Cover image: “The Anti-Nephi-Lehies Burying Their Swords.” Image via Gospel Media Library.
This week’s Come Follow Me reading is Alma 23-29. It begins with the account of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, who after having been converted from their murderous and wicked ways, refused to take up arms against their enemies. In fact, they were willing to die before returning to their sins again. One can’t help admiring the depth of their conversion. How can we find this level of conversion and strength? That is the question we will consider with this week’s reading.
The body of ocean separating Great Britain from the rest of Europe is famously called the English Channel. It is about 150 miles wide at its widest and 21 miles wide at its narrowest point called the strait of Dover. It is the busiest shipping lane in the world and particularly prone to strong currents and countercurrents.
Despite the strong currents, swimming the English Channel has been the quest for many long-distance swimmers. The first woman to swim the Strait of Dover was Gertrude Ederle. Born in 1906 in Manhattan, Ederle won a Gold medal in the 1924 Olympics. After her English Channel swim, her record stood for 23 years.
Ederle’s world record would be eventually broken by a number of swimmers including Australian long-distance swimmer Tammy Van Wisse. Tammy has been the fastest woman to swim Gippsland Lakes, the Cook Strait, the Loch Ness in Scotland, the Bass Strait and the English Channel. Tammy also has the world record for swimming the Murray River, a distance of 1,514 miles.
Tammy once told me the secret to her ability to endure during long-distance swims, she said: “Knowing your destination is half the journey.”
You see, during her swims, the difficulty would always set in: you get stung by jelly fish, the choppy waters make breathing difficult, the currents take you off course, and the cold and fatigue are crippling. But throughout the swim, she sees in her mind’s eye the destination. It is this image that pulls her through.
Living as a converted saint also has its share of stings, choppy waters, debilitating currents and fatigue. All of us have felt committed to the gospel only to give into the temptations and fatigue that living in the world bring to us. How can we live fully converted?
Like Tammy, Florence Chadwick was a long-distance swimmer. In 1952, she was attempting to swim the 26 miles from California to Catalina Island. Roughly 15 miles into her swim, a thick fog settled in. The fog prevented her from seeing Catalina island which would have been perfectly visible without the fog. Her mother was in one of the boats following Chadwick and she told her mother she didn’t think she could finish the swim. Her mother encouraged her to continue. Chadwick pressed on for one hour. But she finally relinquished, exhausted and was pulled aboard the boat. Once aboard she discovered she was less than a mile away from shore.
After the swim she said, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land, I might have made it.”[i] Two months later she attempted the swim again and succeeded. In fact, she went on to make the Catalina Island swim two more times.
Like Chadwick’s discovery of the power of a clear view, the people of Ammon had something that held them in their steadfastness: “their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection.” (Alma 27:28). They were firm in the faith of Christ even to the end.
Helaman 3:29-30 says, “Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful…and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven….”
It is a “strait” course. I find it interesting the word used here is not “straight” but rather “strait.” The definition of strait is “a narrow passage of water connecting two seas.” A secondary definition is something that “can be characterized by a specified degree of difficulty” (as used in “dire straits”).
Landing our souls at the right hand of God, enduring the swim of the strait or travelling the strait path requires a view of Christ that will pull us through and empower our faith to endure.
One of my favorite stories of swimming the strait happened just a few months ago. Sarah Thomas, an American swimmer dove into the English Channel to set a new record—one never done by man or woman. The record? To swim the Strait of Dover four times without stopping.
Most remarkable was the fact that Thomas made the decision to do the swim one year earlier while she was in the middle of treatment for breast cancer. She needed something to pull her through what was the biggest challenge of her life and career. So, she imagined finishing the swim over and over again in her mind. It pulled her through cancer first, then the record-breaking swim.
At 37 years old, following her treatment, Sarah was in her weakest condition, heavier than she had ever been, and her life was in turmoil. But she set her sights on the swim and started training.
