Small Victories Fuel Our Ability to Overcome Big Obstacles (1 Nephi 5:20)

So, Lehi and his family have left Jerusalem and are traveling to a promised land. They don’t know where this will be (we have the advantage of hindsight. The promised land is located in the Americas). They don’t know how long it will take to get there. (Again, we have the advantage of hindsight – it will take them 8 long years).

I’ve thought about this journey throughout my life and during my own proverbial journeys. It is a temptation to want to know what we will face in life. It’s a temptation to think I just wish I knew what was in store for me.

But it’s wisdom in God that we don’t know. Can you imagine if Nephi knew all of the obstacles he’d face? Can you imagine if God did tell him?

Imagine for a moment:
Look Nephi, here’s what’s going to happen. On the way to the promsied land, you’ll be tested. And I mean tested. First you’ll travel for a little while. Then I’ll command your dad to have you and your brothers go back and get the records of your fathers. (The Brass Plates – essentially, the Old Testament).

Getting the brass plates won’t be easy. You’ll lose all of your riches, your lives will be endangered, your brothers will beat you with a rod, you’ll have to kill a man, and then you’ll escape Jerusalem by the skin of your teeth.

When you get back to your dad, you’ll hang out for a bit, then go back to Jerusalem to get Ishmael’s family. It will be another hard journey in the wilderness, and on your way out of Jerusalem and back to your dad, your brothers will tie you up and try to kill you.

You will run out of food and break your bow. You will be married in the wilderness. You guys can’t build a fire – to maintain safety – so you’ll live on raw meat. You will wander through the middle eastern desert (do you know how hot it gets in Saudi Arabia?!) for eight years.

When you finally get to a small paradise that you will name “Bountiful,” I’ll command you to keep going. You’re not done. You will build a boat. You will make tools to build that boat. You will board it. Your brothers will tie you up again (they have this thing…), and you will all nearly die in the middle of a terrible tempest.

Then, you’ll finally make it to the promised land.

Imagine if Nephi knew all of that before he set a foot outside of his door? All of this adversity and obstacles for one main goal: the promised land? I think that if Nephi knew it all, he probably would have just…melted.

But Nephi didn’t. He faced obstacles like we all do – one at a time. And with each obstacle, he met the challenge with faith and overcame. After obtaining the Brass Plates, Nephi was able to say with confidence:

“And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us.” – 1 Nephi 5:20

Now, the “big picture” obstacle is getting to the promised land. And here we are, only at the very beginning of the journey. Nephi has already gone through a couple of “sub-obstacles” in this bigger obstacle of getting to the promised land.

At this point, Nephi and his father, had met every adveristy with faith. They prevailed. And with this success came confidence. This confidence would give them the courage and power they would need for the next, bigger obstacle they would face on this arduous journey.

We can learn from this. We need to celebrate the smaller milestones. We need to take time to say, “I’ve kept all of the commandments of God.” This will help us to develop confidence – both in ourselves and in God – which is exactly what we’ll need for the next obstacle.

And this is a pattern that will be repeated until we are all “safely dead.”

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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.

Discerning between Pleasure and Joy (2 Nephi 28:7-8)

As I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon, I’ve been searching to see what I learn about happiness and joy. Of course, while studying this way, I can’t help but think about how we, in our current world/society, define happiness.

I’m an American. I live in the U.S. I’ve traveled outside of the U.S., but I haven’t lived abroad. I’ve lived in several states. I mention all of this to say that my idea of what is culturally being said about happiness is based on American Culture. I know that this varies from place to place. Some people think that shiny stuff will make you happy. Some people think that the key to happiness is Aloha.

I think that before we try to make ourselves happy, we have to come to understand what happiness actually is.

Of course, the idea of pleasure complicates things. While pleasurable things feel good in the moment, I’ve found that they usually don’t make me all that happy.

In 2 Nephi 28:7-8, we read:

“Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.

And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” – 2 Nephi 28:7-8

It sounds like chasing pleasure, rather than deep abiding happiness, has been a temptation for a long time.

