Cover image: It’s True, Sir, All Present and Accounted For, by Clark Kelley via Gospel Media Library.
Alma 57:25 says: “Nevertheless, according to our great astonishment, and also the joy of our whole army, there was not one soul of them who did perish; yea and neither was there one soul among them who had not received many wounds.”
Have you ever thought about what “many wounds” means in the context of a vicious war?
We are told the Stripling army of Helaman suffered, each of them, many wounds. I used to always just think of those wounds as basically cuts and scratches, since we are told so little and those are the kinds of injuries I’ve had in my life. But in war, people don’t get “wounds” from falling down or walking into a rosebush. They get injured from swords and spears. A wound in this context means a cut inflicted by a weapon. These young men were struck or stabbed with weapons by people who were trying to kill them, “many times”.
We don’t know the details, but it’s impossible to imagine these stripling soldiers didn’t return home with scars from their injuries. And among the 2,060 boys, there were probably some who returned home with facial disfigurement, with fingers or toes missing, with arms or legs that never returned to full use.
But the fact that they bore scars does not change the inspirational power of what they did nor the tender mercy of the Lord in preserving them against all odds. They returned home to loving, faithful families who honored their sacrifice and helped with their limitations. They participated in one of the greatest series of miracles recorded in all of scripture. They are whole today in the spirit world, and will someday be resurrected to perfect bodies, their scars and damage wiped away with their sins.
The point is, just because we bear scars does not mean the Lord was not protecting us. Likewise, knowing the Lord will protect and sustain us does not mean we can expect to escape without injury, even lasting injury.
Today, the world we face is increasingly a world of war. We face physical dangers in terms of traditional war, but also terrorism, extreme weather, crime, and now, deadly pandemics. We also face tremendous social upheaval, where ideas that were mainstream ten years ago can get you fired from your job today. We live in a world where modern prophets get vilified for defending previously common-sense, uncontroversial ideas like the idea that stable families are good for children and that human beings come in two genetically distinct genders.
Parenting in the Last Days
Even beyond all of that, the parents of today’s teenagers and young adults are facing a situation unique in human history. Namely: they are the first parents in the history of mankind to raise children in the age of smartphones. Our children were the first generation to even have as an option the possibility of carrying the internet around in their pockets. This “iGen” is having a mortal experience unlike any previous generation throughout all time.
We do not even know, yet, what the lasting effects of smartphones on young minds will be. We know that social media carries grave dangers, and that predators and manipulators lurk in the anonymity of messaging and sharing apps. We also know that smartphones allow us to know where our children are, and to communicate with them at all hours and at all distances. We know our children’s phones can carry scriptures and positive messages and access to truth. But we don’t yet know how those advantages outweigh the disadvantages, how much phone content is ok, what exactly the lines are between learning how to navigate the ups and downs of the online world and being bullied, if smartphone screentime is better or worse than television or video games, etc.
The point is, we are parenting in a wisdom void. We are parenting children with internet and smartphones for the first time in the history of the world. We can’t ask our parents what they did with their teenagers’ smartphones! We can’t learn internet lessons from our grandparents! We didn’t even have smartphones mentioned in For the Strength of Youth when many of us started navigating this terrain!
Forgive all the exclamation points, but I think this is a point too easily forgotten. We, the parents of the smartphone generation, are making it up as we go along. We don’t have others’ prior experiences to draw on because nobody has prior experience.
It’s a terrible time to be parenting by making things up as we go along, because the particular harms presented by the smartphone age are uniquely, frighteningly, dangerous. Our children are not protected even if they don’t have a phone of their own, because their peers do from a very young age. There is of course pornography, which one child can show another during math class or even on the back row at Sunday School.
There is also a hideous scourge of bullying. The internet brings out the worst in people who insult, rage, and mock without having to face the pained human reaction of the one they hurt. Many people say things online they would never say in person, which degrades their souls as well as the unfortunate targets of their cruelty. There are also growing trends toward denying the importance of chastity, marriage, even the very existence of male and female bodies, and these trends are splashed across the most popular apps and championed by the most popular and influential people.
Our children today are facing a world so evil, and so insidious, and so aggressive in its intent, that it is hard to imagine any of them reaching adulthood without being injured, perhaps even scarred or disabled, by the internet. Whether they are exposed to unholy images or unholy ideas; whether they are exposed to cruelty or scorn of the principles of the gospel; whether they make wise decisions themselves but are victims of others’ misuse of these technologies—this is a world that will hurt our children.
We as parents are literally unable to protect our children the way we want to because in many cases they face dangers we have never contemplated, much less developed a plan for.
The parents of the army of Helaman
In the Book of Mormon, we read of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, former Lamanites who made a covenant to never again raise weapons, and who were slaughtered by the thousands as they honored that covenant. Years later, many of those same people who had survived the slaughter were required to watch their sons go off to war against those very same murderous armies.
These parents must have been petrified. They knew how vicious and heartless an angry army could be; they had seen war and killing and death, and they knew that these particular Lamanites would slaughter even the innocent. They could not fight the fight for their sons. All they could do was pass on what they had learned about faith: that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And pass on their example: of being willing to sacrifice all things for righteousness’ sake.
And every single one of those children was wounded. Many times.
Miraculously they all survived, but each one suffered and bled on the battlefield first. It was a miracle that they were delivered alive from a horrendous battle that left scores of men dead on both sides. It was a miracle that every last one of the 2060 stripling soldiers eventually returned home to their parents. And yet, the Lord’s plan for their deliverance did not require that they escape unscathed. Some situations—like on the field of a vicious and prolonged battle, or in the first generation of smartphone use—are going to result in “many wounds”.
The fact that there are wounds does not mean there isn’t also a miracle.
Parents, take heart. There is hope for us, and for our children. We need to understand we are playing by new rules here, and that we may face situations as parents that have never been addressed by a Conference talk or mentioned in the Handbook. But we have been supported and strengthened in the past few years by a push to center gospel learning in the home, which signals the Lord’s faith in our ability, as parents, to win this war.
We may not be able to prevent our children from being damaged and hurt, many times, by the crazy new world they are growing up in. But we don’t have to.
Our job is to arm them with the power of our faithful examples and our sincere gospel teaching, and to sustain them with mighty prayer as they go out into the world. We can trust that the Lord knows they are walking into danger and that He will watch over them when we cannot.
As the world grows more and more scornful of our faith, and we face greater and greater criticism for membership in a church increasingly seen as sexist, racist and homophobic, our faithfulness to our covenants becomes more and more crucial. When we cling to the commandments and to the words of prophets above the praise of the world and the admiration of the online mob, we will qualify for blessings and miracles we cannot imagine.
In the end, after their wanderings, whether in this life or the next, our children yet will say: “We do not doubt our mothers knew it.”
Kimberly White is co-author, with Duane Boyce, of the forthcoming book: The Last Safe Place: Seven Principles for Standing with the Prophets in Troubled Times (Meridian Publishing, 2021). The Last Safe Place treats the themes about who prophets are, how they work, and how we can embrace them in furthering the Lord’s glorious work of the last days.