New year, new goals––including blogging with a little more frequency! So here I am at the start of a fresh Come, Follow Me study guide and I am so excited to share my first insight of the year with you!
Last week while reading Doctrine and Covenants section 1 I read the verses that serve as the Lord’s preface to this new book of scripture in which He states that He has called a prophet in the latter-days to warn all people on earth of coming calamity (see D&C 1:1-17). With a pandemic raging across the world, mutating and outpacing human response, and civil unrest spreading across the United States, my sense of foreboding is more than heightened. This is some scary stuff! But, I wondered, why warn us if only to frighten us? As I read further, I felt like I saw between the lines of text. This book of scripture is called Doctrine and Covenants––it contains the same eternal truths and foundational doctrines as the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon, but it also points us to saving ordinances in which we make sacred covenants with God. Covenants, I realized, are the key to our preparation and protection in these unsettling and calamitous times. Hence the Doctrine and Covenants IS God’s warning as well as our survival handbook!
Covenants will prepare us for and protect us as we face whatever else is coming. My one resolution for this new year is to do a better job keeping the covenants I have already made with God at baptism and in the temple (both Endowment and marriage). I want to better understand the promises I made and identify ways I can more strictly honor them. In D&C 82:10, the Lord says, “I, the Lord am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” When we keep our covenants, God is required to provide for us. With an uncertain future ahead of all of us I find God’s promise immensely reassuring.
How does keeping your covenants bring you peace? How do you think keeping covenants will both prepare and protect you?
I began this post while still pregnant with my fourth child. It was difficult to recount some of what I share below and I gave up the effort. But President Nelson’s gratitude challenge has inspired me to finish the narrative and celebrate God’s goodness and mercy in my life this year.
While studying Alma 37 in August as I waited for my fourth daughter to make her appearance on earth, verse 17 made me reflect on the journey of this pregnancy and the truth of Alma’s words: God “will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you….”
I have had three healthy and successful pregnancies producing three spirited and healthy daughters. But those pregnancies were anything but comfortable or conforming to any sense of “normal.” All three pregnancies produced serious mental health challenges for me. I experienced a variety of non-threatening physical symptoms that only exacerbated my suddenly fragile mental and emotional health. Three miserable pregnancies in which I lost the motivation to do most things I typically enjoy, became too quick to anger and prone to scary thoughts and desires did not make me eager to ever get pregnant again.
When my husband and I started talking last spring about expanding our family you could say that I was more than reluctant. But while sitting in the temple with a friend, I discussed the issue with God and felt that we had come to an agreement: if I agreed to provide a body and home for another of His spirit children, He would make sure this pregnancy would be a different and better experience.
About eight months later I found myself pregnant and slipping into the depths of despair. I felt just as miserable as with my previous pregnancies, I got the flu on top of pregnancy symptoms and I began to feel like God had backed out on our agreement. By January of this year I was desperate and began praying, begging God to keep His promise to me. As I shifted my prayers from bitter accusations to earnest questioning about how God would help me have a better pregnancy, He gave me one word: “hydration.”
Since I was already caught in the cycle of nausea and depression, I accepted as given that I would never physically be able to drink enough water to get properly hydrated (I was choking down minuscule amounts of liquid by that point). I got it into my head that short of having someone come to my home and give me a daily IV, I was doomed to repeat the past miserable pregnancies. When I off-handedly mentioned this to a nurse at my OB/GYN’s office, I was surprised to learn that in-home IV was actually available! This idea became my one hope. I pursued it with my doctor, insisting that it was the key to my well-being.
Fast forward to two weeks later after I had first unsuccessfully started with a peripheral IV and gone back to have a midline put in. My first treatment on Friday went so well. I woke up Saturday with a spring in my step. I hooked up the IV every day with gratitude. It had become my lifeline, the one thing standing between me and seven months of torture. By the next Thursday, however, I had developed a blood clot. As I waited in the ER for a team of doctors to decide what to do with me, I feared the loss of my midline IV and the sure source of hydration for my suffering body.
Around 9:30 pm, the doctors removed my midline, pumped me full of fluids through the hospital IV and sent me home. I was glad to be out of the hospital but fearful for what the future held. God did not abandon me at this juncture. I kept remembering a friend who used to carry an enormous jug of water and ice around while pregnant, constantly sipping through the straw. This image kept impressing on my mind, I knew it was my solution. If I could keep enough ice water with me at all times that was as easy to drink as possible, I might be able to self-hydrate. I checked with an online retailer and found a 50 oz jug with straw and handle.
