As I get ready to embark on my next big adventure of finding a job and being a grownup, there are lots of things going on in my brain. I’m sad about leaving behind all the friends I’ve met here. I’m excited to see my family soon. I’m glad my dissertation is finished—okay, almost finished. But if I’m going to be completely honest, I’m afraid and a little frustrated. I came to England because lots of prayer and fasting and going to the Temple showed me that this was the right thing to do. But I’m afraid because now that I’ve finished this step of my journey, I have absolutely no idea what to do next.
Sometimes, it makes me feel a little hopeless.
But whenever I’m stuck in situations like this, there is a story that always brings me comfort. It’s one that is often used to illustrate the concept of faith, but it is also a story of hope and trusting the Lord even when all seems hopeless. I’d like to share that story with you today and talk about the lessons it can teach us about how to find hope in the Lord.
Once upon a time, everybody in the world spoke the same language. Everyone lived together and worked together and understood each other just fine.
And then one day, someone got the bright idea to build a tower to heaven. “Let us make a name for ourselves,” they said. “Lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.” In other words, they wanted to cheat their way into heaven, which we all know is impossible.
Their disregard for the Plan of Salvation angered God, so He cursed them so that everyone spoke a different language. Could you imagine being in a situation like this? One minute, you’re engaged in some witty banter with your best mate, and all of a sudden, he’s speaking Mongolian or Kechi or Swedish.
While all of this is happening and everybody is running around trying to find someone who can understand them, a man named Jared and his brother see what’s happening and the very first thing they do is to pray that their language and the language of their friends and family won’t be confounded.
Notice the difference between what they do and what everybody else does. Everybody else is panicking, but these two righteous men stop what they’re doing and pray.
When we’re faced with scary, frustrating, sad, or otherwise unfavorable situations in life, what is our first reaction? Do we panic? Do we shake our fists at the sky and blame God for our misfortunes? Do we try to fix it on our own? Do we just lay down and give up? Or do we pray?
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zionand in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.
– Joel 2:32
After Jared and his brother prayed, the Lord had compassion on them and blessed them that they’d still be able to understand each other. The next thing they did is really interesting:
And it came to pass that Jared spake again unto his brother, saying: Go and inquire of the Lord whether he will drive us out of the land, and if he will drive us out of the land, cry unto him whither we shall go. And who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth? And if it so be, let us be faithful unto the Lord, that we may receive it for our inheritance.
– Ether 1: 38
They asked the Lord what His will for them was, and they were humble enough to accept it—no matter what it was—and trust that whatever God had planned for them would be a great blessing.
But that’s not all: they kind of already knew what the Lord was going to tell them to do. Jared says, “Ask the Lord if He will drive us out of the land.” This suggests two possibilities: First, sometimes, when big things are going to happen in our lives, the Holy Ghost will drop little hints to prepare us. Maybe it’s a feeling that you’re going to get a specific calling before the call is actually extended. Maybe it’s a prompting to save a little extra money every month even though you don’t know why, and then be grateful you did so when your husband’s job is made redundant. Maybe it’s feeling inclined to study a particular topic in your daily scripture study and then being asked to speak in sacrament on that very topic. Regardless of the situation, God prepares our hearts so that if we constantly strive to listen to the Holy Ghost, we will recognize answers to prayer because they are familiar to us.
The second possibility is that they had followed the pattern taught in the Doctrine and Covenants—they pondered their options, studied them out in their minds, picked one that they felt good about, and prayed to know if it was right.
When we turn to the Lord in our moments of hopelessness, we must be willing to do what He asks of us, prepared to seek for those answers, and humble enough to recognize them and follow them when they come.
And it came to pass that the Lord did hear the brother of Jared, and had compassion upon him, and said unto him:
Go to and gather together thy flocks, both male and female, of every kind; and also of the seed of the earth of every kind; and thy families; and also Jared thy brother and his family; and also thy friends and their families, and the friends of Jared and their families.
And when thou hast done this thou shalt go at the head of them down into the valley which is northward. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth.
And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation. And there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me.
– Ether 1:40-43
So, God tells them where to go and promises them great blessings if they will be obedient. There are a few things that stick out to me here:
First, obeying God wasn’t convenient. They literally had to uproot their entire lives and leave their home—perhaps the only home they had ever known, to head into the wilderness. They had to prepare food storage. They had to transport livestock—and I can speak with some experience that the greater your sense of urgency, the more livestock like to rebel and be difficult.
When we pray for help, solutions provided by the Lord are rarely simple. This is a gospel of progression, after all. We never get stronger or wiser or better by taking the easy road. God will test us and try us and stretch us to our very limits, but that is how He molds us into the person He needs us to be. The person He knows we can be.
