Because Nephi is awesome (all around full fledged awesome) – and because he teaches us such amazing lessons in his writings – I am going to write (again) about some of the things he teaches us. But in this particular case (this blog post) I am also going to thank his older and murmur-ier brothers for providing Nephi (and us, since Nephi recorded it for us) with excellent insight into “things as they really are”.
In 1 Ne. 17:8 the Lord tells Nephi “thou shalt construct a ship”, for the express purpose of taking his entire family (his parents, the whole family of Ishmael, his other siblings and their spouses and children, Zoram and his family, and his own wife and children) across the Sea Irreantum (a.k.a. “many waters” a.k.a “the ocean”). He’d never done that before, and in all reality, building a giant boat to cross the ocean was pretty much crazy. Not crazy in a cuckoo or mental sort of way, but crazy in a “that is a crazy huge task” sort of way.
Nevertheless, Nephi gets started on this task right away (without a complaint). He starts by making a fire, and then finding ore so that he can then melt that ore out of the rock so that he can make tools – all before he even starts on the lumber or the actual boat. Did I mention this was a crazy huge task? And sometimes we complain about our home teaching assignment…
At this point – while Nephi is laying the groundwork, and “preparing every needful thing” for this crazy task, he asks his older brothers for some help – or as Nephi terms it “labor”. They, in true form, “did complain against [Nephi] and were desirous that they might not labor.” I could very well side with Laman and Lemuel on this one, since I don’t know that I would necessarily enjoy “laboring” to build a boat either, but I don’t think that was the reason for their complaining. Nephi records that the reason they wanted to withhold their labor was because “they did not believe that he could build a ship, neither would they believe that he was instructed of the Lord” to do so. They didn’t want to help Nephi because they thought he was completely nuts. They’d already been dragged for 8 years through the wilderness and were tired of all this “journeying”. They were completely fine with the idea of staying on the beach where there was plenty of food and comfortable lounging.
This answer (no) makes Nephi “exceedingly sorrowful” It is important to note that he is not saddened because they don’t want to help, but because of the reasons why they don’t want to help. He is sorrowful because they don’t see the vision and feel the motivation and want to be obedient to the Lord and have the spirit guide them; not because he ever doubted his own ability or confidence in actually building a boat (even if he would have had to do it mostly on his own).
When Laman and Lemuel “saw that [Nephi] began to be sorrowful they were glad in their hearts, (obviously not understanding the real source of his sadness) insomuch that they did rejoice over [him] saying: ‘We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment, wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work.’”
Nephi recorded that solid gold for us as his readers. Laman and Lemuel are more than happy to tell Nephi what he can’t do and how foolish he is for ever thinking that he could “accomplish so great a work.” How’s that for supportive brothers?1
Let’s pause here to recognize why that comment (thou canst not accomplish so great a work) is false. It is false because it is not true (write that one down). This is one of the tools of the adversary and is often repeated by those who comfortable lounging on the beach while commenting to each other about how foolish other people are. They make these statements because he [they] don’t like it when somebody tells them they should start helping with the boat construction so that they can sail towards the promised land (code for living the right way or honestly trying to – even if it means undertaking monster changes in their lives) or when they just see you working on a great task without even asking them for help. I bet just watching Nephi get up early every day, study and pray and work hard to map out and plan to build the Titanic probably made them feel feel uncomfortable in their shade tent (this may have even been helped by others in the party who were more than willing to help). People working hard to accomplish great things makes them feel bad, it makes them feel angry and perhaps even a bit guilty. So, they start to tell other people (and anyone else that will listen) that they can’t do such great things or that they are foolish for even trying.
So, naturally, Laman and Lemuel go to the all to familiar “you are crazy” insults. They declare: “thou art like our father (and the other silly prophets), led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart”…Behold, these many years (8) 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.” They (and others like them) are perfectly happy in their comfort zone and not building boats or accomplishing great works.
So, on the one hand we have Laman and Lemuel (code for the adversary) telling us that we “canst not accomplish so great a work” and on the other hand we have the Lord commanding us to do so – and to do that great task as perfectly as we possibly can (remember when he told us be charitable and kind and everything else, and as if it weren’t enough he then he also said “be ye therefore perfect”)? He also tells us that we can “do all things through Christ which strenghteneth [us]” (Philippians 4:13). I’m pretty sure the word ‘all’ includes big, great, and even crazy huge.
One side says you can’t, the other side says you can.
The bad guys claim that we are led about by the “foolish imaginations” of our hearts. But, I think we can remember that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:24), and that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” (1 Cor. 1:27) and take their claims of our great “foolishness” as a tender compliment and say “guilty as charged”, and oh my how my heart burns for that foolishness. So thank you Laman and Lemuel for recognizing my weakness and foolishness in your eyes, it proves that I am on the right path.
1 I wish I could say that I’ve never acted like this with my brothers, but I have so I can’t. I have been all to eager to tell my brother what he could not (or should not) do.