Lehi’s dream opens with a depressing scene: a “dark and dreary wilderness” (1 Nephi 8:4). A heavenly messenger beckons him forward, and then for several hours he walks through “a dark and dreary waste” (1 Nephi 8:7-8).
The concept of a “dreary” wilderness must have resonated with some members of Lehi’s family, who had unfavorably compared their current living conditions with their former life in the city of Jerusalem (1 Nephi 2:11).
dreary – boring and making you feel unhappy (Cambridge Dictionary, UK definition)
No matter how busy we are, we all have moments of dreariness, moments where we are either waiting for the next activity or where we are engaged in something so tedious that our mind feels neglected. Under those circumstances, we naturally look for diversions: something to stimulate our minds, something to occupy our attention.
In the dream, Lehi eventually becomes restless and pleads with God to have mercy on him. In response, God allows him to see his surroundings: a “large and spacious field” and “a tree whose fruit [is] desirable to make one happy” (1 Nephi 8:10). Approaching the tree, Lehi tastes the fruit and finds that his soul is filled with joy. Then, he turns his attention to helping other people find the tree, beginning with his own family.
Lehi overcomes the dreariness of his wilderness by connecting with God and experiencing His light and His love.
Other people in the dream never emerge from the dreary wilderness. Instead, they “[wander] off and [are] lost” (1 Nephi 8:23).
Others overcome the dreariness in a problematic way. Crossing a river with much effort and at personal peril, they enter a “great and spacious building,” full of well-dressed people who are mocking the people at the tree. The connection between this building and the city of Jerusalem must have been clear to Lehi’s family, who had seen the citizens of that city mock the prophets, including their own father (1 Nephi 1:19-20).
This was a hollow remedy for the dreariness of the wilderness. The building was stimulating to be sure: lots of people, lots of glamour and excitement. But it wasn’t real. The city had no foundation. As Lehi’s son Nephi later saw, the building’s ultimate fate was to collapse in ruin (1 Nephi 11:36), just as Jerusalem was destined to be destroyed.
Today, I will resist the temptation to gravitate to superficial distractions. When my mind is under-occupied, I will seek for God’s help to fill my time with activities of substance and value.