What is the real difference between Nephi and his brothers Laman and Lemuel? We could also ask, what is the difference between someone who is happy in a church and someone who is not. When these stories are taught there is an emphasis on obedience and cheerful work without murmuring. Perhaps I am prone to disobedience and complaining, but I do not find these lessons encouraging for myself. I am too often a Laman. One of the most frequent admonitions I remember from my mother is, “no whining.” But is whining what really makes Laman and Lemuel the epitome of all that is wicked and evil?
After their father, Lehi, was told by the Lord to leave Jerusalem because it was going to be destroyed, he prepared his family to go into the wilderness. The entire family obeyed and went. Laman and Lemuel, the oldest sons, complained and criticized their father. Nephi says they did this because “they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” Nephi describes his own reaction to his father’s demands as such:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.1 Ne 2:16
While I don’t know why Nephi feels it important to tell us of his large stature (my best guess is that he’s a teenager), I do love his description of his first recorded revelation. He was young and had a desire to know. I too found it a lot easier to receive revelation when I was younger. My desires to learn and my simple curiosities were just that—simple. Now they are easily clouded with confusion, conflicting desires and thoughts, even my own pride and wish to be right. Nephi is not describing anything grand either. Later, he will receive visions, ministering angels, and huge assignments from the Lord. But here, this first one he tells us about was just a softening, a heartfelt belief. It sounds so small, yet this is what stopped his own murmuring and rebellion.
We don’t know about Laman and Lemuel’s history with personal revelation. Did they have some when they were young and then doubt them when they got older? Did they try but never get an answer? I have experienced both of these and can testify that they do lead to extreme frustration. Revelation is not always simple. As a scientist, I like things that follow a protocol and are repeatable. If it can’t be repeated by another person, then it’s not valid or the interpretation is incorrect. If I can’t repeat an experiment or a procedure, I will keep trying, looking for things I might be doing wrong, blaming myself or my own lack of skill. Until, I’m so sick of blaming myself that I either give up entirely or lash out at the original procedure. It is so easy for me to see myself in Laman and Lemuel.
In my quest to please my mother and stop whining, I have thought about the importance of personal revelation. To me it is the difference between being forced to do something by an outside force and choosing to do something with your own power and your own motivations. It is always worth it to take some time and consider why you do or do not want to do a particular thing or what your goal is from a particular project regardless of the stated goals of other people.
My church has a rich history of revelation from the Lord and we love that history particularly because it declares that the heavens are not closed, and that revelation is possible. I think this knowledge and an ability to receive revelation for oneself are essential for a healthy practice of a living religion. While my church has this belief, it does not mean we are free from blocks to personal revelation. I am a Laman that constantly strives to seek revelation and to be a little more like Nephi. I have found help to do so within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have friends and family who have left the Church and found other traditions and structures to help them find the revelation they seek. They were Lamans like me and they also sought revelation to be more like Nephi. They found that help in other churches and other traditions. I still count them as righteous and highly favored of the Lord.
All of Lehi’s sons were obedient. Nephi did it without complaining because it was his choice and he didn’t feel forced. Obedience is not the key difference, revelation is. I applaud all of my brothers and sisters that are able to find revelation, wherever in the wilderness they may be. Blessed is she that can find joy and stop whining.