by Autumn Dickson
When we read the first seven chapters of The Book of Mormon, we find a great many patterns for how the Lord works with His children. We find patterns of revelation, agency, perfect timing, and the nature of personal progression and testimony. One of the patterns we also find is that of righteous parenting. One of the first things declared in The Book of Mormon is:
1 Nephi 1:1 I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father…
Over and over and over again we see how Lehi and Sariah followed patterns of righteous parenting. Before you non-parents wonder if this message has relevance to you, I promise you that it does. Studying the patterns of Lehi and Sariah can teach us about how to become better parents, but it can also teach us a couple of other things such as how the Lord deals with His children so we can recognize why He is making specific decisions when we wonder what the heck He must be thinking. It can also teach us about the dual, and sometimes conflicting, principles of loving another person but simultaneously appreciating agency and feeling peace despite worries over their destructive choices. I will be referencing “parenting,” but this is not just about parenting. It’s about how the Lord works with us and how we work with others.
Personally seeking the Lord
One of the first things discussed in the righteous pattern of Lehi’s parenting is the way that Lehi personally sought out the Lord on His own. In verse 5, we see that Lehi went and prayed with all of his heart to the Lord. In return, Lehi receives a vision; this vision discusses a lot of things, but one of the things it talks about includes the abominations and impending destruction of Jerusalem at the time. These could not have been easy things to watch. The destruction of Jerusalem at the time of Zedekiah was ugly and brutal, and yet, Lehi came out of that vision in this manner:
1 Nephi 1:15 …his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him.
There are a couple of things we can learn from Lehi’s experience.
First, Lehi was led because he was actively praying. Interestingly enough, Lehi wasn’t even praying about anything specific in regards to his family. He was praying to the Lord with his whole heart on behalf of his people. My key concept here is this: Turn regularly to the Lord, and He will lead along in the specifics on how to protect your family. You may not even originally recognize how the Lord is leading you along. After Lehi finds out Jerusalem is going to get destroyed, the Lord doesn’t say anything about leaving. It isn’t until Lehi is about to be killed before he receives the life-saving, miraculous gift of being driven from the lands of their fathers. From the outside, it might not look like Lehi was being led along, but we have hindsight which means we see the miracle in all of it. I attribute this incredible miracle to the fact that Lehi was turning regularly to the Lord.
And there is an implied principle that comes with this previous principle. If we’re turning to the Lord, we will be guided. This means we don’t have to live in fear. In the world we live in, it would be incredibly easy to let our desire to protect our children overwhelm us to the extent that we actually harm them. I want to protect my children from danger, but I can’t really…not unless I want to take them away from everything, and that’s not healthy for them either. We do the best we can to provide gospel principles, healthy homes, and reasonable boundaries, but we have to turn to the Lord and ask Him to guide us and our feelings when it comes to specific events that could hurt them. Only He can really protect them and lead them along the path that will protect them but still allow for growth.
There is a third principle for parents here. No matter how much we follow the Lord, our children still have agency. We want them to choose the right, but we can’t force them to. It’s not possible. Not even the Lord does that. It can be extremely difficult to watch loved ones make destructive choices. Lehi knows this firsthand. My children are young yet, but I’ve had other loved ones go down paths that would hurt them. Lehi prayed on behalf of his people with his whole heart. He loved the people who were going to try and kill him, or at least he loved the other people who were indulging in choices that would lead to their destruction and exile.
Where did Lehi find comfort? When Lehi turned to the Lord, he saw what would happen to his beloved people. I can’t imagine that was the source of his comfort. Lehi rejoices in His Redeemer. When all else is failing, there is comfort in the Redeemer. When there is no happy ending currently in sight because loved ones are choosing unhappiness, there is still a source of peace that we can cling to.
