant, and for a year or so after, I experienced chronic pelvic pain. I have had kidney stones. I have had severe eczema causing rashes all over my body. I have had the flu. I’ve had a cold. I’ve had the chicken pox. I’ve had endometriosis. I’ve had my tonsils removed.

And I’ve had it really, really easy.

But in those times of suffering, the idea of healing…well…that was joy. That was music to my ears. When I passed a kidney stone (after days of torturous pain and hospitalization), I jumped for joy! I called out to my husband! “Look! My kidney stone! I passed it.”

Sounds silly. But anyone who has experienced this kind of pain understands.

We have all suffered illness. Physical, mental, spiritual, emotional. We all need healing.

There are so many people in this world who suffer so much more than I do. And that’s what Christ heals us from: suffering in all forms.

What Joy.

When we turn to Christ, He will ease our suffering. He will teach us. He will strengthen us. And eventually, He will deliver us.

Christ’s Visitation to the Americas (3 Nephi 10:9-10; 11:10)

After years of strife and political upheaval; after the complete destruction of the government and society; after thunder, lightning, earthquakes, and tsunamis; after three days of darkness; after death, destruction, and misery, the darkness disperses, the earth stops trembling, and Everything settles down.

We read:

“And it came to pass that thus did the three days pass away. And it was in the morning, and the darkness dispersed from off the face of the land, and the earth did cease to tremble, and the rocks did cease to rend, and the dreadful groanings did cease, and all the tumultuous noises did pass away.

And the earth did cleave together again, that it stood; and the mourning, and the weeping, and the wailing of the people who were spared alive did cease; and their mourning was turned into joy, and their lamentations into the praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord Jesus Christ, their Redeemer.” – 3 Nephi 10:9-10

The mourning, the weeping, and the wailing of the survivors had stopped. They had heard the voice of the Lord. The darkness dispersed. They had been delivered from immediate destruction. Their lamentation turned into joy.

And then, Christ came.

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.” – 3 Nephi 11:10

The people were delivered both immediately and eternally. Christ had saved the entire world. The prophecies had been fulfilled.

And the result?

Joy

There is No Happiness in Iniquity (Helaman 13:38)

I Looooooooovvvveeee this scripture.

“But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.” – Helaman 13:38

Pure doctrine. Truth. Universal Law.

You cannot find happiness in iniquity.

It’s as simple as that. Sure, you can find pleasure and excitement in iniquity. But it is short lived, and it is not happiness. Not only that, but after the “high” of pleasure and excitement, we must come down to reality. And if this pleasure and excitement came from iniquity, then we will crash into the reality of our poor choices. Those are never fun.

It’s just the way that it is.

The laws governing happiness and joy are as universal as gravity. They are non-negotiable. We can live in denial. We can defy it. But, ultimately, these laws win. Because they are laws. They are facts. The sooner we simply accept that, the sooner we can find joy and happiness in our lives.

Otherwise, we’ll be like the Nephites that were warned by Samuel the Lamanite. We will pass the day of our probation, we’ll procrastinate salvation until it is too late. We will experience destruction, and then find ourselves lost – looking for something that is unobtainable: happiness in iniquity.

Feeling Joy at Church (Helaman 6:3)

In some ways, I’m a little worried about writing this post. But seeing that I don’t have too many people reading the blog, I hope I’ll be okay. 😉

In Helaman, we read:

“Nevertheless, the people of the church did have great joy because of the conversion of the Lamanites, yea, because of the church of God, which had been established among them. And they did fellowship one with another, and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy.” – Helaman 6:3

The people of the church had joy and rejoicing – one with another. This is fellowship at its finest.

I find this interesting. This is how we should feel in our social interactions at church and with our brothers and sisters at church. I hate to admit this, but I’m not sure that I always feel the kind of joy described in this verse.

Many times, I go to church and feel a measure of pressure and stress. I worry or have concerns about something or another. Admittedly, this is my choice.

It is easy to start to get wrapped up in the “programs” of the church. It is easy to worry about our plans and all of the other pressures we feel. Then, I often react with – repugnance – when I feel such an emphasis on all of these “programs” and “goals.” It just doesn’t always jive with my personality.

