Nephi was a real guy. He was a prophet, yes, but he was also a mortal, with weaknesses, strengths, challenges, the ups and downs of life, and purpose. Just like us.
Remember this situation? Nephi and his family have been through a lot already in the wilderness, having left their home, friends, and belongings. But Nephi has been faithful and has received the glorious vision of the Tree of Life, just like his father Lehi. Not only that, but since he asked, the Lord has shown him innumerable other things, including a vision of Christ’s life and death, the land of promise, the coming forth of latter-day scripture, and the end of the world. He has even engaged in real-life conversations with angels and the Spirit of the Lord. That sounds like a pretty amazing temple experience!
Imagine how he must have felt after all this overflowing revelation! I aspire to just having a “yes or no” question answered at the temple; he essentially saw the entire history of the world: past, present and future. Even so, we can liken the scriptures unto us by seeking for greater faith like Nephi and in finding comfort in the experiences that come next.
Nephi has had an outpouring of the Spirit and gained insights he never knew he needed. Then in 1 Nephi 15:1, he comes home. He “had been carried away in the spirit, and seen all these things, [and he] returned to the tent of [his] father.” In the very next verse, the trouble begins. Those brothers of his! They were “disputing one with another,” arguing about the vision their father had and basically just whining about how hard their lives are. Nephi returns to a tentful of chaos and contention.
Does his experience sound like yours sometimes? Too often, I come home from attending the temple or from an uplifting meeting (or even during a hopeful personal study session or family home evening lesson) and find that my family is in chaos and contention. I guess I expect that having been edified by the Spirit, my life should be easier, my relationships absolutely peaceful, and everything perfectly blessed and calm. No. No, it’s not. In fact, God promises that it won’t be: Ether 12:27 states, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.” So when we turn to the Lord, one of the great challenges/blessings is we discover all the things we need to work on to become more like our Savior! I repent and am enlightened…and then life sets in: the children argue or disobey, or I get stuck in traffic, or the sink overflows, or whatever–and my faith is immediately tried. Those very commandments I just resolved to follow are tested to the limits. Sometimes I lose my temper; other times I am able to restore order with peace and calm; occasionally I can laugh through it.
When I follow Nephi’s example, I’m most successful. He recognized his brothers’ hard and unfaithful hearts and was grieved. He even “was overcome because of [his] afflictions.” (See, it’s not just you and me! He was overwhelmed, too!) But then the scriptures teach that he “received strength.” (Sounds to me like he prayed and received the Holy Ghost.) He then asked to know what specific things the brothers were arguing about. He let them talk and he listened. Finally, he asked questions that led to discussion about gospel principles. Through this discussion, he was able to help them recognize their own spiritual deficiencies and teach them about numerous doctrines: faith, prayer, revelation, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, covenants, and was even able to share his own heavenly visions and interpretations with them. After a long dialogue (which may not have come at a super convenient time for Nephi), the brothers “did humble themselves before the Lord” (1 Nephi 16:5). It took a while, but at last—and at least for a while—they had returned to the iron rod and the path of righteousness.
This experience in the scriptures has motivated me to be more patient, but has also given me enormous relief: even great prophets have struggles with normal, everyday sort of conflict. God continually encourages each of us to grow and progress by giving us opportunities to learn. And Nephi’s life is a lot like mine. Not the specific details, of course, but so many of the ups and downs, the happy and sad, the good and bad, the dull and interesting, the easy and hard. It’s often the cycle of humility and pride, but also just normal life; C.S. Lewis calls it the “troughs and peaks” (The Screwtape Letters, ch.8). It’s the journey of experiencing mortal life, of learning to know the good from the evil. Life isn’t meant to be one smooth, unbroken elevator to heaven. It’s a wild ride, full of mountaintops as well as valleys. And both the ups and the downs provide opportunities for growth, joy, love, faith, charity, and compassion.
So strap on the “whole armour of God” (see Ephesians 6): hold tight to the shield of faith, gird yourself with truth and righteousness, grab that sword of the Spirit and word of God….and maybe the buckle of humor. Be prepared through prayer. These things make it possible to enjoy the ride, glory in the view, laugh through the upside-down loops, and be able to hold on through those uphill climbs. If we endure to the end, the entire ride will be worth it.