This week I’ve been putting significant effort into exercise and scripture study. Instead of motivating myself by promising myself a million dollars (my usual form of self-bribery—I mean, nothing really works, so why not be extreme?), I decided to try the opposite end of the pendulum swing.
Why not exercise and read simply because I said I would? (See this talk, “A Sin-Resistant Generation,” by Sister Joy D. Jones. “‘But if not.’ Consider the meaning of these three words and how they relate to keeping covenants. These three young men [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego] were not basing their obedience upon being delivered. Even if they were not delivered, they would keep their promise to the Lord because they said they would. Keeping our covenants is always independent of our situation.”)
Well, it’s working. It’s Thursday and I’ve exercised and read every day
so far. It’s interesting to me that I have an even harder time getting myself to sit down with the book than I do getting myself dressed and sweaty.
Even though this blog post appears to be about scriptural things, it contains a very, very useful message (at least, I think it’s useful), even for the less-spiritually inclined.
Scripture study, for me, includes writing my thoughts about what I read. For the first two days I wrote about things I’d been learning lately from pondering family Scripture Time scriptures (Kerry and I read a chapter a day together) and my own personal listening to Bruce Lindsay reading the Book of Mormon to me for a half hour each day. Yesterday, having exhausted my ponderings, I had to pick up where I last left off. To my surprise it went really well. I thought a lot about Zoram (1 Nephi 4) and his situation. But I ended at the beginning of 1 Nephi 5—one story over and another about to begin . . . one that always makes me squirm a bit. I call it “Sariah’s Story.”
I’ve learned a lot from Sariah’s Story over the years and even though I was sure I hadn’t exhausted the subject, still I felt reluctant to get started on it.
When that happens I find that asking myself a question helps. The more specific the question, the better, but apparently just about anything opens the door.
“What can I learn from today’s reading?”
I pondered for a moment. What had I learned yesterday? Or, more to the point, HOW had I learned yesterday?
“I find that paying attention to details, the picture Nephi paints of the setting, helps me learn and experience more.”
One thing I learned while I was studying fiction writing is the importance of setting. It took a while for that lesson to sink it, but once it did, wow! So this time, as I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon, I’ve tried to put myself into the situations as described by Nephi, e.g. “not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (That’s a pretty apt description of life.)
So I started my study today by putting myself out in the wilderness with a woman and her husband who have sent ALL four of their sons back to Jerusalem to ask a veritable murderer if they can have the record of the Jews he has in his possession. You and I already know how the story turned out, but Lehi and Sariah didn’t.
I’m going to copy things I’ve written out of my notebook so you can learn along with me.
1 Nephi 5: end of v 1 and beginning of v 2: “She truly had mourned . . . . For she had supposed . . .”. This is the thing I find so challenging about life and enduring to the end: our tendency to suppose. We teach children that imagination is such a great thing. Why didn’t Sariah imagine good things about her sons? Did she inquire of the Lord?
But never mind Sariah’s actions—what about ours? I’m totally guilty of this same fault. We say, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” but why? I think that, as God’s children we really do hope for the best, so why do we prepare for the worst? I’m not saying we shouldn’t “be prepared,” but why for the worst? I mean, it seems excessively negative to think that way.Twice I’ve had the experience of seeing an animal hit by a car and both times the animal got up and ran off while I had absolutely freaked out. I pronounced the life dead when it wasn’t. For all I know, both animals have lived years of joyous animal existence since.
Why don’t I react like Larry when Phil Connors drove the truck over the cliff in Groundhog Day?
On the surface, Larry doesn’t care about Phil. So that’s something to be aware of: the more you care, the more vulnerable you are to supposition and fear.
Is it sin, or weakness, to be afraid? Those two things are not the same. In Sariah’s case, her anxiety led her to complain and make unfounded claims, “My sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness” (v 2). Who blames her for this? Haven’t we all been under stress and lengthy strain and then said wild things if for no other reason than to let off steam?
Lehi, on the other hand, had a different perspective. In v 4-5 we get his response: He knows the goodness of God. He knows God’s plan. If they’d stayed in Jerusalem they would all perish. “I know that the Lord will deliver my sons . . .”.
You may question whether or not his words would comfort you, but look at what Nephi says in v 6: “And after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah, concerning us . . .”. This is how Lehi comforted her—not tried to comfort her. Sariah was receptive.
The actual return of the sons relieved Sariah’s stress (weakness, not sin), finalized her comfort, and sealed her testimony: “Now I know of a surety . . .” (v 8). (Think of Ether 12:6, “. . . ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”)
Not much to my surprise, I did learn something today—something I wasn’t expecting, but had pondered from time to time in the past.
- Hope for the best. Be prepared for the best. Believe in the best.
- The more you care the more vulnerable you are to jumping over endurance and straight to conclusions.
- When you’re weak, be receptive to comfort.
I think that’s pretty beautiful.