Paths, Obstacles, and Joy

The families of Lehi and Ishmael left Jerusalem around 600 BC. They were heading to an unknown promised land, but had to venture through the wilderness before arriving. The trip took about eight years.

This voyage through the wilderness was fraught with toil and affliction, and after some time into the journey, Ishmael passed away.

The death of Ishmael brings sorrow. In the Book of Mormon, we read:

“And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.” – 1 Nephi 16:34

It is worth noting that “Nahom” means consolation – to be sorry, or to console one’s self.

The death of Ishmael is difficult for morale. He was the patriarch of his family. The daughters mourn pretty vocally. And I can see why it would be so hard. Ishmael and his family had left Jerusalem – to escape destruction and death. They were going to a promised land.

It is so easy to start the path to the promised lands of our lives, but the thing is, the greater the reward, the more difficult the path. Regardless of where we are headed, we are all headed for trials and adversity. It’s a part of life.

So – we know that death = misery and life = joy. People tend to make choices that reflect this sensibility. We put on seat belts, we wear helmets, we cut sugar. We don’t want to die. We do what we can to avoid dangerous situations while still striving to live an abundant life.

Yet there are times when during our lives – even when we’re on the right path – we’re exposed to difficulties that nearly feel like death and danger. For Lehi and Ishmael’s family – they left the general safety of their lives in Jerusalem and went into the wilderness. The wilderness, compared to their homes, might have felt like a death trap! They couldn’t imagine the impending destruction of Jerusalem (and the danger that would accompany this hostile takeover), but they were directly experiencing physical challenges in the desert. Food was scarce. Temperatures probably reached extreme highs and lows. Danger lurked everywhere in the desert. It would be natural to want to flee this circumstance. It doesn’t seem joyful or life-sustaining.

And that’s the thing we learn from Lehi and Ishmael’s experiences. This was the path to happiness. This obstacle – of the wilderness – was the way to the promised land. It doesn’t seem intuitive – that such suffering will result in joy. Still, sometimes we have to go through these hellish, sorrowful experiences in order to make it to our joy.

I believe that there is always joy in the journey. But it is also crucial to identify the fact that there are times when it is hard. We have our own “Nahom” points – when the only option left is for us to console ourselves. But we can take courage. The Lord will not fail us. Though we mourn, we will be comforted. And eventually, we will experience joy that will equal, if not surpass, the pain we experienced along the way.