A few years ago, a good friend (and co-worker) of mine told me of a frequent occurrence related to meal time at their house; his son – who was age 10 at the time – would finish his plate of food, and immediately ask “dad, where’s the next food”? It didn’t matter if it was breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, helping 1 or 2, the question came…”dad, where’s the next food”? Apparently he was always on the lookout for the next food. However, over the years as my friend and I have laughed over this recurring story, I have wondered if the question is only partly based on physical hunger (legitimately asking “where is the next food” because I am still hungry), but also partly based on knowledge and planning (for his mental preparation and ease, he needed to know where the next food fit into his day, so that he didn’t get overly anxious about not knowing where the next food is). Maybe he just wanted to know the plan for ‘the next food’, or maybe just an assurance that there would indeed be a ‘next food’. The point is – he was always eagerly awaiting ‘the next food’, and he was not satisfied with being full – even in that moment.
Another story related to ‘the next food’ is one that we are all likely familiar with; it’s called a vacation. For me, 85% of the fun of vacationing is searching for, strategizing, planning, looking forward to, and then waiting for ‘the next food’. Even if you are in the act of consuming ‘the current food’ or so full from ‘the last food’ that you are ill. On vacation, we longingly ask the question “where’s the next food”? This is pretty much what Disneyland is right? At least for me it is. Walking from the churro cart to the pretzel stand, only to be distracted by the ice cream shop or the frozen slushies. This also happens to be a great activity to engage in while the children (or everyone else in the party minus the baby) are in line for 30-45 minutes. This is likely why it is called the happiest place on earth. Once, while vacationing with Colby and Catie a couple of years ago, we made it a goal to find the best fish tacos. This led to an exhaustive search of the entire local area, and by necessity a taste test at nearly every location. It didn’t matter if we were hungry or not, we were in constant search of ‘the next food’. This process naturally culminated with the four of us being seriously ill (nigh unto death) for most of the vacation and then at our final destination (our last meal before we left) we found the best fish tacos. They were delicious, and Colby made the perfect observation while we were forcing the food down; “just think of how good these tacos would be if we were actually hungry”! The point is – we were always eagerly looking forward to ‘the next food’, and we were not even close to satisfied with just being full. We wanted to be stuffed to the brim, and then start planning ‘the next food’.
Why is either of these stories important? I think the answer is in the process of always looking for what’s next and never thinking that you’ve made it. We should always ask the question, “where’s the next food”? Whether that’s a meal, whether it’s a certain job or responsibility in the church, whether it’s a task that we’ve been sent to earth to accomplish (no matter where we live), whether it’s a person we need to affect, whether it’s something we need to experience and learn, whether it’s a situation at work, or even if there seems to be a noticeable lack of clearly orchestrated situations, we need to ask the question “where’s the next food”? What can I learn from this situation or experience? Even if we are spiritually full, let’s seek out and look for ‘the next food’. Because after all, we don’t want to consider ourselves ‘satisfied’, lay on the couch, fall asleep, and then wake up 4 hours later with a rumbling stomach and no idea where ‘the next food’ is or where it will come from.
There are many stories of ‘journeys’ captured in the scriptures. Journeys (by necessity) include tribulation, trials, murmurings, afflictions, struggles, successes, sickness, death, and every other possible thing. That’s what makes them interesting right? Yes. But one important element of a journey is that sometimes the participants of these journeys think (or thought) that they were done ‘journeying’ (the point where they felt ‘satisfied’ or even ‘stuffed full’ of food), and thought “yes, we made it. I can stop looking for the next food because here it is in abundance”.
For example, in 1 Ne. 17, Nephi picks up with yet another journal entry in verse 1; “And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness”… this is like the 86th time since leaving Jerusalem that they’ve stopped and rested, only to pick up and leave again. He then starts listing all the fun they’ve had along the way (he cites much affliction, women bearing children, raw meat, murmurings, etc. along with many of the blessings they’d seen) then he gives us a fact check in verse 4: “And we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness”. Eight years. Eight. When Lehi told them that they were leaving Jerusalem to find the promised land, I’m not sure any of them had eight years in mind. I bet they were pretty tired of looking and searching for ‘the next food’. In verses 6-7 they arrive in what they called ‘Bountiful’ because of its much fruit and wild honey, and other things which were prepared that they might not perish (not to mention it’s on a beach). My guess is that they all looked around (at the much fruit, honey, beachfront property, lack of murderous colleagues, etc.) and thought; “Okay, I can do this place. We made it. We can stop searching for the promised land because we are here. I guess dad wasn’t totally crazy. This place is for sure the promised land, so the journey is over. No more looking for ‘the next food’.
Another example is found in Ether, where we find the Jaredite party on a journey from the great tower to their own promised land. They have a remarkably similar story (journey through lands ‘where man had never been’ likely filled with many afflictions, struggles, successes, etc.) through the wilderness until they reached the seashore. It may be that they had the very same thoughts as Nephi and Lehi’s party (we made it). So, they pitched their tents and they dwelt there upon the seashore (Ether 2:13).