Next, God gives them baby steps. He doesn’t say, “Go to this valley, and then to this seashore, and then build some boats that are tight like unto a dish and then put those boats in the water and sail to the Promised Land.” He doesn’t show them the end from the beginning. He tells them to “go to the valley which is northward. I’ll meet you there and tell you where to go next.”
This is how God helps us learn to trust him. Like a parent teaching a child to walk, He only expects us to take a few stumbling steps on our own before he catches us again. He does not give us a map for a 100-mile endurance race and tell us to start running.
And lastly, God promises that great blessings await them when they reach the Promised Land. He doesn’t promise them blessings will come the second they are obedient. He doesn’t promise them that blessings will happen tomorrow or the next day or even any day in particular. He just promises that they will receive blessings when they reach their final destination.
There’s a reason faith and hope are intertwined. It’s because finding hope in the Lord requires us to have faith that the Lord will keep His promises—which He absolutely does.
So, Jared and his brother and their families obeyed the Lord, packed up their house, gathered all their animals and headed into the wilderness. When they get to the valley God had told them to go to, He tells them to keep going into the wilderness, “yea, even into that quarter where there never had man been.”
Think about that for a moment. God asked them to do something no one else had ever done before. There were no maps to follow. There was no road. They had no way of knowing where their path would lead—but they had the Lord telling them to go, and so they went. I am amazed by their faith.
And as they went, “the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel.” Now there is a Sat Nav that will never lead you astray. If we are listening to His voice, we will gain a testimony that He does guide and direct His people. Even when it seems He is not there, He is leading us toward our own promised lands.
There’s another interesting detail tucked away in the description of their journey through this previously unexplored wilderness:
And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters, being directed continually by the hand of the Lord.
– Ether 2:6
Those of you who know this story know that in the end, they build barges to help them cross the ocean. But they didn’t build those barges without any prior experience—they had years to practice. So whenever it feels like God is teaching you a lesson that you’ve already been taught a hundred times before, just remember, He’s helping you practice. Because someday, you are going to find yourself under a lot of pressure, and you will have to perform perfectly. And if you’ve practiced like the Lord asks you to, you will have the confidence you need to be successful.
In verse 7, it says
And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people.
They’re in the wilderness, with no one else around. No one would bother them. Earlier it mentions the fact that they went hunting and fishing to provide for themselves, so this is by no means a barren wasteland that they’re traveling through. By all accounts, it was a pretty ideal situation for them. But it wasn’t the great land God had promised them. It wasn’t the best place or opportunity for them, so God wouldn’t let them stop. He told them to keep going. He had something even better.
In our lives, how often do we settle for “good enough”? I have a friend who once said, “God is a dreamer, and His dreams are bigger than yours.” God wants what is truly best for us. He wants to give us good gifts. He doesn’t want us to settle or be content with less than we could potentially have. We shouldn’t be content with terrestrial blessings when celestial blessings await us.
But then, they reach the seashore and God makes them wait for a little while.
For behold, it came to pass that the Lord did bring Jared and his brethren forth even to that great sea which divideth the lands. And as they came to the sea they pitched their tents; and they called the name of the place Moriancumer; and they dwelt in tents, and dwelt in tents upon the seashore for the space of four years.
And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.
– Ether 2:13-14
They waited for four years. Living in tents. In the wilderness.
Sometimes, God makes us wait for a little while. Maybe it’s to teach us patience, or to wait for more favorable conditions that only He can see. We don’t always know why we have to wait, but He does.
Waiting on the Lord’s timetable can be haaaaard. I’m a 29-year-old woman who is still single despite promised in my patriarchal blessing that I will get married and have children. Every birthday makes it a little harder to be patient and hopeful.
But the promises in my patriarchal blessing that center upon my eventual marriage and motherhood are worth waiting for. I don’t know why the Lord is making me wait. I certainly never expected it. But I trust that He knows why I need to wait, and He always keeps His promises.
When we face waiting periods, it’s easy to grow complacent. It’s easy to assume that this is the end, and maybe even to feel a little disappointed. Is THIS the great land you promised me? I mean, the beach is nice, buuuuutttt…
Brothers and sisters, God is not a disappointer of persons. His blessings are greater than we can imagine, so if you ever find yourself in a situation that’s just okaaaaaay, don’t despair. The Lord isn’t done with you yet. He just needs you to wait for a little while.
