My favorite chapter in all of scripture is found in the Book of Mormon - the sixth chapter of Ether.
I have lots and lots of favorite scriptures - in fact, when I do our nightly scripture reading with my children, it's a rare night that I don't say a phrase similar to: "This is one of my favorite scriptures!" To which one of my children will invariably say "You always say that."
It is true, however, that I have so many favorite scriptures. Not in a way that I am prone to boast at my scriptural knowledge (which is still so minimal), but in the way that these words, these precious gifts of records of other people's testimony of and experiences with the gospel of Jesus Christ, have become friends to me.
Just as I might see an item of clothing in a certain color and instantly think of my friend who would look so good wearing it, there are daily triggers all around me that bring different scriptures to my mind, even involuntarily. They have become life jackets to me in the uncertain waters of life, helping me to hold my head above water through turbulent times, and instilling peace into my heart when the surface of life may seem smooth and unruffled while underneath my legs are kicking furiously to keep myself afloat. They have celebrated achievements with me, they have mourned losses with me, they have laughed with me.
Notwithstanding the myriad of scriptures that I may call my favorite, the sixth chapter of Ether holds such a special place within my heart.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon, an introduction and brief explanation can be found here.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the Book of Ether, it is a record of the Jaredites, a group of people who lived a very long time ago, at the time of the Tower of Babel spoken of in Genesis 11, where the people gathered to build a tower, after which the Lord confounded the languages of all of the people so that they could not understand one another. Among these people was a leader named Jared. He, his brother, family and friends, were told by the Lord that they should build barges to travel across the sea to the promised land - an unknown place, in unknown territory.
Imagine the bravery it must have taken to do this.
Similar to Noah, similar to Nephi, similar to countless others throughout history who felt compelled to follow their God out onto the open sea, there was no internet to peruse, no Zillow to troll, no weather reports or Bing images to familiarize them with where they were headed - and even if there were, they didn't know the destination.
They had to trust that the Lord did, and that as they followed His guidance, He would get them there, wherever "there" was.
I think all of us have felt apprehensive at times about where our lives are headed. Why things seem to keep getting worse instead of getting better. Why, even after all we can do, the storms of life keep coming, the water keeps getting deeper, the shore ever more distant, the winds never ceasing.
The first five chapters of Ether chronicle the building of these barges (there were eight of them), by Jared and his brother. I still have much to learn, but according to my understanding, Jared was the political leader of this group of people, but his brother - referred to always as "the brother of Jared" - was the spiritual leader, or a prophet. Jared would turn to and consult with his brother in all things, showing he was a god-fearing man who was free from pride, seeking insight and knowledge from the Lord.
After the barges had been built, the brother of Jared went to ask of the Lord how they were going to be able to have light, as the ships were described as being "tight like a dish" - which, we can surmise, means without windows, etc., but being seamless and flush in all respects. The Lord didn't solve the problem, but asked him instead "What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?" showing His great confidence and wisdom in allowing the brother of Jared to think and come up with a solution.
I don't know about you, but I would much rather be told the answer sometimes than have to think one up on my own.
But, the brother of Jared didn't complain, he set to work. Essentially, he made sixteen stones out of glass (like, melted the sand himself and everything) and brought them to the Lord. He asked the Lord to touch them with His finger to cause them to be lighted, to be used like lamps inside of the ships. The Lord not only did this for him, He also presented him with two more stones of a similar fashion and bade him seal them up with the record that he was keeping of their journey.
The brother of Jared is also at this time privileged to see the Lord in person, face to face, which had never before happened on earth until that time. That is a whole other story, and one worthy of its own blog post, or even a series of them, so we won't go into that now. It will be sufficient to say -
- His mind done got BLOWN, ya'll. It was a singular experience.
Chapter 6, verse 3: "And thus the Lord caused stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women, and children, that they might not cross the great water in darkness."
This verse, so beautiful in its simplicity and so poetic in its meaning, is one of the many scriptural anchors in my heart that my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, love us ALL.
Not just men.
Not just women.
Not just children.
The Lord does not want us to cross the waters of this life in the darkness. He has provided stones of light for each one of us to keep close as we are tossed side to side by our trials and struggles, no matter our gender, no matter our age.
He loves you.
He loves me.
The stones of light are the scriptures, the Holy Ghost, the experiences we have had that have built our testimony; and sometimes they are the testimonies of others that we cling to when our own seems to be growing dim.
He was aware of them. He is aware of YOU. He is aware of me.
The Jaredites prepared and checked off their lists:
The ships are built.
The people are ready.
The animals are ready.
They've gathered food for themselves and food for their animals...
verse 4: "...and it came to pass that when they had done all these things they got aboard of their vessels or barges, and set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God."
How hard would it have been to finally shut the door for that last time?
