The Book of Mormon begins with a family. Not a blissful, idyllic family, but a troubled one. A family with sibling rivalry, parent-child discord, and even marital conflict. In other words, a real family.
With God’s help, this family achieved miraculous things: they escaped certain destruction in Jerusalem, traveled through the wilderness and across the sea, and established a new civilization in a promised land. But along the way, relationships were strained, and family members were scarred by endless conflict. In the end, the family split into two groups which became rival nations.
Today, I’ve been pondering the relationships in Lehi and Sariah’s family. Here’s what I’ve learned:
The oldest brothers in the family, Laman and Lemuel, treated their younger brother Nephi very badly. Like the sons of Israel many years earlier, who had sold their younger brother Joseph into slavery, Laman and Lemuel resented Nephi because he seemed to be their father’s favorite and because he shared spiritual experiences which suggested that the Lord also favored him over them.
In response, they refused to listen to him (1 Nephi 2:18). When they became angry, they beat him with a rod (1 Nephi 3:28). On one occasion, they tied him up and threatened to leave him to die in the wilderness (1 Nephi 7:16).
Nephi tells us that, once he had escaped danger, he “did frankly forgive them” (1 Nephi 7:21). This is important because grudges, grievances, and resentments are deadly to relationships. We all need forgiveness and we all need to forgive, because we all make mistakes which damage our relationships with one another, and for which forgiveness is the only remedy.
Nephi struggled to engage his brothers in the assignments they received from God. Early in their journey, the Lord promised Nephi that the family would prosper if they collectively kept His commandments, and that he would be a ruler and a teacher if he personally kept the commandments (1 Nephi 2:20, 22). He became a leader almost immediately, entering the city of Jerusalem alone when his brothers gave up on retrieving the brass plates. He tried to involve them in his work, but if they refused to join him, he was willing to work alone (1 Nephi 4:5-6).
I will also choose to forgive others and will strive to set a good example whether or not others are willing to follow.
Husband and Wife
When their sons did not return from their journey to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates, Sariah feared the worst. She knew how dangerous the city was, and she may have known how merciless Laban, the keeper of the plates, could be. She voiced her fears in the language of accusation, calling her husband a visionary man, who had led the family into the wilderness to die (1 Nephi 5:2).
Nephi tells us that Lehi comforted Sariah by saying, “I have obtained a land of promise” and “I know that the Lord will deliver my sons” (1 Nephi 5:5). He did not minimize or disparage her feelings, and he didn’t react defensively to her accusations.
I will also listen to my wife, even when her words are difficult to hear. I will speak words of comfort and encouragement to her.
Parents and Children
Laman and Lemuel were also unhappy with their father. They also called him a “visionary man” and said that he had led him from their home “because of the foolish imaginations of his heart” (1 Nephi 2:11).
Lehi tried multiple approaches to teach and persuade them, but only achieved temporary success. He named landmarks after them and connected those landmarks to positive qualities he wanted them to develop (1 Nephi 2:8-10). He taught them directly by the power of the Spirit, “until their frames did shake before him” (1 Nephi 2:14). He continued to give them assignments in spite of their complaining, including sending them back to retrieve the brass plates (1 Nephi 3:5). He kept trying. He never gave up on his children.
I will also continue to influence and teach my children, using a variety of approaches. I will continue to have confidence in them and hope for the future, even when they disappoint me.
No family is perfect. I’m grateful for Lehi and Sariah, “goodly parents” (1 Nephi 1:1) who struggled with an imperfect family but who kept working, healing relationships, and influencing other family members for good.