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.

Pride – A Block to Our Happiness (Alma 42:30)

In Alma 42, Alma is still teaching his son, Corianton. He says something very interesting to his son:

“O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.” – Alma 42:30

Pride so often stands in the way of happiness.

Instead of changing, so many people excuse their sins by denying the justice of God, instead. I can see why this is a common pattern, but it doesn’t work!

We can deny God and His justice all we want, but our denial of God doesn’t make God non-existent. We can deny God and His justice all we want, but we are still subject to it.

Think of it this way. We may “disagree” with gravity. We may even let our pride in the matter wrap and distort our minds so much that we then deny the law of gravity. Despite such denial, if we stood at the edge of a cliff and jumped, we’d soon find that we were still subject to it.

Instead of denying God’s justice as a way to “justify” ourselves, we ought to simply accept the justice of God. The beauty of accepting God’s justice is that we can also accept the companion blessing He has offered us through Christ: His mercy.

Through accepting God’s justice and Christ’s atonement, we then will humble ourselves to let Christ’s Atonement take place in our lives. We do this by submitting to Him – by being righteous. And the result…HAPPINESS!!!

Denial gets us nowhere. Accept. Be humble. Obey. Be happy!

Humility and Joy (Alma 22:15)

The Spirit lets us feel joy. I’m not going to take the time to prove this fact right here in this post. Feel free to read throughout the rest of my blog. Better yet, read the Book of Mormon.

For now, we’ll examine the quick example of King Lamoni’s father. He’s one of my very favorite people in the Book of Mormon.

King Lamoni’s father was humbled by Ammon when they ran into each other on the road. (Ammon and King Lamoni were on their way to Middoni. King Lamoni’s father was on his way to see King Lamoni.) King Lamoni’s father was upset with his son and with Ammon. He attempted to take Ammon’s life, but ended up being compromised by Ammon’s strength. In an attempt to be freed from Ammon’s grip, King Lamoni offered up half his kingdom.

Ammon wasn’t looking for power or land. He simply wanted to teach the gospel, and he had developed a true friendship and love for King Lamoni. So, he asked that King Lamoni’s land be protected and that he lived in peace.

King Lamoni’s father was shocked – he didn’t expect to hear such a charitable response. His heart began to be softened and humbled.

***

Later, Aaron travels up to King Lamoni’s father to share the gospel. King Lamoni’s father had been thinking a lot about this experience and was already becoming more prepared to be receptive to the gospel message. He listened to Aaron’s message – which was the gospel and basic scripture stories.

It seems like King Lamoni’s father was becoming aware that though he had so much, he didn’t have any joy. After listening to Aaron’s message, we read:

“And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.” – Alma 22:15

We can learn so much from King Lamoni’s father’s tender and humble example!

The Spirit of God enables us to feel joy. And if we aren’t feeling joy, then we have to do just as King Lamoni’s father did. We must ask ourselves what we can do to obtain the Spirit of God, and then be filled with joy.

This is really applicable on every level. As I read this verse, I thought of the things that troubled me, and realized that in one way or another I’m allowing them to trouble me. I can choose to ask God what I can do to receive the Spirit and be filled with joy.

Men and women are that they might have joy. We can have joy. When we choose to look within ourselves and root out the wicked spirit that blocks the Spirit of God, then we can be filled with joy.

Humility as the Answer to Race Relations and Violence (Mosiah 21:6-15)

In Mosiah 21, the people of Limhi (Nephites) are living under Lamanite rule – according to an arrangement that had been made between the king of the Lamanites and Limhi.

In case you are not familiar, the people of Limhi are Nephites. They are a different race than the Lamanites. The Nephites and Lamanites are all descendents from a common family – the Nephites, but over the years, they separated and they also changed physically. Their skin colors are different. They also often fought with each other – a rivalry started between the brothers (Nephi and Laman) hundreds of years before.

So – the people of Limhi are living subject to Lamanite rule. And racism grows. The Lamanites are annoyed with the people of Limhi, but because of the arrangement made between kings, they can’t kill the Nephites. So, they oppress the Nephites.

This oppression is described as follows:

“Now they durst not slay them, because of the oath which their king had made unto Limhi; but they would smite them on their cheeks, and exercise authority over them; and began to put heavy burdens upon their backs, and drive them as they would a dumb ass—” – Mosiah 21:3

The people of Limhi are getting frustrated with this oppression, and they convince their king that they need to retaliate. So, he agrees.

The Lamanites beat the people of Limhi, did drive them back, and kill many.

This loss results in worse race relations and a great sorrow and mourning among the people of Limhi. The crying of the people grows to a fever pitch – and the people of Limhi decided that they needed to go again to the Lamanites and fight.

The Lamanites, however, beat the people of Limhi again, did drive them back, and kill many.

This next loss results in even worse racer relations, and sorrow and mourning among the people of Limhi. Again, they complain until they approach the king and go up against the Lamanites once again.

And the Lamanites, beat the people of Limhi, did drive them back, and kill many.

This is insane.

This is such a sad and terrible time in the history of both the Lamanites and the People of Limhi. Mourning, anger, and frustration motivate these people. They are proud and wicked. They don’t turn to the Lord. Instead, they try to fight for themselves, and their misery only increases.

It sounds sadly familiar.

Recently, we have seen many divisions in our country. Racial tension and aggression seems to be multiplying. People are rioting and too many people are dying. The solution that seems to prevail is more retaliation, more fighting, and more mourning and anguish.

How do we stop this? Well, the same way that the People of Limhi did. They humbled themselves. In Mosiah, we read:

“And they did humble themselves even in the depths of humility; and they did cry mightily to God; yea, even all the day long did they cry unto their God that he would deliver them out of their afflictions.

And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage.” – Mosiah 21:14-15

Finally, the Lord heard their cries, and he softened the hearts of the Lamanites. Though the people of Limhi weren’t yet delivered out of bondage, they were prospered by degrees. Though they were still subject to the Lamanites, they were not dying anymore. They weren’t wailing and howling at the staggering losses of life because they weren’t experiencing these losses anymore.

This resonates with me now. My heart is heavy. Police have killed people. People have killed police. We seem to want to sit and point fingers at one another – while the killing, animosity, and mourning continues. It makes no sense.

These problems we experience today are the results of a wicked and perverse generation. On both sides. But we don’t have to be. We don’t have to embrace sin. We don’t have to be deceived.

Instead, we can learn a lesson from the People of Limhi – who were in bondage. Maybe today we could say, “they had every right to fight.” But what good did that fighting do? It just hurt them even more. We can learn that the most effective way to “fight” for our liberty and for peace is through humility. It is when we humble ourselves to God that we will receive His blessings and then ultimately achieve peace and freedom.