Eat, drink, and be merry sounds like a joyful/happy sentiment, yet Nephi actually says that this sentiment isn’t good. In fact, he warns against it.

Why?

  • Don’t confuse pleasure with joy – I think that there is a time and a place for things that “feel good.” We have been blessed with our senses. We eat every day. We drink. Our senses can bring us some pleasure. I feel great pleasure when I look at a sky or when I eat a piece of chocolate.

    But this isn’t the same as happiness. I can be surrounded by lovely things and still be void of joy or happiness. Happiness and joy are more related to our spiritual state than experiencing physical pleasure.

  • Sometimes Joy comes from abstaining – I don’t think that “eating, drinking, and making merry” will give us lasting happiness.

    I have a problem, or have had a problem, with eating. Sure, I feel like I want a sweet or some rich food, and that it will make me happy. I eat the food and and am overcome with euphoric pleasure. Until I swallow the food, and then think about what I’ve done…

    Then, later on the evening, I feel bloated. I feel sluggish. I don’t feel happy. I feel frustrated with myself for being so irrational.

    ***
    On the other hand, there are times when I’m pretty good at limiting sugars and other unhealthy foods. I start to feel more in control of my appetite. Though the natural, healthy food might not be as hyper-palatable as junk food, the healthier I eat, soon the foods taste better and better. I don’t mind having a treat from time to time, but it is nice to know that I’m not controlled by them.

    I don’t feel bloated. I don’t feel sluggish. And most of all, I feel happy – happy to be the master of my own body, rather than controlled by a substance.

    ***
    Joy comes from self-mastery and agency. When we exercise our agency in such a way that our agency is protected, then we can feel purely and experience joy rather than feel the effects of a chemical/artificial high.

The Meek: A Definition (2 Nephi 27:30)

“And the meek also shall increase, and their joy shall be in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” – – 2 Nephi 27:30

As I read this scripture today, the word meek caused me to pause for a moment. Do I really understand what it means?

So often, we think we know what words mean in the scriptures. But it really helps to look words up. So instead of assuming I really understood the word meek, I looked it up in the dictionary.

Here’s what I found:

  • Humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others
  • Overly submissive or compliant. Tame
  • Gentle. Kind

I hope this has helped your understanding of meek.

I don’t think that our world values meekness all that much. At least not so much in the U.S. We seem to be such a competitive society. (This is a broad generalization, I realize). Still “submissive” isn’t really a compliment these days.

Unless you choose to look at life through a spiritual lens. Christ was submissive. He did nothing but what God commanded Him. He wasn’t easily provoked. He was gentle. He was kind. He was meek.

Though meekness might not get you “ahead” in this world, their joy in the Lord will increase. And let’s not forget what the Savior, himself, said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

With Joy Shall Ye Draw Water Out of the Wells of Salvation (2 Nephi 22:2-3)

It’s really easy to like all of 2 Nephi 22 (Compare with Isaiah 12). It’s one of the “Isaiah chapters” in the Book of Mormon that doesn’t talk about war, Assyria, and all other sorts of difficult-to-understand-things. In this chapter, Isaiah praises the Lord, and anyone else who has a testimony in Jesus Christ can certainly relate.

Today, I found verse 3 really striking:

“Therefore, with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” – 2 Nephi 22:3

I can’t really say why this struck me today, so I’m going to just “think out loud” on this blog post for a minute.

One
Christ is the Living Water. When we associate with Him, when we covenant with Him, and “draw” from Him, then we experience joy.

Two
Maybe it’s also a kind of choice. I mean, obviously we have a choice to “draw” from the wells of salvation or not. We have a choice to covenant with Christ or not.

But are we always “drawing” with joy?

People do make covenants then come to church or go to the temple or any number of things that might be considered “drawing” without joy. They serve without joy. Why?

Perhaps there are times when we draw without joy because we are mourning. I have certainly experienced this. Several years ago, I found myself going through a difficult time. I was getting a divorce. Shortly after telling my ex-husband I wanted a divorce, I went to the temple alone. If you aren’t familiar with Mormon Temples, then you should know that people can attend the temple alone. That isn’t a problem. But often there are people who attend the temple with their spouse.