Obviously, I need to change my focus. And what is the secret? I think that our fellowship with one another turns into joy and rejoicing when our worship is based on truly worshipping God – praising Him and focusing on the covenants we have made with Him. I think that our worship becomes more joyful when we are principle based in our Sunday Meetings. Our worship becomes more joyful when it is focused on the Spirit of God – who is the true teacher, testator, and comforter.

So how do we do this?

Sometimes, we are blessed to live in a ward where this happens naturally with the leadership of the ward. Sometimes, we are blessed to live in a place where the “mix” of people lends itself to service and pure love with one another. The feeing of pure love that we feel in wards like this are such a blessing. Then, we can have the blessings of our covenants and worship without some kind of strange strife.

Other times, we face different challenges. Maybe no one is at fault, specifically. Maybe it is just a different dynamic between people. I mean, we can even face this in our families. In any case, there are times when we are members of a ward where feeling this kind of love and Brother/sister-hood isn’t as clear. We go to church to renew our covenants and show our love to God, but then we have to fight through the feelings of inadequacy, strife, or even sadness. We aren’t always welcomed with open arms. Some wards feel “clique-y” other wards feel over-zealous. And, as I said – I don’t think it is the fault of a single person. It may just be a strange combination…or a full moon.

But this happens. And what do we do? It’s a real challenge.

Some people might say, “Well, you don’t go to church for the people, and if you are offended, then you just don’t have a strong enough testimony.” I kind of used to be this type of a person. The truth is, this is not a charitable sentiment. In fact, it is probably the sentiment of a person who has had the luxury of never feeling hurt or challenged by the dynamic found in their ward.

OKAY. So what do we do?! How can we experience the great joy of fellowshipping with other saints?

Two ideas:

  1. Take it to the Lord. I know this seems obvious, but here’s what I mean. It’s okay to feel how you feel. Tell the Lord how you feel. As you pray, try to seek in your heart why you are feeling this way. Dig deep, though. Don’t just say, “People are mean.” So people are mean, what else. What does that matter if people are mean to you? What does it matter if you feel like an outcast. Keep probing, and if you do this probing in the form of a meditative prayer, then the Spirit will be able to help you to understand your emotions, detach from them, feel His comfort, and then find a solution.
  2. Serve others. I have found that the quickest way to care about someone else is to serve them.

    I was in a ward where I was having a particularly difficult time. The worst day/time of my week was church. It was hard to want to go. I struggled to feel the Spirit. It was a source of pain for me, and I was tempted to take the easy out.

    As I went to the Lord, I had the impression to serve. And I did it in secret. Though I didn’t forge any new friendships, and I still felt somewhat “left out,” I would overhear people talk about the ways that they had been secretly served. I witnessed that the Lord is aware of His children. And I felt joy knowing that I was able to be a part of answered prayer. I never got direct credit for anything I did. And I don’t want it now. I just share it because it was a real solution for me.

    It was the only way that I was able to stop thinking about church as a way to feel good. Instead, it was a way to listen and think of ways to serve others. And, in serving others, my love and concern for them grew, and I started having a joyful time at church – even though none of my conditions at that ward actually changed much.

Anyway – long post. I just want to say that I know that the joy of fellowship with our brothers and sisters in our wards can be such a blessing. It can be a bright part of our days and weeks. I also know that the opposite is destructive. I know that Satan knows it, too, and that he is always trying to deter us from loving one another.

We can choose to focus on what’s important – instead of getting distracted by little programs. We can choose to focus on the Savior, on loving and serving one another. We can choose to allow our pain be swallowed up by Christ, even if it is something still being inflicted upon us. We can feel joy – even if the circumstances we experience aren’t like those of the people in the Book of Helaman.

The Need for Personal Righteousness over Governmental Regulation (Helaman 5:3)

The culture of the Nephite continues to decline. There are short periods of humility, righteousness, and prosperity followed by periods of wickedness, war, and misery. I think that if we looked at our own societies, we can see the exact same cycles.

