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.

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Imagine There’s a Heaven

I am a Beatles fan. However, I hate hate John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”

I don’t want to waste time and space on lyrics here, but you can look them up. It’s just John Lennon telling us to Imagine – a world without heaven, hell, religion, countries, nothing to kill or die for, possessions, etc.

I get what he’s trying to say, but I think that the reason why I hate the song is because it actually sounds like hell to me. It’s a silly thing to sing and preach about. It is impossible, and imagining the kind of world he suggests sounds…meaningless.

I understand it though. I don’t like people fighting. I don’t like sadness, misery, death, or pain. I don’t. I don’t think anyone does.

However, I have come to appreciate all of these uncomfortable, difficult things because of 2 Nephi 2.

Lehi teaches:

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.” – 2 Nephi 2:11-13

John Lennon’s song seams so silly to me because opposition is what makes joy possible. Without opposition, nothing.

I mean, this is even true in the laws of physics. We can’t propel ourselves with out exerting some kind of oppositional force. A rocket can’t will itself to fly into space. A rocket’s booster actually pushes it along. We can’t will ourselves to move from one place to the next. Our muscles act in opposition with one another. We push against the ground away from where we want to go to move to where we want to go.

If we imagine a world without opposition, then we are left with nothing. Sure – there’s no pain. But there’s no joy.

John Lennon talks about “nothing to kill or die for.” I can’t imagine having such a lack-luster and meaningless life! Though I’m not a violent person, I know that I’d die for my children. I’m actually very comforted to know that I can’t imagine such a passionless life experience.

John Lennon, like so many of us, was simply deceived. This is Satan’s trick – to make us think that comfort=happiness; to make us think that a life without opposition, pain, misery, or sadness is worth the loss of the opposing emotions, too.

Honestly, I can’t believe I’ve been writing so much about this. Lennon’s imagination doesn’t matter because that’s what it is: imagination. We are in this real world a messy, difficult, beautiful world.

Lehi teaches us more:

“And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” – 2 Nephi 2:22-25

We learn:

  • Adam Fell – Keep in mind – the fall of Adam is a fall from the presence of God. God’s nature is the nature of happiness. Adam fell from a blissful state. I’m sure it was a wrenching experience.
  • Had Adam not Fallen
    • Adam and Eve would have remained in the Garden forever. No progress. No knowledge. A blissful kind of ignorance, but not real autonomy or joy.
    • They would have had no children.
    • They would have had no joy because they knew no misery.
    • They would be incapable of doing good because they were incapable of committing sin.
  • Adam fell that men might be!
  • We are here to have joy!

We have a purpose. There is meaning to life. Imagine that! Imagine a life where we do face struggle and opposition, and instead of giving into ego and pride, we extend love towards one another.

Imagine a world – rich with countries, religions, cultures, and beliefs – and we choose to accept them while still conforming to our preferred values! Imagine how much we’d learn. Imagine the abundance we could experience on our own lives!

Imagine a world – with possessions, and people who chose (and were not forced to choose) to share and bless one another with the possessions, time, and talents that they had.

Thankfully, this kind of world is possible. Not only that, but I see this kind of world in my own life every day.

Opposition is the way. Because of adversity, we can experience joy. While death may kiss one cheek, we need only remember that life is kissing the other.

The Fruit of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8:10, 12)

“And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.

And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.

And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.” – 1 Nephi 8:10-12

This is such a simple and quintessential scripture on joy in the Book of Mormon.

Lehi, the ancient prophet had a dream (you can read about it in 1 Nephi 8). In this dream he sees the tree of life – which is bearing fruit. Immediately he knows that this fruit is desirable.

The fruit is sweet. Sounds good.

And the fruit fills his soul with joy.

I think that it is easy to relate to Lehi. We are all seeking joy and happiness, right? Who doesn’t want to have joy in their lives?

Lehi is looking, then sees the tree of life. It takes some work, but he partakes, and he isn’t let down.

This dream is more than some silly night vision. It is a parable, a metaphor. As inhabitants of this earth, we yearn for a better world. We yearn for joy and happiness in our lives. And it is available to us. Heavenly Father has provided the fruit of eternal life for each of us and a way to partake of it. Through the Atonement of the Savior and through His words, we can also eat this fruit – sweeter and more desirable than any other fruit.

I mean, I just ate a pretty incredible mango. Imagine this fruit that God offers us. Yum.