They Took Their Course Northward – Alma 63:5-9

5 And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.
6 And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward. And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.
7 And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward.
8 And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not.
9 And it came to pass that in this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward. And thus ended the thirty and eighth year.
(Alma 63:5-9)

Immediately after the great war between the Nephites and the Lamanites, there was a period of economic expansion. One feature of that period, as Mormon highlights in the passage above, was a pioneering spirit among the Nephites. The danger had passed; they no longer had to worry about their safety and their freedom, and now they turned their attention to making their lives better.

Mormon described Hagoth as “an exceedingly curious man.” I suppose that could either mean “eager to learn new things” or “strange.” Perhaps he was a little of both. Either way, he pushed the boundaries of what was possible, and his vision inspired many people to enter ships and travel to new lands.

Unlike the other journeys in the Book of Mormon, we don’t travel with the journeyers in this case. We know that at least one group arrived at their destination, because the ship returned. As for the second ship, the second sailing of the first ship, and the “other ships” built by Hagoth, we don’t know their fate.

This passage brings a number of thoughts into my mind. We shouldn’t enter into new journeys lightly, since they always bring risks. Nevertheless, if we just stay where we are, we will never know what we might have accomplished had we been willing to stretch ourselves. After reading Mormon’s account above, I wish that we could follow these adventuresome Nephites on their journey across the sea. What did they encounter along the way? Did they find what they were looking for? Were they glad in the end that they had taken this journey? We don’t know, because we read the experience from the perspective of the people who chose not to take the journey.

One of the characteristics of agency is that it is restrictive: every decision we make precludes other decisions which we might have made. This is what economists refer to as the “opportunity cost.” I think it’s also the message of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” We might wish we could take both roads, and we will never know what might have happened if we had taken a different path, but we must make our choice and move forward.

It’s important to remember that a decision to do nothing is itself a decision. I’m reminded of the counsel given by Elder Richard G. Scott to a young man who was not taking the journeys he might have been taking in life:

Recently I met an intelligent young man with great potential. He was undecided about a mission. He has decided not to attend a university now. In his free time he only does what he likes to do. He doesn’t work because he doesn’t have to, and it would take time from pleasure. He passed seminary classes without much thought of personally applying the knowledge gained. I noted: “You are making choices today that appear to give you what you want: an easy life, abundant enjoyment, and not much sacrifice. You can do that for a while, yet every decision you make narrows your future. You are eliminating possibilities and options. There will come a time, and it won’t be too distant, where you are going to spend the rest of your life doing things you don’t want to do, in places you don’t want to be, because you have not prepared yourself. You are not taking advantage of your opportunities” (“First Things First,” General Conference, April 2001).

This also reminds me of the advice given by President Russell M. Nelson to a young man who aspired to become a heart surgeon:

I remember a conversation many years ago with a very bright 16-year-old high school student. He was uncertain about his religious commitment and undecided about his career. He wondered about the possibility of becoming a doctor of medicine. He asked me a simple question: “How many years did it take for you to become a heart surgeon?”
I quickly made the calculations: “From the time I graduated from high school until I first collected a fee for service as a surgeon, it took me 14 years.”
“Wow!” he replied. “That’s too long for me!”
Then I asked, “How old will you be 14 years from now if you don’t become a heart surgeon?”
“Just the same,” he replied. “Just the same!” (“Youth of the Noble Birthright: What Will You Choose?” CES Devotional for Young Adults, September 6, 2013).

Today, I will follow the example of the Nephites above who “took their course northward.” I will not hold myself back from pursuing new opportunities. I will acknowledge the risks involved in any new venture, but I will also, as Elder Scott and President Nelson counseled, recognize the risks of inaction in terms of lost opportunities and reduced freedom. Today, I will pursue my journeys with courage, diligence, and faith.

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