How much faith would it have taken to get in that boat, leave everything familiar behind, and know that, for the unforeseen future, you will be in the dark - literally and figuratively - as you head toward some unknown place.
I feel this way. Right now.
I became a single mother this last year, and in so doing, left behind all that had been familiar and known to me. I no longer have a spouse. I no longer have financial security. I no longer have the knowledge of my future that I always took for granted. This is not a place I ever thought I would be. Sometimes I feel that all around me are people speaking in languages I don't understand, words that should make sense, but don't. I have comfort knowing that the Lord loves me and is aware of me, but that doesn't make the dark any less dark, the unknowns any more known, or the journey any less tumultuous.
verse 5: "And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind."
6: "And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind."
Here are the verses that really get me:
7: "And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them...therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters."
8: "And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters: and thus they were driven forth before the wind."
Any sailor will tell you that in order to get anywhere, you need a sail, and you need wind. Heavenly Father knows that the quickest way to get us safely to the promised land is to cause the winds of life to blow, and to blow hard.
He could let us putter around out there on our canoe. He could let us stubbornly try to swim ourselves there, only to realize that we put our trust in the flesh and not the power of God to do all things. But no - He knows, in His infinite wisdom, the best way to help us get where we need to be is to:
1. Provide us with a gospel plan that can surround us with purpose and structure and protection, helping our faith and testimony seal the leaks and weaknesses in themselves;
2. Give us light to help while being surrounded by the dark uncertainties of life by providing us with scriptures and the Holy Ghost, which are lighted by the power of the Son of God;
3. To place us upon those waters, and let the wind BLOW.
I can see many similarities when I consider things I do to help my children in a more simple way, like ripping off a band-aid or asking the nurses to team up and give all four immunization shots at once. In my more mature wisdom I know I am affording them the peace of getting to the end of the trial more quickly, but to them it may seem cruel to inflict a higher level of pain all at once.
To us, the trials of this life may seem to drag on and on and on. We are in the time of our eternal journey where time seems slow and it isn't possible for us to perceive how short of a time we really spend here in the eternal scope of our existence. The ripping off of this band-aid can sure feel a lot more like being daily drawn and quartered, because of our limited understanding.
We have times where things go relatively well, where we feel on top of the waters - only to find ourselves swallowed up once again. Finding the emotional resources like the Jaredites did to do the following can be really difficult:
verse 9: "And they did sing praises unto the Lord; yea the brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord."
After which follows a statement that I hold fast as a symbolic and very personal promise to me from my Father and Mother in Heaven, and my Savior Jesus Christ, that they will see me through all of this:
verse 10: "And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water."
In some ways I wish I were standing on a stage to read that verse to all of you, because afterward, I would just leave silence.
Silence...for at least a full minute.
They did not promise there would be no monsters.
They did not promise there would be no whale-sized problems, like worry over being homeless, or struggling to know how to help a certain child, or finding a way to pass this class.
They didn't promise that if I hold on, I will never go under the water, never find myself struggling to stay on top.
What They did promise me is this:
That NO monster in this life can break me, with Them by my side.
That NO whale of a problem will ever mar me - meaning not that I will never be hurt or damaged or changed by my trials, but that nothing can or ever will tarnish my priceless, individual worth. My worth stays a brilliant, shining Truth, always, NO MATTER WHAT.
and - That I WILL ALWAYS HAVE LIGHT AVAILABLE TO ME, at all times, and in all things, and in all places.
I have no doubt in my mind, heart or being that every thing I have shared with you today is TRUE.
You have a Heavenly Father who is aware of you in a way that you could never comprehend in this short, confusing, darkened life.
You have a Heavenly Mother who watches over you with tenderness, care and worry, and who, together with our Father, places helps and guides and tender mercies on your path.
You have a Savior, an elder Brother, who loves YOU so much that He - a perfect, sinless Deity, willingly came down to this fallen world to experience all the heartache and pain you have experienced, that we all have experienced, so that He could better understand, Love, and help you. He offered to pay the infinite price of your sins for YOU so that you won't have to, if you will but repent and turn to Him - not an easy thing, but with His help, a very possible and real thing. He died and was resurrected so that you, too, can experience the joy that only comes through our spirit and our body being reunited, never again to be separated.
And last of all, but certainly not the least, They have provided us with the Holy Ghost, that indispensable third member of the Godhead, through whom we are able to be taught and receive a witness of all of these things, else all would be lost and for naught, had we no chance or means whereby to have it's validity enter into our hearts and change us, forever.
May we all be brave enough to gather the things we need to be prepared in this life - our scriptures, our family, the gospel plan, our testimony - and then fully climb on the boat, ready and willing to "commen[d] [our]selves unto the Lord [our] God."
How have you been tossed by the waves of the see, and how did the Lord see you through it?
As always, you can comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.