For the remainder of my pregnancy I carried that jug everywhere. As soon as I drained it I filled it back up, drinking upwards of 200 ounces each day. The balance was that fine too—anything less than 200 ounces and I could feel the beginnings of mental and emotional strain. With proper hydration my fourth pregnancy turned out to be all I hoped that day in the temple when God made His promise to me. I was able to be a good mom to my three older girls, taking care of their needs with equanimity and responding to tense situations with greater balance. I was able to participate in daily household tasks without spending the rest of the day miserable on the couch. I was even able to do high-energy projects like spreading mulch. The contrast between this pregnancy and my previous three was extreme. It seemed like every day I would catch myself feeling amazed at what I had accomplished or how well I had behaved in a difficult family situation, and remember that it was because God had helped me get healthy.
God kept His promise to me. After telling me that proper hydration was the solution to my problem, He helped me identify steps I could take to pursue the solution. Sometimes in the midst of despair I forget how God operates, that He answers questions and provides direction but expects me to think through options and act in faith. As I go forward it is crucial that I actively remember how He has fulfilled His promises to me. And for you dear readers, I hope you can draw strength from my experience that God will fulfill His promises to you.
Towards the end of 1 Nephi we see a really tender moment between Nephi and his older brothers. Lehi’s family has just arrived in the promised land, everyone is getting settled and Nephi resumes his record keeping and Gospel instruction. In the process of reciting details prophesied about the anticipated Messiah’s earthly appearance, Nephi mentions the scattering of Israel. This would be a poignant moment for Nephi and his brothers: they belong to Israel but God commanded their family to separate themselves from Israel and take a harrowing journey to a new land. They have become part of the prophesied “scattered Israel.”
As I read about Israel being scattered across the isles of the sea, I realized how that must have sounded to Lehi’s children—the isles of the sea were probably the most remote and desolate places they could imagine; it might be roughly equivalent to someone saying “Mars” or “Jupiter” today. Lehi’s family was now completely cut off from everything familiar and comfortable, with no chance of getting “home” back.
But Nephi’s message, and the tender moment, looks ahead to the future of their children and grandchildren down to our present day when God has promised that He will remember the isles of the sea and gather Israel again.
Nevertheless, when that day cometh, saith the prophet, that they no more turn aside their hearts against the Holy One of Israel, then will he remember the covenants which he made to their fathers. Yea, then will he remember the isles of the sea; yea, and all the people who are of the house of Israel, will I gather in, saith the Lord, according to the words of the prophet Zenos, from the four quarters of the earth.
1 Nephi 19:15-16, BoM
Nephi’s message of hope in covenants, Christ, and the love of God doesn’t seem to be lost on his brothers—they end up asking more questions in order to better understand the prophecies. (See 1 Nephi 22, BoM.)
How often do we feel separated from “home” or like we’ve been “scattered on the isles of the sea”? Sometimes we feel like heaven has gone quiet. Sometimes our own choices have led us off the covenant path and away from God. Some of us wonder if we could ever find a way back or if God will even be aware of us anymore. But His promise to the ancient Israelites holds true for all of God’s children. He does remember us. No matter how far we’ve gone we are always within God’s reach. “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7, NT).
No matter how distanced we feel from heaven, God is always able and willing to close the gap and gather us back to Him.
The Jaredite group received many tremendous blessings as recorded in Ether: The Lord agreed not to confound their language so that they could maintain established family and friend relationships; God led them away from Babel; God brought them to a promised land. Did you notice that God caused a great wind to blow the Jaredite barges to the promised land? The barges were out on the open sea. Even though God was in charge of the travel, the barges were still subject to the conditions of sea travel and the consequences of a “great wind” being active on the open water, including very stormy conditions. “And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters” (Ether 6:8).
“The wind never did cease.” God kept His promise to bring the Jaredites to the promised land and made it possible for the barges to arrive as quickly as possible. In fulfilling His promise and making blessings available, God also created interesting conditions for the Jaredites. I have experienced this in my own life, where I ask for a blessing that God readily promises but the path towards the fulfillment of the promise is fraught with unexpected difficulties. When we ask for a blessing, we need to be willing to accept the unasked for “consequences” of pursuing that blessing.