The swim would take her 54 hours. That means she never left the water or stopped swimming for more than two days. She didn’t sleep, she had a high calorie protein drink every two hours. Yes, through the nights and shifts in tides and strong currents she swam. She finished at 6:30 am after a night of dark, windy, choppy conditions. Most remarkable is this map of her swim: [ii]
As the crow flies, her swim back and forth across the strait would have been 84 miles. But because of the currents and tides, her swim was much longer. In fact, it ended up being 50 miles longer because she had to correct her course due to the ever-changing currents. So instead of 84 miles, she swam 134 miles.
Now I look at her swim path, and it looks an awful lot like the path we often swim in life. We are taken off course, moved with the tides, yet if our view is fixed on Christ, we can repent and eventually land our souls at the right hand of Christ..
So, if you’ve been in the strait of the gospel and feel like the current has moved you off course a bit… Don’t you quit. The shore is just beyond the fog. You can do what you set out to do. You may swim a bit longer than expected, but you will make it. Your Savior has sunk lower than anyone. He has been to the bottom of the strait. He can strengthen you in the currents. He has the power to land you safely next to him–if you will keep trying, keep repenting and return to Him.
So, do everything you can today to get a clear view of Christ. Pray, read, lay hold on his word. Adjust your stroke, try again, and the fog will eventually clear. The shore is closer than you think. There is power in Christ to do what you may not think is possible.
In speaking to students at BYU, professor Cassy Budd said, “Brian K. Ashton of the Sunday School general presidency reminded us that ‘repentance is not a backup plan just in case our plan to live perfectly fails.’ He also said, ‘[Repentance] is not just for big sins but is a daily process of self-evaluation and improvement that helps us to overcome our sins, our imperfections, our weaknesses, and our inadequacies’ (Ensign, November 2016).
“Living perfectly is not the plan. Repentance is the plan. Jesus Christ is the plan. I think we erroneously equate perfection with living a perfect life, with never failing or falling short, but Jesus Christ is the only one who ever did or ever will do that. Perfection for us, then, must be about something else.”
2 Nephi 33:9 says, “be reconciled unto Christ, and enter into the narrow gate, and walk in the strait path which leads to life, and continue in the path until the end of the day of probation.”
We are to be reconciled, which means to be “restored with,” Christ. That requires, despite our failings, to resolve again to walk in his strait path. That strait path is the path of repentance.
One of the most powerful lessons on repentance is found in Alma 24:7-17. In these versus, the King is speaking to his people reminding them of their resolve to remain converted. Each verse teaches an important principle about the strait repenting path. Let’s examine these verses and see what we can learn about repentance and lasting conversion.
The first words of the king to his people were “I thank my God.” Does being grateful empower you to look to God and keep his commandments?
Elder Ucdorff said, “When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation…. Being grateful in our circumstances is an act of faith in God. It requires that we trust God and hope for things we may not see but which are true.”[iii]
When we are grateful we remember the source of our gratitude, we remember Him. Gratitude is in fact an act of faith demonstrating our willingness to remember Christ. Gratitude is a God-like thought and brings us closer to Him.
President David O. McKay said, “Jesus taught that God-like character is not a thing of favor or chance, it is a natural result of continued effort and right thinking, the effect of long cherished association with God-like thoughts.”
The king then said, “I am grateful for a portion of his Spirit to soften my heart.” He also expressed gratitude for the correspondence with good people. The Spirit brings gifts of grace, expanding our faith, clarifying our view, and strengthening our ability to persevere.
“Our willingness to take upon us the name of Christ and keep His commandments requires a degree of faith, but as we honor our covenants, that faith expands. In the first place, the promised fruits of obedience become evident, which confirms our faith. Secondly, the Spirit communicates God’s pleasure, and we feel secure in His continued blessing and help. Thirdly, come what may, we can face life with hope and equanimity, knowing that we will succeed in the end because we have God’s promise to us individually, by name, and we know He cannot lie.”[iv]
When we come to Christ, the spirit helps us see our sins. Ether 12:27 says, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Knowing our weakness, especially those that we cannot overcome on our own, helps us rely wholly upon the merits of Christ. “It is not an easy thing … to be shown one’s weaknesses. … Nevertheless, this is part of coming unto Christ, and it is a vital, if painful, part of God’s plan of happiness.”[v]
Carolyn J. Rasmus put it this way: “If the Lord did not give us weaknesses, it would be easy to take credit for our own accomplishments and to rely on our own strength. Weaknesses are a constant reminder of our dependence upon the Lord. When we take those weaknesses to him, in humility, we can become effectively joined with him in a great work. When we have done as much as we can do, his grace, that divine means of strength and help, can move us beyond our native abilities. We overcome our weakness when we have faith in him and acknowledge we can be better with his help than we can ever be on our own.”
