I have been thinking a lot lately about Nephi AND about Laman and Lemuel, specifically about which of them I most resemble! When we initially opened our mission call about 7 weeks ago, the letter said we would go to Florida but it said nothing about working in the Mandarin-speaking Branch in Orlando. But the following morning, Brother Hoke showed me a list from the Missionary Department of things for us to do before we begin our mission.
The first thing on this to do list was to “learn Mandarin.” It didn’t say to listen to some Mandarin, familiarize yourself with Mandarin, but to LEARN it! Over the past six weeks I have thought and wondered and worried about pre-mission task #1 to “learn Mandarin” and frankly have felt a bit worried and discouraged about it.
For Brother Hoke, working in a Mandarin Branch is GREAT news because, when he was younger, he served a mission in Taiwan, so he is used to the language and the culture, and it is all very familiar to him…he’s rusty, of course, but familiar. I also served a mission when I was young. I went to France and Switzerland where we spoke French, of course, and am absolutely certain that the gift of tongues was working for me at that time. When I returned home from my mission, I completed a master’s degree in French language and literature and have had the opportunity to teach French for many years at Texas Tech. But the mission call letter didn’t mention French at all.
Although I already know that I have the capacity to learn another language, I worried and fretted for many days—Mandarin is not French. I have begun working with a tutor from the Missionary Training Center; if I may report on my progress, I am still working on sounds—not words but sounds. With all that there is to do to prepare to go, since we are selling our house, learning Mandarin was beginning to seem like a daunting task, and after a couple of weeks, that is when Nephi and Laman and Lemuel came to mind.
When Lehi sent his sons back to Jerusalem to get the records of the Jews and the genealogy of his forefathers that Laban had, Lehi told Nephi
“…behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them” (1 Nephi 3:5).
Honestly, I have been more on team Laman & Lemuel
because “it is a hard thing that the Missionary Department has required of me” to learn Mandarin because I’m not young; my mind isn’t as nimble as it once was.
But dear Lehi pointed out that the task to get the records/or for me to learn Mandarin, isn’t a commandment from the Missionary Department; as Lehi tells Nephi,
“but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord” (1 Nephi 3:5).
In contrast to Laman and Lemuel, Nephi responds with faith, hope and trust:
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the things which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7).
That was a seminal moment for me; I don’t have the precocious memory I once had, but the Lord didn’t ask about the quality of my memory or my recall. It simply says that He shall prepare a way.
I’m sure you remember this quote by Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
“God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, he will increase our capability” (“It’s Service, Not Status, That Counts,” Ensign July 1975).
How do we “prove our dependability?”
By doing, by trying, by studying, by prayer and by faith in Him that He will make us equal to the task ahead of us. Then, He who created worlds without number, He who is all-knowing and all-powerful, who knows the beginning from the end, who can speak any language imaginable, can and will increase our abilities to serve and do.
I truly believe that; I’ve seen His work in my own life. You have too—you [my ward family] have waited and sometimes suffered as I have tried over the years to learn to play the organ in a way that is uplifting and edifying to you and worshipful of our Heavenly Father and our Savior. Many times He has made me equal to the task when I absolutely know that my own abilities were not sufficient on their own!
I suppose that learning Mandarin, or learning a hymn, or teaching a lesson, or leading in the Activity Days program are all callings where the Lord will use us to accomplish His work if we are willing to go and do the things He commands.
President Thomas S. Monson said, “Whom the Lord calls, He qualifies” (“Duty Calls,” Ensign, May 1996).
That should be good enough for me.
Nephi also teaches Laman and Lemuel (us, that is) another important aspect of receiving help from the Lord. Over the course of the experience with getting the records from Laban, I noticed that dear Nephi spends much of his time encouraging and buoying up his brothers because they lose their faith and their drive quickly!
When Laman, Lemuel and Nephi go back to Jerusalem, their first plan is for Laman to go to Laban and ask him for the records. That doesn’t work, and, after their first unsuccessful try, the brothers “began to be exceedingly sorrowful” (1 Nephi 3:14) and Laman and Lemuel wanted to go back to their family in the wilderness.
How easy it is, after one unsuccessful try, to be “exceedingly sorrowful,” to give up because a particular task is difficult! How many pianists or math students or artists…or Mandarin students have given up because their work isn’t magnificent or their progress is slow and hard-fought?
Faithfully Keeping the Commandments of the Lord
With Laman and Lemuel ready to quit, Nephi’s response is very interesting.
“[W]e will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing with the Lord hath commanded us. Wherefore, let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; therefore let us go down to the land of our father’s inheritance” (1 Nephi 3:15-16).
I see that Nephi didn’t say that he had a really good plan for them to get the plates; in fact, the next try didn’t produce the needed result either. But Nephi demonstrated that he understood the ways of Heaven, and how it is that we can access the Lord’s help. When we keep the commandments, we are in a position to receive the Lord’s power and influence.
Nephi didn’t know how they would get the plates, I don’t know how I am ever going to learn Mandarin either, but he did know that accessing the powers of Heaven would require obedience on his part. Keeping the commandments helps us to be worthy to receive the Lord’s help.
As we know, after unsuccessful try number two, Laman and Lemuel confronted Nephi and Sam and “did speak many hard words unto […] their younger brothers, and they did smite us even with a rod” (1 Nephi 3:28).
It took the intervention of an angel to stop the abuse and to free Nephi; however, after the angel left, Laman and Lemuel began to complain and throw out “what if” scenarios seemingly instantaneously—such as “how is it that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Laban is a mighty man,” and on and on (1 Nephi 3:31).
That’s another way in which I am sometimes more like Laman and Lemuel than I am like Nephi!
Be Strong and Remember
Nephi counters these questions by encouraging his brothers to be “strong like unto Moses” (1 Nephi 4:2) and to remember—a common admonition in the Book of Morman—what they already know about God and about the way He works, about how the Lord delivered the children of Israel out of bondage to the Egyptians, and how He used the efforts of an imperfect Moses, but Moses showed strength and devotion and a willingness to trust the Lord.
I love Nephi’s description:
“[B]ehold ye know that this is true, and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 4:3).
I would have thought that seeing an angel would be something of which Laman and Lemuel wouldn’t need reminding. But, realizing that my tendencies run more along the path of Laman and Lemuel’s path, I think it is a good thing to be aware that seeing an angel isn’t enough to solidify a testimony!
In my baby steps effort to learn Mandarin sounds, it is easy to become discouraged and frustrated and to lose my faith in this process. I have had various experiences that have changed my perspective and faith in the Lord, but, in this instance, I continue to stumble.
I guess the cure is to do what Nephi does: he reminds his brothers of moments when the Lord has worked in their lives, when the Lord reaches down with his finger and touches an imperfect person who needs help. I know that the Lord has done that for me; my task is to remember what I have known and what I have felt.
“Cast no away your confidence”
The more that we can see ourselves in the scriptures, the wiser we become; the more realistic and honest about our tendencies to forget rather than remember the moments when the Lord has reached out and helped us, the more I am aware of other such moments.
As Paul wrote to the Hebrews,
“Cast not away your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise…” (Hebrews 10:35-36).
I don’t know what success looks like for my learning Mandarin, but I am more desirous to be like Nephi, rather than like Laman & Lemuel, to be faithful and hopeful, and know that since the Lord has asked me to learn Mandarin, He will help me and make me equal to the task.