Why Were Laman and Lemuel Unable to Overcome Their Negativity?

It was difficult for Lehi and Sariah to lead their family from their comfortable home in  Jerusalem to an undefined destination. Their two oldest sons, Laman and Lemuel, didn’t make it any easier. According to their younger brother, Nephi:

They did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart (1 Nephi 2:11).

They made the same journey as the rest of the family, but they did so resentfully and reluctantly. By their own admission, they were unhappy (1 Nephi 17:21). Why were they unable to overcome their negative thought patterns? Here are six reasons:

Reason #1: Their perspective was limited.

Nephi tells us that Laman and Lemuel complained about leaving Jerusalem “because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them” (1 Nephi 2:12). In contrast, Nephi was focused on seeing the big picture. He had “great desires to know of the mysteries of God,” so he prayed. In response, God softened his heart and taught him concepts and principles which helped him put his current suffering into perspective (1 Nephi 2:16-17).

Reason #2: They focused on negative potential outcomes.

In Nephi’s account, Laman and Lemuel consistently focused on what they had given up and spoke of the future in pessimistic terms. Immediately after seeing an angel, they revert to catastrophizing: “How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?” (1 Nephi 3:31). Nephi tried to overcome their negativity by reminding them of evidence that God could perform miracles: He parted the Red Sea so that Moses and the children of Israel could escape from the Egyptians. If He could do that, surely He can deliver us. You have seen an angel. If He can send an angel, why can’t He help us accomplish this mission? (1 Nephi 4:1-3) The reasoning was enough to get them reluctantly back to the walls of Jerusalem, but Nephi himself had to enter the city and retrieve the brass plates.

Reason #3: They complained a lot.

Some form of the word “murmur” appears 33 times in the Book of Mormon. 24 of those instances are in the books of 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi, and most of those relate to Laman and Lemuel. They complained when they had to leave Jerusalem. They complained when they had to go back to acquire the brass plates. They complained when Nephi broke his bow and again when he asked them to help him build a ship. Above all, they complained when their father or their brother told them things they didn’t want to hear.

It is wise to recognize and acknowledge the real challenges we face. But persistently verbalizing negative thoughts, particularly speculative negative thoughts about the future, can perpetuate and strengthen those thoughts. Laman and Lemuel would have been wise to reduce the negative statements they were making and make their communication more balanced and fair.

Reason #4: They blamed other people.

Even though they chose to travel with the family, Laman and Lemuel still blamed their father for the difficulties they faced:

He hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years…. And our father hath judged [the people of Jerusalem], and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words, and our brother is like unto him” (1 Nephi 17:22).

They even accused their brother of brainwashing them, “[working] many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes” (1 Nephi 16:38).

By blaming other people for their unhappiness, they failed to take responsibility for their own reaction to their circumstances and to identify the actions they could take to make the best of their situation. They became victims instead of agents. No wonder their father admonished them at the end of his life to wake up, arise from the dust, and to begin to act for themselves instead of being acted upon (2 Nephi 1:22, 2 Nephi 2:26-29).

Reason #5: They didn’t receive feedback well.

When Nephi explained to them some things their father had taught them, Laman and Lemuel responded, “Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.” Nephi explained their difficulty:

The guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.
And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us (1 Nephi 16:2-3).

Lehi later explained to them that, when they thought Nephi was angry, they were actually projecting their own unpleasant feelings onto him:

Ye say that he hath used sharpness; ye say that he hath been angry with you; but behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God, which was in him; and that which ye call anger was the truth, according to that which is in God, which he could not restrain, manifesting boldly concerning your iniquities (2 Nephi 1:26).

Reason #6: When they did repent, they slipped back into their prior thought patterns quickly.

After Nephi shocked his brothers by the power of God, they were convinced:

We know of a surety that the Lord is with thee, for we know that it is the power of the Lord that has shaken us (1 Nephi 17:55).

They were about to worship him, but he told them to worship God instead and to honor their parents.

Shortly after, as they traveled on a ship across the ocean, Laman and Lemuel began to behave badly. When Nephi tried to correct them, they said, “We will not that our younger brother shall be a ruler over us” (1 Nephi 18:10), and they bound him with ropes. How quickly they forgot their stated intention to follow God and to respect their younger brother!

Today, I will avoid the mistakes of Laman and Lemuel. I will view difficulties with an eternal perspective, with a hope for successful outcomes, and with confidence that God can help me. I will avoid complaining, blaming, and reacting defensively to criticism. I will take responsibility for my own response to the situations I face.

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