Road through a desert with mountains and sunlight in the distance

Don’t Turn Back: How to Embrace an Unfamiliar Future

At the time of this writing, the world has over 1.7 million cases of COVID-19. Over 100,000 people have died from the disease.[1] Governments have encouraged or required people to stay home. Schools have closed. Businesses have shut their doors, possibly forever. Unemployment rates in the US are the worst they’ve been since the Great Depression[2], and the future of the economy looks bleak.

People around the world are pining for the way things were before, when things were normal and we knew (mostly) what to expect of our lives. We long to go back there, but we’re not sure things will ever look the same again.

Early in the Book of Mormon, we read an account that’s remarkably similar—if only symbolically—to what we’re experiencing right now.

The Land of Our Inheritance

The story starts with Lehi, a prophet who preached in the city of Jerusalem during the reign of King Zedekiah. While Jerusalem was, at the time, a prosperous city, the people had given themselves over to idol worship and corruption. Lehi and other prophets (including the Biblical prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel) preached of the coming destruction of Jerusalem if they did not repent and turn their allegiance to the Lord, and many of thse prophets were imprisoned or killed. After being warned by the Lord that his life was in danger, Lehi and his family leave their home and flee into the wilderness, seeking safety in a new promised land.

Throughout their journey across the Arabian peninsula, they experience many miracles, angelic visitations, wonderful dreams, and answers to prayer. And yet, Laman and Lemuel, Lehi’s two older sons, murmur and rebel nearly every step of the way. Their primary complaint is that Lehi “led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness” (1 Ne. 2:11).

Like us, Laman and Lemuel faced an uncertain future. They had been asked to give up the life they were used to. They were cut off from friends and family members. They lost their comfortable home, their prospects for careers, and an inheritance they felt entitled to.

In one particularly dramatic period of rebellion, Laman and Lemuel threaten to return to Jerusalem and abandon their quest for the Promised Land (1 Ne. 7). Their younger brother, Nephi, reproves them for forgetting the miraculous experiences they have had on their journey and reminds them of the prophesied fate of Jerusalem—a fate they will surely share if they turn back.

How is it that ye have not hearkened unto the word of the Lord? How is it that ye have forgotten that ye have seen an angel of the Lord? Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten what great things the Lord hath done for us?... Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him. And if it so be that we are faithful to him, we shall obtain the land of promise. 1 Nephi 7:9-13

Nephi successfully convinces them to continue on their journey, and they eventually reach the Promised Land. There, they find fertile soil, abundant game, and ore for making tools and building new homes. Nephi says they were “blessed in abundance” (1 Ne. 18:24). These blessings would never have been theirs if they had remained in Jerusalem or turned back when things became difficult.

As we wait for life to return to “normal,” it might be worth considering the possibility that such is not the path God wants for us. What if we’re supposed to forge a new way forward, crossing uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory that will test our very limits but ultimately lead us to a future that’s better than what we had before? What if, in order to gain the promises God has given us, we have to leave our old lives behind? If we turn back, we may never know the good that awaits us.

Whether the wilderness we are asked to cross is COVID-19 or any other unexpected twist in our life story, here are a few lessons from the story of Lehi’s family that can help us embrace an unfamiliar future with hope.

Focus on What’s Truly Important

When Lehi left Jerusalem, “he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents” (1 Ne. 2:4). After their initial escape from the city, his sons do return briefly to retrieve a copy of the scriptures and invite a few friends to join them. But that’s all they took: basic necessities, their closest companions, and the word of God.

We are facing an unexpected period of elimination in our lives. So many of the privileges we once enjoyed are suddenly absent from our lives: private offices where we could focus on our work (if we’re lucky enough to still have a job), public education, medical supplies, even food and toilet paper. We can’t go to parties, movie nights, restaurants, church, weddings or funerals. We are quickly learning the true value of things we once took for granted.

Happy family playing jenga together at home

But we might find that some of these changes are good. Our suddenly empty calendars might be a breath of fresh air, teaching us that we’ve been over scheduling ourselves. We might see positive changes in our budget (and our health) that prove we really were eating out too often. We might realize that we’ve been putting our job ahead of our relationships and our sanity, and more time at home means more time doing the things we love with the people we love. We might rediscover our love of reading, taking walks, playing games, and being creative. We might find that we can go without things that we used to think we needed, and make purchasing decisions that benefit our homes, our wallets, and our planet.

Whatever it is that you’re learning about yourself right now, don’t forget it when things “go back to normal.” Times like these are an opportunity to reevaluate our lives and decide what is truly important. You get to decide what you take with you on your journey into the wilderness of the future. Make sure it’s worth the space in your saddlebag—and if it’s not, leave it behind.

Spiritually Defining Memories

When Laman and Lemuel rebelled, Nephi often reminded them of the miraculous things they had already experienced on their journey: angelic visitors, miraculous escapes, and answered prayers. In April 2020 General Conference, Elder Neil L. Andersen taught us about “spiritually defining memories.” He said:

Along with the peaceful direction we receive from the Holy Ghost, from time to time, God powerfully and very personally assures each of us that He knows us and loves us and that He is blessing us specifically and openly. Then, in our moments of difficulty, the Savior brings these experiences back into our mind.