In each of these two examples (and logically in all of our indivudial and familial journeys through the wilderness, which is code for our lives here in mortality), there is a theme of continual and repetitive movement, progress, struggles, blessings, trials, murmurings, etc. with the overall goal to arrive at the promised land. Its something they are continually seeking, looking for, being led to, and hoping for, but if and when we think we have made it (when we stop asking where’s the next food), that’s when the Lord needs to jolt us out of a rut and remind us that we haven’t quite made it yet, because somehow it’s always just over the next ridge or just past that river on the horizon. It might also be a part of the journey to ask ‘are we there yet’? 495 times to which the short answer ‘no’ is given…. all along the way (but that’s a post for another day).
In Nephi’s case (1 Ne. 17:7-8), it was after many days that the voice of the Lord came to him…and basically said “you may think that you’ve made it, and I know 8 years seems like quite a long time to wander, but I actually want you to build a boat and cross the sea, any questions?” To Nephi’s credit, and as a fantastic example of obedience he said (again), “I will go and do, but where should I go to find ore to make some tools”? (vs. 9).
In the case of the Jaredite party, there is an interesting difference in the Lords presentation of ‘the next food’ to the brother of Jared.1 In Ether 2:14 we read that (4 years after the Jaredites had arrived at the seashore) ‘the Lord came to the brother of Jared and for the space of three hours did talk with him and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord’. Three hours of chastisement is bad enough, but three hours of chastisement directly from the Lord probably felt longer to Mahonri than the 8 years that Lehi and Nephi wandered through the wilderness. The phrase ‘no longer called upon the name of the Lord’ seems a lot like ‘stopped looking or asking about the next food’ to me. I think that 4-year period of seashore lounging might have started to look like a permanent vacation to the Jaradites, and they might not have wanted ‘the next food’, because they were satisfied with the food that they already had (and that they’d already spent enough time ‘looking for more food’). This might have had something to do with them ‘not calling upon the Lord’. I would guess that during that three hour chastising party the Lord let Mahonri know that he hadn’t quite arrived at the real promised land. He might have also mentioned that 4 years is a long time to not ask ‘where’s the next food’? This thought is strengthened by the Lords direction in verse 16, which says “Go to work”….2
For each of us and our mortal journeys the Lord will continually provide us with ‘the next food’ – especially if we are looking for it and asking for it. Sometimes ‘the next food’ is disguised as a tricky situation at work that can teach us patience or give us an opportunity to show love to someone who really needs it. Sometimes ‘the next food’ is dressed up as a more than difficult home teaching assignment or partner. Sometimes ‘the next food’ is an absolute shower of blessings that overcome you and fill you right up. Sometimes ‘the next food’ is a tender mercy that could be considered a quick snack or power bar for the hill that you may or may not know you need to climb right around the corner. Sometimes ‘the next food’ looks exactly like ‘the last food’, which you threw in the trash (didn’t eat) because you hate broccoli. Sometimes ‘the next food’ doesn’t look like what you ordered at all…. and in a huff you flag down the waiter and say “excuse me garcon, I ordered the filet mignon with mashed potatoes, and this looks like sautéed mushrooms and asparagus…. I think there has been some mistake”3, and the waiter looks at you with some pity, some humor, and much understanding and says “sir, this is the chef’s special prepared just for you, I think that you’ll find it most enjoyable…. if you’ll try it.4 Then, after you’ve completed this course, he will prepare for you the house special, a dish that the chef calls ‘the next food”.
1 Even though Nephi’s guidance (to build a ship) was ‘after many days’, it appears that these ‘many days’ were considered a typical period of rest for their party, because there was no chastisement from the Lord indicated in the record, nor did it appear that Nephi had ‘failed to call upon the Lord’ during those ‘many days’.
2 This story (the brother of Jared’s chastisement) has a very successful ending, as we all know. Shortly after this mega chastisement, the Lord shows himself to the brother of Jared in one of the most amazing scripture stories that we have – ever. The veil is completely removed, faith is done away with, and the Lord ‘could not withhold anything from him’ and the brother of Jared sees everything that had been, and all that would be (Ether 3:25-26). Sounds pretty awesome to me. It would also appear that the 3-hour chastisement was effective to bring the brother of Jared down to the depths of humility – which unlocked some serious power (see Ether 12:27 and 2 Cor. 12:9-10 for a review of how weakness is strength), and we’ve already covered here how failure is a necessary ingredient for success. All of this indicates Mahonri’s humility, understanding, and action – because he listened when the Lord said ‘Go to work’, which is what all of us should do when we’ve been chastened. Listen, understand, (and as Casey put it so well here), ponder, and then go to work. Don’t forget the secret ingredient.
3 This idea (‘the next food’ being the same ‘food’ we’ve seen time and time again, but have repeatedly thrown away or discounted for whatever reason) or not being ‘served’ what we think we’ve ordered is cause for thought (and serious pondering) because the Lord does not make mistakes, and there is most definitely a plan and purpose to each serving of ‘the next food’. If I am continually being served ‘food’ that I don’t want, don’t try, or turn away, I may have some questions to answer – especially when we are brought face to face with ‘the chef’ attempting to explain why we didn’t try the ‘food’ that he prepared especially for us.
4 As you grew up, your parents serve you vegetables right? Yes. No kid really likes broccoli and asparagus, but they are healthy and the parents understand that even though it may not be pleasant, they do your body a service and provide valuable nutrition, and this is why they serve them to kids. Miraculously, the child grows up and learns to love asparagus and broccoli, and cannot fathom a time when this was not so, potentially losing sleep over the many times in past years that they’ve thrown delicious asparagus right into the trash can (with joy). What a horrible thought.