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.

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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.

Accepting and Rejoicing in God’s Blessings (Alma 26:16)

I’ve noticed a trend lately. Maybe it’s a trend in only myself…but maybe not. It seems like we can’t accept the way that God has blessed us in our lives. I’m not saying this the way I mean it. It seems like it is popular to only notice our shortcomings and our “opportunities for growth” instead of rejoicing in the ways that the Lord has blessed and strengthened us.

I’ll give an example. Let’s say you meet someone who is really fit. You might say to her, “Hey, you are so fit and strong. You look great.”

What do you think her response will be? Most of the time it goes something like this, “Thanks, but you shouldn’t say that. My __(insert some kind of dissatisfied body part)____ is not what I’d like it to be.”

Why can’t she say, “Thanks. The Lord has really blessed me to get a handle on my health and fitness.”

Or maybe you meet someone who is very wise with her use of time and talents. You might say to her, “You are so organized!”

What would be her response? Probably something like, “Oh, no. You should see my desk…”

I do this. In fact, it is so common, I find myself preemptively discrediting myself – I’m not sure why. I guess it is to appear humble. And it happens all the time.

Thankfully, we have the Book of Mormon in these latter days. And we can see that many of our foibles aren’t relegated only to this time or to a specific sex. It seems like the faithful have had a hard time with acceptance and rejoicing in the blessings of the Lord for a long time. I think it comes from a good place. We don’t want to appear proud. But it is important to be honest. God is perfectly honest, and He wants us to be, too.

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In Alma, we read about the experience of the sons of Mosiah preaching the gospel to the Lamanites. After fourteen years, they experienced many hardships and also unimagined success. As they were traveling back to Zarahemla, Ammon begins to rejoice in the miracles and blessings that they experienced during their missions.

In fact, his joyfulness caused his own brother to comment to Ammon:

“And it came to pass that when Ammon had said these words, his brother Aaron rebuked him, saying: Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting.” – Alma 26:10

After this brief censure, Ammon responds:

“But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.” – Alma 26:11

Why shouldn’t Ammon rejoice?! He had just spent the last fourteen years of his life serving people. He had experienced highs and lows. He saw the fruits of his labors, and was feeling great joy in this fruit. I’m sure that he also developed relationships with many of the people served. There is a difference between pride and rejoicing because God is good and has blessed us.

Ammon later states:

“Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.” – Alma 26:16

I love this! I need to apply this into my life, too. Who can glory too much in the Lord? It isn’t wrong to accept and rejoice in the blessings and successes He has given us. This is a show of our gratitude and love for Him.

I have struggled with this. There are times when people pay me a compliment. I have a hard time accepting it for various reasons 1) I feel inadequate 2) I don’t want to become prideful, and I know that my successes are 100% results of blessings of God.

Instead of beating around the bush and acting shy, I can say thanks. Instead of saying, “You shouldn’t say that…” in an I’m not worthy tone, I can use the opportunity to glorify and testify of God who has blessed me in the first place. I can recognize the hand that God has had in my life, accept His blessings, and remember Ammon’s honest question, who can glory too much in the Lord?