Sending his sons into difficult circumstances
Lehi sent his sons to go back to the volatile Jerusalem twice, and Sariah was not happy about it. Honestly, I can’t imagine that I would have been happy about it. If there was a time that I was going to doubt the visions of my husband, this would probably be that moment. I probably would have sought the Lord and asked if I could go instead. I was a mother, a parent. It was my responsibility to protect them, not send them to get slaughtered which is precisely what almost happened. By parenting standards today, this is terrible”parenting. I mean…some of the stuff I get side eye for nowadays is nothing compared to what Lehi was doing.
And yet, Lehi was doing exactly the right thing by following the Lord. As far as we know, he didn’t even question it. The Lord wanted the sons to go, not Lehi, and that was good enough for Lehi. And look what it brought to his sons! Laman and Lemuel were going to use their agency how they wanted to, but I can’t get over the experiences that Nephi had. This was an early, soul-stretching, pivotal experience in his testimony. I think about all the things I learn while reading about his experience. Just think about what he learned living them, and it was all because Lehi was brave enough to follow the Lord and let it happen. This doesn’t even cover the fact that Nephi brought Zoram back with him.
When we send our kids out into the world, it may feel like we’re sending them straight into Babylon, the place we often feel a desperate need to avoid at all costs. There will be appropriate times to leave Babylon, and there will be appropriate times to be in the world but not of it. Trust and follow the Lord to lead you and your family along about which path you’re supposed to be taking at any given time. Have enough faith, like Lehi, to follow that path.
And also, don’t feel like you failed if some of your children still utilized their agency in a way that you wish they hadn’t. Heavenly Father is a perfect parent, and He lost a third part of His children before we even made it to earth. Just do your best to follow Him, and the Lord won’t let you fail. Your children may still choose wrong, but it won’t be because you failed them.
He loved their mother
One of the most critical things that can occur in a family is for a father to love the mother; it’s not the only critical thing, but it is what I’m going to talk about in this section. And though I’m talking about Lehi loving Sariah, these are still principles that apply to anyone who has the opportunity to love someone else.
Let’s consider the circumstances of Lehi for a second. Lehi is a visionary man. Because of these gifts and because he loved others enough to try and serve them with those gifts, Lehi was almost killed. He abandoned his home, led his family to the wilderness, and was constantly receiving criticism from his sons. After receiving another vision and sending his sons out to Jerusalem, he got criticism from his wife. And honestly, I wonder if this was one of the hardest ones for Lehi to face. It can be particularly stinging when a spouse isn’t supporting you, especially when you have devoted your life and sacrificed everything to try and uplift your family. Sariah mocked him as a visionary man and mourned the loss of their sons. This could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Lehi could have easily felt justified in calling her out. He could have responded with the same scorn. He could have yelled at her and told her that he had lost everything too. He could have told her that he was trying to do what was best for their family by following the Lord, and he could have iterated that he didn’t appreciate her undermining him in this.
Rather, he loved her. He bore testimony to her. He took her biting words and sent them back in a loving manner. He didn’t have to do this. He could have felt as though he was in the right, and he could have gloated when their sons returned. But I wonder how his compassion affected her testimony in ways that the miraculous return of her sons could not.
Lehi was an incredible example of the Lord. He loved her at her worst. And because of his example, Sariah was one step closer to understanding the Lord. When difficult things came along in the future, she could trust that the Lord was making His choices because of His love for her not in spite of it. When Sariah faltered again (just like we all do), she could trust that He would lead her along through the rough patches despite the fact that she might not have deserved it.
I am so excited to be in The Book of Mormon this year. I testify of a Savior who loved people everywhere and led along one of the tribes of Israel to the Americas. I testify of a Savior who prepared the way perfectly for all of us, but also for each of us. Everything I’ve studied over the past few years and everything we get to study this year shows example after example after example of His awareness, power, and love.
Autumn Dickson was born and raised in a small town in Texas. She served a mission in the Indianapolis Indiana mission. She studied elementary education but has found a particular passion in teaching the gospel. Her desire for her content is to inspire people to feel confident, peaceful, and joyful about their relationship with Jesus Christ and to allow that relationship to touch every aspect of their lives.