17 For behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people–
18 Wherefore, with the help of these, king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.
It can be hard work to be a leader or a teacher, especially when the people you are responsible for don’t have deep commitment and don’t respond well to subtle suggestions. Enos said that nothing short of “exceeding harshness…continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God” was necessary to keep the Nephites from making the choices that would destroy them (Enos 1:23). It sounds like several generations of leaders and teachers wore themselves out trying to help this group of people who were unwilling or unable to keep themselves on the strait and narrow path. How was that sustainable? Were those teachers fighting a battle they were bound to lose?
Fast forward a few chapters. Benjamin is about to have a spiritual experience with these people which will change their hearts forever. After hearing his words, they will testify that they have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). They will be willing to enter a covenant to be obedient to God in all things for the rest of their lives.
The message I take is this: don’t give up. It may be frustrating. It may seem like you are doing all the work and your students will never be truly independent. But don’t stop trying. Never underestimate the power of the atonement to change the hearts of those you lead. Don’t give up on them.
In my own teaching and leadership roles, especially as a father, I will strive to emulate the long-suffering efforts of these priests and teachers, believing that those I lead can be converted and can become more spiritually self-sufficient.