The next verse teaches that God hath “granted unto us that we may repent,” and we have been forgiven through the merits of the Son.
We cannot “merit” salvation on our own. It requires we repent and turn to Christ. In a sense we must move “our hope from our righteousness to His.”[vi] Something remarkable happens when we make this type of move, we gain His power. I have both experienced and seen this “move” happen while trying to repent. There is no magic in our own merit. There is no power there. But when we rely entirely on Christ, we are filled with strength.
“[Christ’s] plan is developmental, and through reliance on His merits we can be saved, which Joseph Smith explained, is to be “assimilated into their [the Father and Son’s] likeness.” (Lectures on Faith 7:16).
“Without access to His grace and His merits, such a change in fallen men and women would not be possible. With His merits and grace, however, we can become “just men [and women] made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” (D&C 76:69).” [vii]
The King continued “It was all we could do… to repent of all our sins…and to get God to take them away from our hearts….” Could it be that “after all we can do” the grace of God will take away the sins from our hearts so that those sins are no longer part of us?
Too often we think “after all we can do” means we do all we can to merit repentance and Christ makes up the difference. There is a different way of looking at “after all we can do.” Like the King in Alma 24, maybe all we can do is to rely on Christ. We can do nothing else.
In speaking about the grace of Christ, Stephen A. Robinson suggested that “the correct sense of 2 Nephi 25:23 would be that we are ultimately saved by grace apart from whatever we manage to do.” We are to come to Christ and offer our hearts and do our best to repent and keep his commandments. Apart from this, His grace can save us.
In a sense the King is saying, “we could do nothing on our own except to repent.” We have no power to save on our own. But we can rely entirely on Christ who is mighty to save. Not only is this type of faith correct, but it is empowering. When we realize I can’t do it on my own, but I can rely on Christ, we gain faith.
Anne C. Pingree said, “Three times Paul asked the Lord to take away his weakness, and three times the Lord declined to do so. The Lord then explained that His grace was sufficient for Paul and that, in fact, His strength was actually ‘made perfect in weakness.’ Then Paul wrote, ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’
“’Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong’ (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
“Like Paul, we can find positive meaning in weaknesses that are not taken away. Surely nothing is quite as humbling as having a weakness that we cannot overcome but must continue to struggle with throughout our life. Such a weakness teaches us, in a very personal way, that after all we can do we must rely on the grace of Christ to make up the difference.”[viii]
“Since God hath taken away our stains and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more.” The king understood a simple principle: righteousness is easier to maintain than create. Once you have repented it is easier to stay clean, than to fall and repent again. Making the right decision in the moment of choice will empower you.
Exercise integrity in the moment of choice. It means this: once you’ve decided you will do something, when the moment of choice arrives, you act with integrity. You do what you say you will do, regardless of mood or circumstances. This is an empowering principle.
When you act with integrity in the moment of choice, you not only “keep your swords bright” but there is a change, a mental, emotional and spiritual change that happens inside you. You become more able to act and you have an inner peace that becomes part of you.
Stephen Covey said, “As you live [with this type of integrity] your sense of identity, integrity, control and inner-directedness will infuse you with both exhilaration and peace.”[ix]
When I learned this concept from Dr. Covey as a college student, he taught us that with most things in life there is a simple principle of stimulus and response. All animals respond to stimulus. They hear a bell, they come running for food. You hear certain words of hurt, you have feelings of anger. What differentiates us from all other creatures in the animal kingdom, is that God has given us a space between stimulus and response.
