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There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life” (D&C 84:85 ), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance. — President Ezra Taft Benson.[i]
I used to think that reading the scriptures was just one more thing to DO and check off my “I’m-Trying-SOOO-Hard-to-be-a-GOOD-Person” list. But, then, my weaknesses and the weaknesses of others broke me in two. No, better put, mortality shattered me into pieces–a million pieces.
Putting my life, my sanity even, back together would have been like trying to reconstruct a ship as the wreckage floats off in all directions. That was what my life was like when I began this in-depth search of the Book of Mormon in the late 1980s. This was no “casual” effort to keep up with a reading schedule. This was the slow, pondering study of someone looking for an antidote for malaria, a cure for their own spreading cancer.
At that point, I knew I had to find God on a gut-deep, heart-deep, walking-talking-counseling, personal revelation basis, or I was going to spin right off the planet, much less right out of the Church. Everyone and everything I had believed in and participated in as part of the outward structure and appearances of the Mormon way of life had not been able to stop the devastation of watching addiction in various forms destroy my first marriage and lead the majority of my children away from the Church I love.
That was when I started reading the Book of Mormon as if my very life depended on it. That’s when Joseph Smith’s testimony that this book would get me closer to God than any other book in the world pierced my heart. That’s when I began slowing down and peering into the depths of each verse of this sacred record as if each one were a deep pool of water where jewels and gold was waiting to be discovered. I began to sit still long enough and be still and wait upon the “words of Christ” to open the verses to “the eyes of my understanding.” And under the tutelage of His Spirit I began to awaken to the truth that the Book of Mormon and is truly a survivor’s manual for these last days that are so plagued by addictions and afflictions of every kind.
Finding the Headlines, Applying Them to My Own Story
One day, as I was correlating the teachings of the Book of Mormon with the principles in the Twelve Step program of recovery, checking the steps against the most correct book ever written, with the hope growing in my heart that there could someday be an 12 Step addiction recovery program specifically for LDS members, I came to following words in Jacob 1:4:
And if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven the heads of them upon these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our people.
Since being in recovery (awakening to the principles that lead one to experience the redeeming grace of Christ) is the equivalent of regaining a believing heart, I found myself willing to believe that God would hear and answer my prayers through the “words of Christ” or in other words the words of Truth, if I were willing to trust His promise to do so. (See 2 Nephi 32:3.) In other words, my study of the principles of recovery magnified by the example of the prophets of the Book of Mormon, was restoring some of that childlike innocence and trust of God that I had as a little child, and I really believed He would answer me.
I believed that He could and would converse with me, give me answering thoughts that would whisper wisdom and understanding into my mind. And so, I asked, point blank, “Lord, the words, ‘the heads of them’ sound strange and yet strangely familiar to my mind. They catch my attention. What would Thou have me pause here and learn from these words?” Almost instantly (and with a smile I could feel), I perceived the Lord convey to my mind the words, “Think of what you are used to calling ‘headlines,’ Colleen. That is what Nephi told Jacob to engrave upon the plates–the heads of them–the briefest summary of the most sacred parts.”
“But Lord,” I continued, like the boldly inquisitive child He has taught me He desires and even enjoys me to be, “If the verses of the Book of Mormon are only made up of the headlines, how do I get to read the ‘rest of the story’ that goes with each one? I mean, Lord . . . headlines only serve to whet a reader’s appetite or get a reader’s attention.”
With a continued smile (I swear you can feel His smile–in other words, you can feel His good humor, His patience, His delight with you coming to Him for counsel), He conveyed to me, “That is the part that will be opened to you as you seek to liken the words and phrases you underline to your life, and live closer and closer to the light of my Spirit by making such a serious study of this book.”
Slowing Down and Finding So Much to Ponder In Just One Verse
So it is that, in all humility, I would like to share here, the richness and depth of five personal applications/insights that the Lord opened to me in just the very first verse of the Book of Mormon—1 Nephi 1:1 and convinced me of just how this book could get me closer to God than any other book I would ever read—if I would study it slowly, prayerfully. I totally acknowledge that these are personal insights and I have no intention of interpreting or applying them to anyone else’s life. Even so, I hope to testify of just how the Book of Mormon, has become my “Liahona,” helping me make sense of my own life story and teaching me how to express my prayerful thoughts to the Lord.
The First Person, Singular: “I, Nephi . . .”
As I had been studying the Twelve Steps that guide a person to understand and practice recovery from addiction (both in their own lives and in the lives of their loved ones), I learned that the first requirement I had to embrace was virtually identical to the first two words of Nephi’s testimony: “I, Nephi, . . .”
I learned you must be willing to speak from your own heart, from what in English usage is called the “first person, singular” voice or perspective. It is to be willing to think about and talk about your own experiences, your own life, your own sadness, pain, loss, fear, resentment, as well as your own hopes, dreams, desires, loves, enjoyments. In recovery, you begin to come to yourself–like the lost son did in the parable of the prodigal (Luke 15: 17), you begin to realize that your story of where your were at different seasons of your life, what happened and what your journey has been like is important, even sacred and needs to be heard–especially by you. Your recovery will never start with trying to sort out and fix other people’s thoughts and feelings.
Prayerful thought: Lord, help me to let go of obsessing about other people’s lives–what they’ve done, what they’re doing, or what they might do–and pay attention to the life Thou hast given me to live.
