Living the gospel is hard.
In D&C 64:33 the Lord comforts us, asking us to “be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.”
But I have to admit, there are days when I do feel “weary in well-doing;” overwhelmed and frustrated with my own progress and the progress of others. The Book of Mormon, as always, gives me some much needed insight and strength.
The Jaredite voyage in the book of Ether is a very compelling story to me, and seems to be perfectly applicable to my difficult days. It is rich with symbolism regarding our own journeys across the impossible ocean of mortal life towards heaven. Each of us have landed ourselves on earth and are set on a course to the “land of promise” (Ether 2:7) and like the Brother of Jared, we all face challenges on this journey.
We begin with the Brother of Jared building wooden barges on the seashore. We know by reading that those barges were peaked at the ends, the length of the tree, and “tight like unto a dish.” I can’t help but wonder who on earth would get in those pitch dark, suffocating, “tight like unto a dish” barges, with no steering, no air, and only a vague hope of being blown across a vast ocean to an unknown land thousands of miles away and manage to crawl out alive. I can imagine well the Brother of Jared staring hard at those little barges on the beach, gazing out at the endless ocean horizon, seeing the crashing waves, and maybe feeling a fair bit of panic:
“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)
In other words, “Lord? So I did what you asked, but there is no light, no way to steer, and no air. We are all going to die.”
First, the Lord provides some answers regarding the steering and the air. “I’ll blow you where I want you to go.” Fair enough. Second, he says (and I’m paraphrasing obviously), “Go cut a breathing hole in the top and bottom and seal it up again if the ocean pours in on your head.” Not entirely comforting, but sure.
Then comes the Brother of Jared’s piercing question that resonates with me so much, “O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?” (Ether 2:22)
So here we are. If we read this story as a metaphor for our journey back to Heavenly Father, those barges could represent our mortal experience. In the spirit world, we willingly boarded these frail, darkened, suffocating mortal vessels to be tested, to struggle, and to grow. It must have been a bit frightening to leave God’s presence and pass through the veil into a world where we couldn’t even coordinate our fingers yet, and then grow up to face a multitude of temptations and trials, but in the pre-earth life we had enough faith and trust in our Heavenly Father’s plan to climb aboard.
But like the Brother of Jared, we all sometimes wonder about the lighting. Is it supposed to be so dark in here? The Lord’s response in Ether brings me great comfort, and then a challenge:
“What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
“For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
“And behold I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:23-25)
Whatever “mountain waves shall dash upon [me]” and whatever “depths of the sea” swallow me up, the Lord has “prepared me against these things.” I am “as a whale in the midst of the sea.” I can make it through hard times. Because of the atonement and resurrection of Christ, we can all make it through safely. This is great news.
But when it comes to the lighting, there is this challenge: “What would you have me do?” He puts the responsibility on us to come up with a solution.
We know the story. The Brother of Jared gets to work making clear white stones out of molten rock. This must have involved no small effort to melt down and refine rock to clear glass. Incredible heat, pressure, and time to make these sixteen little stones. Then he took these stones that still did not give off any light by themselves (even after all that work!), made the trip to climb back up the mountain, and asked:
“O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant…but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock.
“And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
“Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.” (Ether 3:2-5)
And then the Lord puts forth His finger, touches those lackluster rocks, and makes them shine.
I love the faith of the brother of Jared to ask the Lord to touch those rocks and make them shine. As I consider my little stones of effort as a dad, as a husband, as a missionary, as a friend, as a brother, in my church callings; as I think about all the things I try to do on my own and the many ways things don’t work out, all my good intentions that just sit there like rocks in the dark, I am reminded how important it is that I go back to the Savior and ask Him in faith to put forth His finger and bless my efforts. I need to stop trying to make my stones shine on my own.
As I refine myself by daily repentance, I can become like the clear glass stones of the brother of Jared so that the light of Christ will better shine through me. Each Sunday at the sacrament table, I present my little token stones of discipleship—those day to day acts—and ask the Lord, through his grace, to stretch forth His hand and bless and give light to my efforts.
In turn His light, through us, can illuminate the way for those that we share space with on our voyage in our terrifying little barges of mortality (and there are many fellow-travelers who need our light!) The Brother of Jared notes that the miracles and light of Christ shine in ways that “look small unto the understanding of men.” Like the Lord reminded his Saints in D&C 64:33, it is by small and simple things, not grand manifestations, that God lays the foundation of his work.
So we keep on going and we “weary not,” for the Lord is with us. Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and if we let him, he will reach out his hand to us and make our small stones shine.