And don’t do as the Jaredites did and forget to pray. Elder Holland has said that there are two times when it’s dangerous to forget to pray: when things are difficult, and when things are easy. In our times of waiting—when things aren’t necessarily difficult, they’re just a bit stagnant—we can’t forget to call upon the Lord. Keep praying for those promised blessings. Don’t complain about the fact that you haven’t received them yet, but pray for patience. Pray for hope. Pray for opportunities to use the time God has given you to be anxiously engaged in righteous causes, even if you can’t see how they’ll be bringing you closer to the Promised Land. God’s plan is a plan of progression. Even if we’re not moving our feet, we could be moving our hands, our minds, or our hearts.
After four years of waiting and a bit of gentle chastisement from the Lord for forgetting to be prayerful. God finally tells them it’s time to move again. He instructs the Brother of Jared to build barges after the manner they had previously built them—see? All that practice put to good use.
The Jaredites do as they are commanded, and then the Brother of Jared returns to the Lord with a report.
And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.
And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.
– Ether 2: 18-19
The Lord tells him how to fix the breathing problem by making holes in the top and bottom of the ships so that they can open one up for air when it’s not under water, and stop it back up if water starts coming in. But he leaves the lighting issue for the Brother of Jared to figure out. He says, “What will you that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?”
President Harold B. Lee said, “It was as though the Lord were saying to him, ‘Look, I gave you a mind to think with, and I gave you agency to use it. Now you do all you can to help yourself with this problem; and then, after you’ve done all you can, I’ll step in to help you.’ This is the principle in action. If you want the blessing, don’t just kneel down and pray about it. Prepare yourselves in every conceivable way you can in order to make yourselves worthy to receive the blessing you seek” (Stand Ye in Holy Places , 243–44).
The Brother of Jared thinks about it for a while, then climbs an exceedingly high mountain, makes a forge, and uses the ore he finds to make sixteen small stones that were clear like glass. Then he climbs even higher to the top of the mountain and humbly asks the Lord to touch the stones so that they will shine forth in the darkness and provide light in the vessels.
What happens next has been called one of the greatest events in the history of the Earth. The Brother of Jared had so much faith and trust in the Lord that as the Lord touched the stones, “the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord.” He was, understandably, quite shocked—but I imagine he was even more surprised when the Lord appeared to him in His entirety, making the brother of Jared one of a very select few who saw the personage of the Savior before His mortal ministry.
When we have faith in the Lord, we are better able to see His hand in our lives—perhaps not literally, as the brother of Jared did, but we will certainly see His guiding influence. And when we recognize His hand in all things, it allows us to see Him as we learn to know Him as our personal Savior.
With their barges finished and lit with stones touched by the Lord, the Jaredites got in their boats and “commended themselves to God.” They had no idea whether they were going, and no one had ever crossed the ocean before. Not the Nephites. Not Amerigo Vespucci or Christopher Columbus. No one.
And how do they travel across the water?
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.
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.
And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; 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.
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.
And thus they were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water.
– Ether 6:5-8, 11
I imagine this would have been terrifying. I don’t know about you, but the thought of being tossed about in a hurricane doesn’t sound like fun to me—much less being tossed about in a hurricane for 344 days.
But the Jaredites didn’t despair. It says, “they did sing praises unto the Lord… and did thank and praise the Lord all the day long, and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord.”
How could they be so grateful when they were so often buried in the depths of the sea and buffeted by mountainous waves and fierce wind?
They could be grateful because they realized that this was how the Lord was moving them toward the Promised Land.
When things get a little rough in your life, don’t despair. This is the Lord moving you toward your own promised land. Trust Him. Be faithful. If you do, “no monster of the sea can break you, neither whale mar you, and you will have light continually.”
After 344 days, they arrive in the Promised Land. What do you think they did first?
And when they had set their feet upon the shores of the promised land they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land, and did humble themselves before the Lord, and did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of his tender mercies over them.
– Ether 6:12
Do we remember to be grateful to the Lord, even after trials? Or are we more inclined to say “Phew! I’m so glad THAT’s over…”
And was that the end of their story? They had reached the Promised Land, so they lived happily ever after, the end, right?
And it came to pass that they went forth upon the face of the land, and began to till the earth.
And they were taught to walk humbly before the Lord; and they were also taught from on high.
And it came to pass that they began to spread upon the face of the land, and to multiply and to till the earth; and they did wax strong in the land.
– Ether 6:13, 17-18
God’s plan is plan of eternal progression. They had reached the Promised Land, but still had work to do to receive the blessings they had been promised. There will always be a next step. Even when we reach the end of this mortal life and progress to the next, there will be work to do and progress to be made.
And God will be there every step of the way to show us where to go and what to do to become the person He wants us to be.
Given as a talk in Sacrament Meeting on August 30, 2015.