BoM 3: My Laman and Lemuel Moment…or Year

During last week’s Come, Follow Me reading I was startled as I heard my own voice while listening to the audio of 1 Nephi 17. Laman and Lemuel are complaining to Nephi about all their trials and hardships:

[Our father] hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.

Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy. (1 Nephi 17:20-21, BoM)

“We have suffered” echoed in my mind as I remembered the worst inner dialogue I have ever used in my life–and it was on my mission. “I hate this. I hate being a missionary. I feel so miserable. Why am I suffering so much? I can’t wait for this to be over. I enjoyed my other travel experiences so much more. I would be so much happier if I were anywhere else.” If that’s not self-defeating, I don’t know what is. These words repeated over and over in mind for months. In all fairness, I think I was dealt a rough hand on my mission, but I could have and should have found healthier ways of working through my challenges, misery, pain, and bitterness. (Luckily God taught me much and my inner dialogue doesn’t reflect the type of missionary I turned out to be.)

Part of my problem was that I had started my mission feeling like a Nephi. I knew the scriptures, I loved the Gospel, I was excited to teach people, I had made good choices my whole life, I had an education, and on and on. But God needed to teach me some important lessons and, as a result of a unique personality combined with some very difficult circumstances, I took these lessons very hard––in fact they were devastating. I felt like God had broken me down to nothing so I clung desperately to the accomplishments and qualities I had once used to pad my identity.

One of the most challenging things God taught me was in revealing a series of lies I had told myself about my character. As He exposed those lies, I fought the truth, desperately afraid of what would happen to me. But then, as I surrendered to His “stretching and ‘higher’ ways,” He helped me accept who I really was (both the good and the bad) and begin building a new character better founded in the teachings of Jesus Christ (see Maxwell, “Consecrate Thy Performance,” General Conference, April 2002.) For example, I had to accept that I was actually judgmental and self-righteous. As God built me back up, He taught me how to love people wherever they’re at and how to graciously acknowledge and admit my own weaknesses and shortcomings.

My “suffering in the wilderness” experience leaves me with sympathy for Laman and Lemuel. It is so easy to immediately label them as “the bad guys” in the narrative and every time I re-read the Book of Mormon I want to fall into that old pattern. But I am catching myself––I don’t want to judge them. I get why they were so upset! I left all my comforts, too, and wandered in the wilderness for a long time. Suffering is the worst! No one wants to suffer.

So, how do we solve the Laman and Lemuel dilemma? When we’re suffering in the wilderness, what do we do? For me, I’m going to change my inner dialogue and, instead of taking things so hard, I’m going to try and laugh more and be actively grateful for every blessing, the big and small. I’m going to submit more readily to God’s “stretching and higher ways” rather than cling to whatever it is God wants me to give up. Instead of being angry about what God is supposedly doing to me, I’m going to focus on what I can be doing to make life happier for others. Instead of rhapsodizing about the past, I’m going to look forward to the future and envision the happy, enjoyable times ahead. Instead of asking, why is this happening to me, I’m going to ask, what does God want me to learn from this experience? How is this experience going to change me in positive ways; how will it make me a better mother, wife, friend, disciple?

BoM 2: Supporting My Spouse in a Demanding Church Calling

Now I know of a surety…that the Lord…hath given [us] power whereby [we] could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded [us]. (1 Nephi 5:8, BoM)

Several years ago my husband was asked to serve as the leader of an inner-city branch. We loved our branch and the wonderful people we served and served with.

Soon after the stake set apart my husband, I had a dream one night. We were driving our Jeep in a foreign city that I recognized from my mission. My husband was behind the wheel and our one-year-old daughter was buckled safely in her car seat in back. In the dream I became increasingly worried about my husband’s driving. He was driving carelessly, looking at everything but the road and the traffic around us. We found ourselves approaching a set of traffic lights with multiple crossings of one-directional traffic. Just ahead and perpendicular to our line of traffic I could see a barrier and a harbor immediately beyond. My husband drove straight through the light, crossed traffic, and broke the barrier, plunging us into the water. I struggled to free myself from the seatbelt and, remembering our daughter, I turned to try and free her. My husband by this point had already freed himself and was swimming for the surface. My daughter and I could not get out.

I awoke, terrified, but not at a loss for the meaning of the dream. In waking hours I had begun to worry about the amount of time my husband was spending on his church calling and not on his school work or with our family. I expressed my concerns to my husband following the dream, relating its events and my interpretation. I was legitimately afraid for our family’s future.

Sariah expressed similar concerns to her husband, Lehi, about the safety of her children and health of her family. “[S]he…complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:2, BoM). They had taken a huge step into the unknown by obeying the Lord’s commandment to leave Jerusalem. They were also taking a huge risk sending their sons back to Jerusalem to obtain a sacred record from a dangerous man at the Lord’s command.

Lehi, ever confident in his calling and the instructions of the Lord, comforted Sariah the best he could, bearing his testimony of the goodness of God. When Nephi and his brothers returned to the family camp safe and with the brass plates in hand, Sariah exclaimed: “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them” (1 Nephi 5:8, BoM).

I similarly learned an invaluable lesson about supporting my spouse in church service. Rather than let preoccupation with my dream feed my fears, I turned my attention to serving our branch with equal love and diligence. Rather than complain when my husband informed me he would be gone all day Sunday or had to step out unexpectedly on church business, I learned to say, “good luck, be safe; I will see you when I see you.” As I supported my husband in his responsibilities, I witnessed the same truth Sariah learned: the Lord protected, blessed, and prospered our family.

A few examples that taught me the goodness of God and demonstrated His willingness to bless when we serve Him and follow His commandments:

  • While driving between my parents’ home and my in-law’s at 6 months pregnant, with my one year old in the car, I was struck by a tractor trailer. Not only were we able to walk away from our totaled car merely shaken and without a single physical injury, the company paid us generously for our totaled vehicle and gave us extra money.
  • The minivan we purchased after the accident ran perfectly at over 250,000 miles for 3.5 years (until my husband was released…then it started falling apart).
  • We had two healthy children born while serving and they rarely got sick.
  • Despite the terrible quality of roads everywhere we drove on church service, we only ever had one flat tire on each of our cars in 4.5 years, and both flats manifested conveniently at our home.
  • I was handed multiple opportunities to hone my musical talents through music service which provided me with a creative outlet, increased my personal joy, and resulted in significant spiritual growth as well.
  • When a promised job fell through just before my husband graduated with his doctorate (and we had no back up plan), the Lord sent us a friend who recommended a totally different career path. My husband’s church service became some of the most impressive parts of his resume and he successfully got a (much better) job less than five months after our initial disappointment.

The wonderful thing about church service is that the whole family can participate, not just by being supportive in word. As I participated in our branch, serving in multiple callings at the same time, doing informal service, with my young children in tow, I witnessed first hand how God strengthened, protected, and blessed our family. I will forever preach to friends, family, and strangers that the Lord blesses and prospers individuals and families when they lose themselves in church service.