I decided to start my year in the Book of Mormon. Even though I had gotten somewhere in Alma by the end of the year, it felt right to just start again at Nephi 1. Especially since between you and me, my study has not always been as regular as it ought to be. Over the past week I've read 1Nephi 1 - 10. Most nights, because I'm taking notes as I go, I only get through one chapter and often go over my 10 minute goal. It's amazing when you choose a focus word how much you find. So let's delve a little!
For those unfamiliar with 1 Nephi, let me give you a brief summary of what's happened so far. The book is written by Nephi and at the moment he is giving an abridgement of what his father taught and the journey of their family into the wilderness. His father, Lehi, is a prophet around the same time as Jeremiah. The people of Jerusalem are wicked and Lehi is tasked with warning them to repent or be destroyed. Those familiar with the Bible will know the people didn't listen. In fact, the people sought his life. The Lord commanded Lehi to take his family and journey into the wilderness towards a land promised them. In these first chapters, the family takes their journey and the sons are sent back twice. The first time, they go to retrieve the brass plates which hold the records and a genealogy of Lehi's family. The second time, they go to bring the family of Ishmael so that the sons of Lehi will be able to marry and have families of their own. The common theme here is that Laman and Lemuel are the naysayers and Nephi and Sam are the righteous brothers, with Sam often following Nephi's lead though Nephi is the youngest of the four. These chapters also record Lehi's dream regarding the Tree of Life.
Now that we've got a basic idea of what's going on, let's move into where rejoicing fits in to all of this.
When we read the first two chapters, we get an idea of the how Lehi's family is accustomed to living. Lehi was a righteous man and also a prosperous one. I'm sure there was shock in all of his family when he told them they were leaving their home, which in chapter 3 we learn has gold, silver, and precious things, and journeying into the wilderness with nothing more than simple tents and supplies. I have to admit, as much as I love camping (and I truly love camping!), if my husband came home one day and said, "Honey, we're going to have to leave the house and everything in it. I don't know how long we'll be living in tents and we're going to have to carry only our supplies, but it's what the Lord wants," I'm not sure how faithful I would be in that moment.
Here's something I think bears pointing out. Often in Sunday School when we discuss these chapters, Nephi is the one who just automatically says, "Let's do this!" and Sam listens to him while Laman and Lemuel, the oldest boys, whine and complain. But I don't think that's how it happened and Nephi, while he doesn't directly come out say, "When my father spoke these words I thought he was nuts," does give an indication that he had some misgivings about leaving their luxurious home to live in a tent and go only God knew where. Let's look at 1 Nephi 2:16 (emphasis added):
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, neverthless 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."
Did you catch that? Why would Nephi's heart need to be softened? Nephi had his doubts. Like the rest of us he was presented with a challenge and his initials thoughts were probably along the lines of, "What now?" So what made him different from his brothers? His actions following the doubt. It's okay to have questions, to have things you're just not sure about. What made Nephi different was that when doubts came, as they will to all of us, instead of dwelling in doubt and deciding, "Oh I'm not sure about this, so my father must be crazy," he took it to the Lord. He prayed for understanding and because he acted in faith, even though he wasn't sure, the Lord answered him and softened his heart.
Now, what does that have to do with rejoicing? It's a lot easier to see the good in challenges, to find reason to rejoice, when your heart is soft and you have faith that you're doing the right things.
When they paused in their journey, the family rejoiced and offered thanks to the Lord for bringing them safely that far. But their rest didn't last very long. Soon Lehi told his sons to return to Jerusalem to get the records. Laman and Lemuel murmured and Nephi gave his famous, "I will go and do," statement (1 Nephi 3:7). We don't often hear much about Sam. But I have a feeling that Sam was the type who just quietly goes about doing the Lord's work. He followed the directions of his priesthood leaders, and listened to those who understood things better than he did. Of all the people in the scriptures, of any book, I most relate to Sam. Sam is the person I most want to be like. Don't get me wrong, Nephi is awesome and his faith and courage are amazing. But, when I'm feeling discouraged or have questions, I want to have faith like Sam to listen. I want to have faith like Sam to just go and do without fanfare (and no, I don't think Nephi was looking for a parade). I want to have faith like Sam to trust in the Lord even when I'm not quite sure.
Now, we're going to jump forward a bit to when Nephi and his brothers were in Jerusalem. Sariah, their mother, was understandably worried and upset. They'd left their home because of the threat to her husband's life. And now they had just sent their sons into the fire, if you will. I can understand why she began to murmur and complain about him being "visionary." But I love how Lehi comforts her:
And it came to pass that my father spake unto her, saying, I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren.
Here's what I love about this. First, Lehi acknowledges Sariah's concern and gives a beautiful testimony of his role. He reminds her that he knows he is visionary, and explains why that is a blessing. Second, he reminds her of their promise. He shows her why he can rejoice and reminds her that she can as well. For if he has obtained a promised land, she surely has as well. He reminds her of what they have been blessed with and what lies ahead of them. Last, he reassures her that their sons will return and be all right. I find it very interesting that he did not bring this up first, but made it his last point. Why? Perhaps it is because as we recognize our roles, as we ponder on and rejoice in our blessings and promises, we can face the challenges we are presented with greater faith.
Isn't this true of what we face in today's world? There are challenges each of us face in this journey of life. We can be like Laman and Lemuel, compelled to obedience and quick to complain. It can sometimes feel like the easier road.
Or, we can be like Sam and Nephi. We can take our doubts to the Lord. We can ask those who love us most and who have the faith and knowledge to dispell our doubts. We can quietly and faithfully "go and do." And along the way, we can rejoice in the blessings we have received and the promises we have obtained.
What are Love Notes?
When I was a high school freshman attending LDS seminary, my teacher taught us at the beginning of the year to pay close attention to scriptures and passages that stood out to us. "These," she said, "are God's love notes just for you."