In that space, in that moment, is where life’s battles are won. There and then we can choose to act differently or respond to that stimulus in a more productive way. In this space, we gain habits, character and it is in that space where life’s victory is won or lost.
Their swords were “washed bright by the blood of the Son of our great God.”
Could it be that what gave the Anti-Nephi-Lehies the deep conversion necessary to stay true to their covenants was simply this: they had a testimony of the atonement and power of Christ. With such a testimony, they had strength beyond their own.
Elder Bednar said, “Conversion is an offering of self, of love, and of loyalty we give to God in gratitude for the gift of testimony.”[x]
“…he doth visit us by his angels, that the plan of salvation might be made known unto us….”
The more we know and study and learn of the revelations of God, the stronger we become. In my experience, as the words of Christ find lodging in our heart, they become a hedge against the temptations of Satan.
When Christ was tempted of satan three times, He refused satan each time saying “it is written.” Likewise when we let the words of salvation occupy our mind, we too gain great power to “bury our weapons” and stay faithful.
“…that they may be kept bright as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged….”
Like Florence Chadwick, keeping a view of our end goal allows us to persist in our journey with greater strength. I have often thought that if we could look forward and have the feeling of standing at the bar of Christ, we would have greater strength to be obedient. As we ponder and contemplate that last day, through the Spirit we can gain such a feeling.
“…if our brethren destroy us, behold we shall go to our God and be saved.” One of my favorite hymns says, “Do what is right let the consequence follow. Battle for freedom in spirit and might; and with stout hearts look ye forth til tomorrow. God will protect you then do what is right.” I love the attitude of “let consequence follow.” I may face difficulty, I may experience personal pain; but I will keep the commandments come what may.
Speaking of the swords—a symbol of their sins and temptation to sin, Alma writes, “…and they did bury them deep in the earth.”
To overcome some sins, we must do the same. To repent, you can pray for better conditions, you can seek heavenly help; but you must do your part. You must bury old habits, friends, places, and circumstances; and change the conditions that lead to sinful behavior.
When we do, we offer a testimony like the Anti-nephi-lehies who buried their weapons as “a testimony to God, and also to men, that they would never use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God….”
In Alma 50, Moroni was fighting against the evils of the Lamanite army. To protect the people, he did everything possible to defend against evil. Around their cities they built heaps of earth, put timbers upon the heaps of earth, upon the fence of timbers, they built pickets. They built towers from which they could spot the enemy’s advance, built places of security from which they could “cast stones from the top thereof,” and did everything within their power to avoid protect themselves.
This is part of repentance. To do what is within our power to avoid temptation, to order our circumstances, to keep a clear view of Christ and his gospel, and to be faithful in living according to our covenants. As we do, we gain a view of things as they really are. And like Tammy Van Wisse, we learn that that view is “half the journey.”
Elder Marion G. Romney said, “When earth life is over and things appear in their true perspective, we shall more clearly see … that the fruits of the gospel are the only objectives worthy of life’s full efforts.”[xi]
[i] Breaking Through the Fog—the Career of Florence Chadwick, https://womensmuseum.wordpress.com/2019/03/13/breaking-through-the-fog-the-career-of-florence-chadwick.
[ii] NPR News, September 17, 2019, Brakkton Booker (track.rs/ssthomas3; ESRI-National Geographic).
[iii] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Grateful in Any Circumstances, General Conference 2014.
[iv] D. Todd Christofferson, The Power of Covenants, General Conference 2009.
[v] Neal A. Maxwell, Hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 63.
[vi] Michael J. Fear, The Merits of Christ: Fallen Humanity’s Hope for Redemption, rsc.byu.edu.
[viii] Anne C. Pingree, Making Weak Things Become Strong, Ensign, Dec 2004.
[ix] Stephen A. Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 69.
[x] David A. Bednar, Converted unto the Lord, General Conference Oct. 2012.
[xi] Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, Oct.1949, p. 39.