How many times have I read the first four chapters of Nephi? Hundreds probably. And today, for the first time EVER, it occurred to me that the Lord could have told Lehi and his family to get the brass plates before they even left Jerusalem the first time. He could have whispered to Lehi in the first dream, "Oh and by the way, you're going to really need those brass plates for your family's future, so make sure you get them before you leave." But He didn't. Why is that? Why didn't He just remind someone as they were packing up the caravan. Did He forget? I don't think He did.
There was a lot of discussion about Laman and Lemuel today in Gospel Doctrine about whether they were capable of becoming the kind of spiritual giant that their younger brother, Nephi was. I personally think they were capable of that. They weren't just born hard-hearted and unwilling. Thousands and thousands of decisions made over an entire lifetime turned them into that, and eventually separated them permanently from the Lord. But they didn't come that way and that was never the Lord's plan for them. They were born into their lives with full potential and an innate divine nature compelling them to be good and to return to their Heavenly Father just like their brother, Nephi and just like the rest of us.
I think the seemingly random instruction to go back to Jerusalem after they had already gotten halfway into the desert was the Lord's way of giving Laman and Lemuel yet another opportunity to turn toward Him and to finally have an understanding of their full potential and their place in His plan. It was also a way for the Lord to secure the rest of the family to Him more fully. Nephi may have already been obedient and willing, but after receiving the Lord's help with the unbelievably unlikely execution of such a difficult thing, how could he not have been completely converted to the Lord? And after Sariah felt the hand of the Lord in her life and the life of her sons as they came back unscathed and with brass plates in hand, how could she not have complete confidence in her "visionary" husband from that time forward? Without that trial of their faith, the impact of Lehi's dream might have faded in their memories, and they may have felt like they were just wandering aimlessly in the desert for some unknown reason.
And isn't that exactly what all of our challenges in life are for? To give us the opportunity to learn to rely on the Lord and to turn to Him in all things. How often does that happen in our lives that we're asked to do something really hard and then right in the middle of it, Heavenly Father asks us to do yet another hard thing? We each have the potential within us to become a spiritual giant like Nephi and have the "mysteries of God revealed" to us, or to make a lifetime of decisions that lead us away from Heavenly Father and toward a life of murmuring and discontent.
I talked to a woman after church yesterday who asked me about Laman and Lemuel and a few other things, and finally if I've ever had challenges that seemed to stay with me for years and years that felt impossible to overcome. Um...absolutely YES! I have the same weaknesses I had when I was fourteen years old. I have good stages of my life where the Lord's voice is louder than the voices of doubt in my head, and I also have more vulnerable stages of my life where the weaknesses and doubts seem to live on my doorstep and I choose to pick them up and carry them around for awhile. We all do. That's part of the plan. And that's the only way we would ever be driven to our knees to plead with the Lord for help.
What I've come to learn from years and years of struggling with the same insecurities and weaknesses is the same as what I assume Nephi learned from having to return to Jerusalem and get the brass plates. When I ask, Heavenly Father always comes to my rescue. Always. His plans are always infinitely more effective and successful than whatever I might come up with. If He requires something of us, He will always provide a way for us to achieve that thing, no matter how hard. We just have to be willing to ask Him for help and then do what He instructs us to do.
There is no limit to the number of times we can ask Him for help. There is no limit to the number of times we can fall and have help getting back up. There isn't a point where Heavenly Father gives up and leaves us. And there is never a time when the atonement is no longer useful in our lives.
"However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or distance from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines. There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning. “Come boldly [to] the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16), and fall at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. Come and feast “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1) at the table of the Lord. . . ." - Jeffrey R Holland
I'm grateful for insightful Gospel Doctrine lessons, for continued inspiration from the scriptures, and for a loving Heavenly Father who knows exactly what each of us needs.