Owning the Truth About My Childhood: “. . . having been born of goodly parents, . . .”
Before I began to get rigorously honest about my very challenging childhood and allowed myself to grieve the deficits and losses I experienced in it, I was “put off” by Nephi from the second he introduced himself as having been born of “goodly parents.” My mind sort of shut down, my eyes glazed over, and even if I went on reading Nephi’s words, I kept thinking, “Sure, that’s easy for him to say, easy for him to choose, easy for him to “be good” like he is. Rich kid with attentive, caring parents. I wasn’t hearing a thing, submerged as I was in self pity and self will, in resentment. In scriptural terms, I hardened my heart against Nephi.
However, as I accepted and began to apply (practice) the Twelve Step principles of repentance and inner cleansing, something happened to me that awakened me from this trance of resentment. Like the wayward son in the parable of the prodigal, I began to “come to myself,” and the truth of the Restored Gospel was able to finally penetrate my softening heart. I had heard, for years, the concept, unique to Mormonism, that we are all children of not only a Heavenly Father, but a Heavenly Mother as well. I desired it to be true. I wanted it to be true. I even came to believe it was true. I taught it in Primary and in Sunday School. But did I act like it was true? Did I pray like I had a Father and Mother who I could run Home to, who would take me in their arms and delight in my existence and pay attention to my feelings, my thoughts, my needs? No.
In recovery, I eventually had a living experience with this reality that changed my mindset and my heart forever. As I kept studying the Gospel in the light of these twelve true principles, I was restored to the sanity of knowing–truly knowing–that I am a beloved child of Heavenly Parents who want me, and who are, even now, in the process of training me, preparing me to inherit all that They have and–even more exciting to me–to become all that They are.
Prayerful thought: Lord, restore me to the sanity–to the Eternal Truth–that I, like Nephi, have also been born of goodly–even Godly–parents.
The Reality of Paradox in Mortality: having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; . . .
“ . . . having seen many afflictions in the course of my days”! Now here was a concept I could understand! That certainly described my life. Childhood: painful, lonely, neglected, abused. Teens: painful, lonely, neglected, abused, “sinful.” Young adulthood: painful, confused, compulsive-obsessive, perfectionistic. Adulthood: painful, lonely, abused, abusing, driven, depressed, morbidly obese.
But wait. What did Nephi mean by saying he was also “highly favored of the Lord in all [his] days . . .”? What? Wasn’t it a complete contradiction for him to say that he had seen many afflictions over the course of his lifetime and at the same time still felt highly favored of the Lord in all his days? How could he possibly experience a lifetime of afflictions and still feel “favored of the Lord?” “Highly favored,” at that?
Nephi’s words remained a puzzle to me until I got to 2 Nephi 2:11 and heard his father, Lehi’s explanation of what it means to live a life that is a “compound in all things,” or in other words a synthesis of complementary opposites or opposition. Reading Lehi’s testimony shown a brilliant light back on Nephi’s seemingly paradoxical statement? I realized that Nephi was adding his own witness to the truth that life is a paradoxical (mysterious) and amazing blend or “compound in one” of both affliction and favor. This is true for all of us, without exception.
Prayerful thought: Lord, help me to remember that life is a compound in one–and that in accepting this reality I am accepting life on Thy terms.
Coming to Know the Goodness of God
1 Nephi 1:1 — “ . . . having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God . . .”
As I sat still and allowed Nephi’s words to find their way to the depths of my heart, I began to realize that in spite of all my outward professions of belief in God, I still wasn’t convinced of His goodness. I began to ask to know His goodness and to see it in all things, even in my afflictions.
I asked, and again He answered me through further study of the Book of Mormon. He showed me the astounding depths of His mercy as I read of Alma the younger’s moment of coming to himself and crying out directly to Christ (Alma 36:18). As I have recovered a closer consciousness of God, I have found that all my negative assumptions about the Lord, taught to me by lies about Him I had inherited from others, were the farthest thing from the truth about Him.
In place of my old image of a scowling, impatient Father and Savior, I have opened my heart and mind to the truth that both of Them are actually benevolent and caring beyond all human comprehension and that this is true of us all without exception, if we will just turn to Christ and offer our whole souls as an offering to Him. (See Omni 1:26.)
In the process of recovery, I have come to know that in all the afflictions and trials, even all the mistakes made against me as well as the mistakes I have made, have actually been allowed to happen by God’s goodness so that I might learn (if I will humble myself) by my own experience what works to bring genuine peace and happiness and what doesn’t.
I know, now, that for me, the fall was a leap of faith in my Father and in my Elder Brother. As one, They covenanted to send me out into this great wilderness adventure and bring me home in due time according to my will being in harmony with Theirs. My life, even with its hardest moments is all part of the Father’s plan and the Savior’s purpose. It’s all good, as hard (mysterious) as that may be to believe. This awakening to my life–imperfect as it has been–as a good thing, has amounted to a mighty change in my heart towards God. I no longer resent or resist the life God has given me. I have learned to accept my life on His terms and to trust in Him in all things.
Prayerful Thought: Lord, help me see that God is good and that my life has been, is and will continue to be good–if I will just allow Thee to show me the mystery and wonder of it all.
I hope these bits of sharing will encourage you to read the scriptures slowly–taking time to let the Spirit of the Lord open insights and applications to your own life that you can record so that your journal may become even as the Book of Mormon, another testament of the Lord Jesus Christ.
[i] “The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 4.