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This is a Book of Mormon Extra for Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7.
Nephi travels a miserable desert, endures starvation as he seeks to make a new bow, lives on raw meat, is threatened multiple times by his brothers, takes two extra trips back to Jerusalem, has to build a ship with only the worst of complaining workers, is tied up during a storm at sea and apparently never murmurs or sinks to despair.
Finally, the wrath and murderous intentions of his brothers following the death of his father, Lehi, are too much, and even the invincible Nephi has his dark moment. On these plates where he is writing the things of his soul he cries out, “O wretched man that I am!”
He is apparently wretched not just for the anger and hatred that is heaped upon him, but also for his sense of his own sins and weakness of the flesh—the pains and fallibilities of living in a fallen world.
The reality is that we are energized in a very real way by the light of God. We are taught “And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes” (D&C 88:11).
We know that the Lord’s light is in us and through us, but like Nephi we can’t always feel it or access it. The world is too much with us and we know what it is to walk in shadows. More often than we’d like to admit, life bears down on us and the mists of darkness swirl around us and we, too, become heavy.
It is valuable to us that Nephi is willing to share his moment of wretchedness and what he does to emerge from that dark pit. If someone like the indomitable Nephi can sometimes be swathed in despair, then we understand that it is common to this mortal sphere and there is a way out.
What he does is profound—and a model for us all.
Nephi Acts as an Agent
There is a point in Nephi’s lamentations where he makes a conscious choice. He stops shorts in his tracks as he is pursuing a line of thinking that is devastating. Right in the middle of describing how his “heart groaneth because of [his] sins”, he redirects his course. He has recognized that his mind is not working in a way that brings energy and light to his being.
Think how easy it would have been to continue down the same course. Not only does his heart truly groan, but he could have begun listing a great number of other complaints at the same time. He could have become even more eloquent about the sources of his misery. He could have gone so far as to blame God for sending him rotten brothers or a difficult family situation.
Instead, he backs off and turns it around. “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” With this remark, he is choosing to be an agent and not a victim. Now it would be easy to suggest that what he is doing here is merely choosing to have a good attitude, but there is something much deeper and more important happening.
Attitudes and emotions follow thoughts, not the reverse. We feel something because we thought it first. We are not, then, mere victims to our emotions, led along like a donkey on a rope. Our state of being begins in our head—in the thoughts we think at such a rapid rate every second of every minute of every hour.
Feelings follow so quickly after, that sometimes we think that they lead, but it is what we are thinking that carves out everything else and determines our emotions.
This would be fine and good if our thoughts were all based in truth and light, but we have learned certain patterns of thinking in this fallen world that are simply flawed. They are natural man patterns that don’t bless us. We would obviously abandon them if we realized that they were hurting us, but we usually hold on tight to them because we don’t see that they are false. They hold us hostage. It is our fallen world mentality, developed because we had no memory of our truer self or home.
When we entered this fallen sphere, we began afresh to determine what reality is—and none of us got it entirely right. So we developed patterns of thinking—some of which don’t bless us at all. We don’t stop to look at them because they become habitual.
Most of us believe that what we think is “the truth.” Our thoughts represent reality. After all, they feel like reality to us because we have rehearsed them so many times in our minds. They are reflexive. They belong to us. We even think our thinking, however flawed, is us.
How can you tell if your thinking patterns are flawed? The Lord has given us a sure way of understanding. Truth is light. The light that “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space” is “the same light that quickeneth your understandings” (D&C 88:11).
Replacing our Flawed Thinking
If we begin to feel that low energy dimness, a sense of discomfort and unease or if we simply live constantly with ideas that we are inadequate, unable, or hopeless, if we are anxious, resentful or blaming, we are holding on to false, natural-man ways of thinking. We have this perfect test to see if we are. Patterns of thinking about ourselves, our lives or others that bring us heaviness or darkness or unhappiness give themselves away. They are not God’s light that is quickening our understanding.
They are half-truths, partial truths, even outright lies. Admittedly, Nephi was having a truly terrible time, but was he a “wretched man”? He appears to feel it wholeheartedly. At the moment he was carefully engraving it on plates, he believed it was reality—until he chose to embrace the truth, which is light. Then his wretchedness shows itself for what it really is—the product of his own natural man thinking.
“I know in whom I have trusted,” he announces, and then begins in his Psalm the most beautiful, light-filled description of his gratitude. Here is what is key. He is replacing the lies and partial truths of false thinking with the truth. He had the perfect test to tell if this new line of thought was true, because it was filled with light—very different than the darkness he had just been feeling.