As we learn from the Jaredites’ experience, when God promises a blessing, He makes it happen. We can be assured that He will fulfill His promises. We also learn that we don’t need to worry too much about those unexpected “consequences” of pursuing a blessing. It strikes me that despite the constant wind and resulting storms, the barges were not impeded in their progress. The barges reached the promised land without injuries and without drownings. The people were kept safe during their entire voyage.
No matter what comes packaged with a blessing or answer to prayer, we need to stay the course and pursue the promise, knowing the God will keep us safe and follow through on all His promises.
I have mentioned before that I love patterns. I also love categorizing things and naming categories. One of my hobby horses is “irreducible truths,” or eternal truths or fundamental/foundational truths. I like using the term “irreducible” because it captures an important aspect of this category: The truths they describe cannot be reduced further; they are foundational to the universe and provide the answer for so many questions rather than being questions themselves.
The prophet Jarom (son of Enos) states a couple of these irreducible truths in his very brief section of the Book of Mormon. In verse two he writes about why his writings are so short, namely that previous prophets covered what he felt were the most essential doctrines. He names the Plan of Salvation as one of these foundational principles that is both essential and already covered in the writings to which he had access, “and this sufficeth me,” he concludes. If I ever wondered what the critical knowledge of the Gospel is, here’s my answer. The Plan of Salvation teaches us where we came from, why we are here on earth, and where we are going after this life; this is reality.
Another fundamental truth Jarom touches on appears in verse nine. He references previous scriptural writings to testify of the fulfillment of God’s word that, “Inasmuch as ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.” I love how the Book of Mormon references itself, how writers recollect past writings and confirm the fulfillment of prophecies. To me this is a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, but, even more importantly, it is a testimony of God: It expresses the irreducible truth of God’s existence, His participation in our earthly experience, His role as covenant maker, and the simply stated fact that He fulfills ALL His words and promises. It behooves us to listen and heed His word.
The promise for “rest” in the next life from specific conditions of mortality intrigues me, especially the conditions listed as hallmarks of the mortal experience. As I read this verse I wondered, “what is the “hard bondage” of mortality that we have been “made to serve?” Not everyone on earth has lived or will live in formal servitude but somehow mortality is defined by a type of bondage that all humans serve.
The word “made” could be interpreted literally as “God created us.” We were created to take on mortality and experience life in a physical body. In a way it’s a bondage of the spirit in a physical body, something divine and immortal tied to something mortal and dying. But other conditions of mortality create other scenarios of bondage. What about the human predilection for addiction or vices such as lying that ensnare our mortal bodies, compromise our agency and limit our freedom?
When we become attuned to the ways in which our spirits suffer from addiction, sin, interpersonal conflict, and more, God’s promise of rest in the next life becomes so much more poignant.
I love patterns and the scriptures are in no short supply. Some of my favorite Gospel patterns include pairings of opposites; I always find enlightenment in pondering how the Gospel resolves these antithetical equations.
Second Nephi 24:3 revolves around such a pattern. It contrasts eternity and mortality, promising rest in eternity as a salve to specific conditions of mortality. “And it shall come to pass in that day [the millennium/the day of resurrection, signaling the “start” of eternity from a human perspective] that the Lord shall give thee rest, from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve.”
“Rest” is here presented as a condition of eternity. It resolves sorrow, fear, and bondage which serve as fundamental markers of the human experience. If eternity is the antithesis to mortality, then sorrow, fear, and bondage are the conditions of mortality and antithetical experiences to eternal life. In which case, we can identify defining characteristics of eternal life as the opposites of sorrow, fear, and bondage: namely joy, fearlessness, and freedom.
It’s no wonder Nephi loved these chapters from Isaiah. 1 Nephi 21/Isaiah 49 is chock full of the goodness of God. He is strong (v. 5); He is faithful (v. 7); He hears us, helps us, and preserves us (v. 8); He is merciful and will lead us to sustenance (v. 10); He comforts us (v. 13); He will not forget us (v. 15); He has graven us on the palms of His hands (v. 16); He will make us victorious over our enemies (v. 17). These tremendous promises by God to do all these things for us, His children, are confirmed in verse 18. God uses the phrasing of a vow or oath to formalize these promised blessings, “as I live, saith the Lord.” Because God is eternal, to swear by His life is like the ultimate promise. And He always keeps His promises.
This makes me want to do a better job keeping my word and teach my children how to keep promises. I’m going to review Sister Joy D. Jones’s talk “A Sin-Resistant Generation” from April 2017 General Conference.