The Book of Mormon begins with Nephi, the son of the prophet Lehi, recording the story of his family fleeing the wickedness of Jerusalem. Throughout the record, Nephi appears to be perfect. When his brothers express doubt, he boldly reminds them of the power of the Lord and the miracles that have been done in the past. When his parents lose hope and murmur, Nephi is the one who restores the proper order of things. Angles swoop in to protect Nephi when his brothers harm him. It seems like Nephi can do no wrong. He never gets discouraged. And nothing can stop him.
The image that Nephi paints of himself is one that I can look up to and aspire to be like, but not one to which I can easily relate. Nephi doesn’t seem like anyone I know.
But then something happens. Nephi’s father dies. Suddenly he has much more responsibility and the mantel of authority rests firmly on his shoulders. His brothers immediately begin to murmur again. Up to this point, whenever his brothers murmured, Nephi seemed thrilled to chastise them and teach them about the Lord. But now it is his duty. He says he felt “constrained” to talk to them about the things of the Lord (2 Nephi 4:14). The other time when he said he was “constrained” was when he didn’t want to kill Laban, but the Spirit commanded him to. It seems like Nephi was feeling the burdens of his new calling, and I imagine he was grieving because of the loss of his father. Of all the trials and tribulations that Nephi had experiences, I believe this time was the most stressful and difficult for him.
Why do I believe that? Because his normally optimistic and faithful writings take a turn into something else. Suddenly we see a side of Nephi that we didn’t know existed.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. (2 Nephi 4:17-19)
Okay, I know how this makes me sound, but I joy in Nephi’s agony. Is it a sick form of schadenfreude? I don’t think so. I’d rather believe that I can finally relate to Nephi. Instantly I can relate to his feelings.
Allow me to express in my own words the feelings that I share with Nephi, following his train of thought:
Why do I do what I do, when I know what I know? God has helped me throughout my life. He’s been there for me whenever I needed Him. And yet, I am a sinner. I am ashamed of myself and my heart aches because I am weak and fall to temptation.
My sins are a strait jacket that keeps me bound while I thrash around and fight against it. I am helpless… powerless against the temptations that are all around me.
When the Spirit fills me and I start to feel the warm light of God shining upon my face, when I thrill at the joyous events of life and the beauty around me, I remember my sins and I groan in agony and withdraw back into darkness where I feel like I belong.
And yet, I know my trust is in God. I know He has protected me and guided me each day of my life.
I feel like Nephi understands me. It’s like he peered into my heart and mind and wrote down what he saw. And then he builds my faith and encourages me to do better with his words that follow:
O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!
O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I asknot amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rockof my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. (2 Nephi 4: 26-35)
Like Nephi, I am encompassed about by my sins. But I have hope in my God, and I know that the atonement of Jesus Christ is my hope. I trust in Him.