Far from being a wretched man, he now acknowledges:
“My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the deep.
“He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
“He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me” (2 Nephi 4:20-22)
Nephi has replaced flawed, natural man thinking with the truth—and what flows from that is gratitude and light. Someone else didn’t do that for him. In fact, no one else could. By his will, he stopped thinking the swampy thoughts that were dark and instead put the power of his beautiful mind upon the truth. His exultation of gratitude was the result.
Paul talks about the power of our thoughts when he says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” If we are to have the joy of the Lord, we must have the mind of the Lord. That is worth repeating. If we are to have the joy of the Lord, we must have the mind of the Lord–which is free, expansive, loving and full of light because He is full of truth. The Lord has given us a barometer to tell if our minds are full of thought patterns that are based in truth. We can feel the natural man, flawed thinking in our system when it’s there. It makes us droop. The truth, instead, lifts us.
Write it Down
If we feel a bit wretched or even worse, one way to help ourselves is to write down what we are thinking. Invite ourselves to some meditation on our thoughts. Step back and look at what you are thinking. We can be conscious of our consciousness.
What are we believing now, and is it true? Or is it flawed? Be forthright with yourself as you write down what you think. Get to the very core of your own patterns. Let me give an example of what one woman did. This is what she wrote down, though it was more expansive and detailed than this.
I think I am always on the line.
I think that I never measure up.
I think that I am not good enough.
I am afraid because I think I won’t be good enough.
I think I am being judged.
Then she asked herself about each statement: what is flawed about this thinking? I know it must be flawed because it is bringing me down, and the truth is full of light. At the same time, she had to acknowledge that she really believed these statements to be true. In fact, she had gone through life unconsciously gathering evidence supporting these statements.
She took those statements one by one, seeking to replace them with the truth—or at least a higher truth that she could write down in another column to the side.
For instance, she began to explore the statement, “I think that I never measure up.” She asked the question, “Measure up to what?” What was this invisible standard that she was supposed to measure up to? Did she think that somehow she had to be perfect to be acceptable to herself or to the Lord? And what was perfect anyway? What did it look like?
She began to see she was holding a very simplistic idea that needed to be explored through the help of the Lord and the Spirit. She studied God’s command to be perfect and realized that the word really means “whole”—the end of a process. And what was that process? Trusting that the Lord gave you weaknesses and mortality in order to take you on a journey to wholeness and bring you to Him. Trusting that his atonement was a gift to make you whole. She came to see that she had been denying the atonement all along and thinking she had to be sufficient unto herself. She understood that nobody measured up on her own or ever could.
So many things changed in her thinking as she studied, prayed and thought this through. She replaced her flawed thinking with higher, truer thinking—and her being began to be filled with greater light. Instead of thinking “I never measure up,” she determined that the Lord’s perfection was enough and He had given her the atonement to teach her and lift her and, line upon line, bring her to Him. She knew in whom she had trusted and she stopped trusting in a false perception of herself.
Say the Truth
When you are low, the way to help yourself at that moment is to go to the very core of your being and start saying true things—just like Nephi did. Truth, being light, drives out darkness. What is it that you absolutely know to be a core truth?
I have learned that when I am tempted by despair, which I know is fostered in part by flawed thinking, I start with the most basic truths. Sometimes that is hard, because in those dark moments we are absolutely convinced of our wretchedness and every difficult thing that got us there. We may even be convinced that things will not be better. “O wretched woman that I am.” “O wretched man that I am.”
In those times, I begin to say things I know are true. I say, “I know that God lives.” I can feel the light of that truth begin to stir in me.
What else am I sure of? “I have seen God working in my life.” More stirring of light. This is true. Then, I can begin to name some of those times. Truth begins to dawn inside of me.
I am gradually freed from the lurking shadows. Nephi consciously chose to lift himself from despair through the Lord’s light of truth, and we can learn from him.
Jesus told his disciples, “If ye continue in my word…ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free: (John 8:32,33)
Iclea Megre LannesFebruary 8, 2016
Thank you so much for those inspired words, they came along in a very special moment for myself.
Deanna SasserFebruary 4, 2016
This article came along just at the right time in my life. Sometimes we pray for help to understand and we don't think we are heard. I do know that the Lord puts people (Articles) into our lives that help us and in fact, answers our prayers. Thank you, Sister Proctor, for taking this scripture a little deeper so we can apply it to us. I am grateful!