It stung to go to the temple alone. It was hard to feel the weight of the pain of my life in a place that was usually peaceful. I thought a lot about my ex-husband, he had betrayed me and our marriage covenants. It was really difficult to understand what was happening in my life. Needless to say, when I went to the temple that day, I wasn’t really “drawing” with joy.

I was mourning.

Of course, it’s important to remember what Christ said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

So – there are times when we don’t draw with joy – and that may be because of some kind of difficulty or adversity in our lives.

I will say that even though I didn’t jump with joy at the temple that first time after my separation from my ex-husband, by the end of my service at the temple, I was filled with a sort of peace. I was being comforted. I knew I needed to take all of my covenants with the Lord seriously, and that I needed to continue to “draw” from the well of salvation. And over time, I did draw – with less mourning and more joy.

***
Sometimes we may be “drawing” from the waters of salvation without joy – and not because we are experiencing adversity, sorrow, or mourning. Perhaps we may be going through the motions.

This is kind of a problem.

We must make the choice to worship and draw in a meaningful and joyful way. We don’t go to the temple because our leaders have told us to. We don’t serve God so that we can check off a box or pat ourselves on the back. The covenants of the Lord aren’t arbitrary commands given by a power-hungry God.

The covenants and commandments of God are given to us so that we can be happy – so we can be agents, so we can be free from sorrow and sin. They are given to us by a loving God – a Father in Heaven.

If we are “drawing” from the well of salvation only because it is an expectation, or because our neighbors do it, or to placate someone else. If we’re simply going through the motions, instead of drawing with joy, then we lose out. We don’t experience the joy of salvation because we’re not acting in joy in the first place. If this is happening, either we need to repent or we simply don’t understand what God is offering us in the first place.

***

It’s a joy to say that Jehovah is my strength and my song. I trust in Him. And I have drawn and will continue to draw – with joy! – from the waters of salvation.

Meditation and Joy

About a year ago, I started meditating. I’ve always believed in prayer, and I know that prayer is basically meditation. However, I also knew that my prayers were lacking. I saw a yoga magazine about meditation and felt that I should purchase it.

As I read through their meditation articles, I had a strong impression to start incorporating some of the yoga-principles into my own meditation (breath, posture, etc).

It has been a transformative experience. My prayers are much better and more meaningful, and I love finding examples of meditation throughout the scriptures.

There is a great example of the power of prayer and meditation found in 2 Nephi 4.

2 Nephi 4 is often considered to be “the psalm of Nephi.” His soul is pained – because of the anger he has towards his brothers. This entire chapter can show us the power of consistent meditation.

For now, I’ll only focus on one part that I find especially significant (today…!)

We read:

“O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?

And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?

Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.” – 2 Nephi 4:26-30

Nephi’s brothers want to kill him. This is what has driven him to anger. Plus, let’s face it. Nephi has had to deal with his brothers for a lifetime. They haven’t been all that great to him.

I can see why Nephi is angry.

I know that I’ve been frustrated with people in my life (and none of them have have threatened to kill me). I remember a time, for example, when I was a little frustrated with my husband. I prayed about my frustration.

Instead of having the Lord respond, “You’re right! He’s being such a jerk!” I was brought to humility.

As we grow in our meditation, I think that we learn to do this ourselves, and Nephi is an example of this.

Instead of trying to justify his sin, he asks questions of himself. Nephi isn’t focused on how he has been wronged, he is focused on his agency. He doesn’t complain to God that Laman and Lemuel are trying to kill him. Instead, he focuses on his own knowledge, experience, actions, and testimony.

He knows so much. He has had so many blessings in his life. He lives in a promised land. And now, he is reacting to Laman and Lemuel’s antics?! No Way! Nephi shows us that consistent meditation will help us to become agents to act rather than be acted upon.

Instead of retaliating and further pushing this wedge between him and his brothers, he prays about his own reaction. He gives up his pride, he puts his trust in the Lord, and then he is strengthened.

Meditation and prayer will help to strengthen our resolve for our own agency, and this will bring so much more joy in our lives.