During on particularly bleak downturn, we read:

“Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction.” – Helaman 5:3

The people had become so wicked that they couldn’t be governed by law or justice. No law, no regulation, no punishment could motivate them. The bright democratic culture of the Nephites is becoming a dangerous anarchy.

This resonates with me, actually. I think that here in the U.S., we’ve lived through stages similar to this. I’m reminded of Elder Christofferson’s talk given shortly after the recent economic collapse. Elder Christofferson taught:

“In most of the world, we have been experiencing an extended and devastating economic recession. It was brought on by multiple causes, but one of the major causes was widespread dishonest and unethical conduct, particularly in the U.S. housing and financial markets. Reactions have focused on enacting more and stronger regulation. Perhaps that may dissuade some from unprincipled conduct, but others will simply get more creative in their circumvention. There could never be enough rules so finely crafted as to anticipate and cover every situation, and even if there were, enforcement would be impossibly expensive and burdensome. This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone. In the memorable phrase of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, “We would not accept the yoke of Christ; so now we must tremble at the yoke of Caesar.”

In the end, it is only an internal moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms of societal decay. Societies will struggle in vain to establish the common good until sin is denounced as sin and moral discipline takes its place in the pantheon of civic virtues” – D. Todd Christofferson, “Moral Discipline,” October 2009

If we want to save our society, we can learn from our own mistakes and from the mistakes of the past. We don’t need to add copious amounts of regulations that probably won’t work. We need to think of the elegant and effective solution – live righteously and teach our children the same.

Oh, and I don’t want this post to simply be some political diatribe. I want to say that this will bring us joy. Imagine the society we could live in – if we chose to be righteous?! If we chose to serve one another and love one another! Imagine the kind of happiness and joy we would have if we were not selfishly chasing after our lusts and other wicked notions. Imagine if we each, individually committed to being righteous.

We would be happy – both on a personal level; and on a societal level.

Mourning and Joy (Alma 62:1-2)

I’ve been thinking about opposition a lot lately. Sometimes, I think that in the “Mormon” world, we tend to think that opposition = evil. We think it is bad. I think that sometimes we forget that opposition is not always good or bad. For example, day and night – are opposites. Neither day nor night are inherently good or bad. We need them both.

I think that many of the emotions and experiences we have in life are similar. Often, it is just required of us to feel a range of emotions, and we can even feel them at the same time. Instead of wondering, “what is wrong?” when we feel a negative emotion, we might do well to simply accept it. Instead of worrying about how to always “fix” ourselves so that we feel joy.

I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon with an emphasis on joy. And I’ve learned that there is joy to be had in nearly every circumstance. This doesn’t mean that things are easy. This isn’t some kind of “happy-go-lucky” shallow joy. This is peace and comfort, even amidst trial and difficulty. It is the kind of joy that strengthens us and helps us rise to the challenge. It is the kind of joy that comes through discipline and strict tutelage.

In Alma 62, we read about Captain Moroni:

“”And now it came to pass that when Moroni had received this epistle his heart did take courage, and was filled with exceedingly great joy because of the faithfulness of Pahoran, that he was not also a traitor to the freedom and cause of his country.

But he did also mourn exceedingly because of the iniquity of those who had driven Pahoran from the judgment-seat, yea, in fine because of those who had rebelled against their country and also their God.” – Alma 62:1-2

Moroni feels both joy and mourning!

It sounds kind of oxymoronic, but this is the way that opposition works in our lives. Joy and mourning are often two sides of the same coin. When we have faith in the Lord, though, we feel an external force – comfort and hope of salvation. So, we don’t have to ever feel despair or hopelessness.

I guess I’m just trying to say that it is possible – to feel joy and to also mourn. Especially when we are considering those we love.

Well, not only that, but it is okay to mourn. Remember, it was Christ proclaimed that those who mourn will be comforted. As I think about this, I suppose a distinction should be made. Self-pity and mourning aren’t the same thing. Self-pity is an indulgence. It will not yield comfort and then hope.

I can see why Moroni mourns. There is so much war and sadness. All of this could have been avoided – every difficulty in the society could have been cured by righteousness! When we are righteous – individually, and as a society, then we will be happy!