Think of your own life. Over the years, I have listened to thousands of profoundly spiritual experiences from Latter-day Saints all across the world, confirming to me beyond any question that God knows and loves each of us and that He eagerly desires to reveal Himself to us. These experiences may come at pivotal times in our lives or in what may at first seem as uneventful happenings, but they are always accompanied by an exceptionally strong spiritual confirmation of the love of God.

Remembering these spiritually defining experiences takes us to our knees, declaring as did the Prophet Joseph: “What I received was from heaven. I know it, and I know that God knows that I know it.”

– Elder Neil L. Anderson

What past experiences have shown you that the Lord was working miracles in your life, preparing you for unexpected changes, teaching you important truths, or reaffirming His love for you? Looking back at those experiences now can help give you the strength to continue when the path ahead is unclear.

One stand out experience for me was the impression I received to start prepping freezer meals. We only had the small freezer in our fridge, though, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit many meals in there. When I found an ad for a used upright freezer at a reasonable price, I knew the Lord had blessed me with a solution. Brett and I bought the freezer and I prepped enough freezer meals to feed us for six weeks. Two days later, the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. I had a brief moment of panic in which I thought, “Oh no, we need food storage!” The Spirit immediately spoke to my heart, reminding me of the freshly packed meals in my freezer. “You have food storage,” he said. “You will be fine.”

What I thought was just a way for me to avoid having to cook every day (something I know He knows I hate…) turned out to be divine providence preparing me for something I didn’t even know to expect. There is no question in my mind that this was no coincidence, and that truth has helped me stay calm when anxiety starts to color my thoughts of the future. I know that the Lord knows what’s coming, and I know that He’s aware of my family. I don’t want to return to a place where I don’t understand that important truth.

Hand sowing seeds into soil

PLanting Seeds for the Future

As Lehi’s family journeyed in the wilderness, they had opportunities to expand both their spiritual and temporal understanding. Not only did their knowledge and testimony of Jesus Christ increase, but they also learned how to provide for themselves in the undeveloped wilderness: making tools, hunting game, building boats, harvesting wild crops, saving seeds, etc. They may never have learned these things if they had stayed in Jerusalem, and this new knowledge continued to serve them well when they reached the Promised Land.

Limited access to public resources we once took for granted is an opportunity to learn how to be more self-sufficient. While we can’t go to restaurants, we can learn to cook our own food. When grocery shelves are empty, we can learn to grow our own gardens and properly harvest and store produce to make it last longer. We can learn to repair things that are broken instead of buying replacements. (Brag moment: I recently learned how to fix my vacuum cleaner and it was so empowering.) We can learn new skills that can be leveraged for better employment down the road. Not being able to go to church might help us learn how to make our personal scripture study more meaningful.

As Mary Stallings, one of my favorite Christian writers, recently put it, “What God doesn’t cause, He can still consecrate.”[3] He can help us use this time of uncertainty to learn both spiritual and temporal skills that will help us have a better future.

Prophetic Promises

After Jesus’ mortal ministry, His Apostles were sent forth to preach His gospel throughout the rest of the known world. When Paul encountered a group of converts who wanted their lives to go back to the way they were before joining the church, he gave the following counsel:

But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions…

Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.

For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise….

Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.

But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

Hebrews 10:32-39

In the most recent General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson asked us to fast and pray for relief from COVID-19. Among the specific things he asked us to pray for was that “life would be normalized.” Notice that he didn’t say that we should pray for “life to return to normal.” As a Prophet, he is always encouraging us to progress, grow, and improve—and that requires moving forward, not backward. Life will not be the same as it was before this happened, nor should it be. We should be more intentional with our time, more careful with our resources, and more grateful for our relationships. We should have more faith and trust in the Lord as we continue to see the way He leads us through this challenge and those we will undoubtedly face in the future. We should take opportunities to learn and better ourselves even until we’re different people than we were before.

As we navigate the future, may we remember to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope” (2 Ne. 31:20). When life settles into a new normal (as cheesy and overused as that phrase may be), I believe we will find that the Promised Land we discover at the end of this journey is infinitely better than the life we have left behind. 

Jess

Find Your Joy

What is your new normal going to look like when this challenge is over? What are you learning to value now that you want to continue to prioritize in the future? How have “spiritually defining memories” given you strength or comfort? How are you preparing for your own “promised land”? As you ponder these questions, be sure to write down your thoughts and any impressions you might receive. Heavenly Father will help you see how to consecrate this time for your future gain.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, too! If you’re comfortable, share them in the comments below or over on Facebook, or tag your pictures on Instagram with #jestkeptsecret.

If you found this post helpful, please share it! Thank you!

Don't Turn Back: How to Embrace an Unfamiliar Future When Life Unexpectedly Changes

[1] Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

[2] Washington Post

[3] @comefollowmedaily on Instagram

Image credits: Road by littleny/Adobe Stock; Family playing Jenga by NDABCreative/Adobe Stock; Planting Seeds by piyaset/Adobe Stock

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