by Autumn Dickson
Nephi’s psalm is a classic, and there are a great many things we can learn from it. Rather than focusing on any specific phrases or words, I want to look at the message as a whole. I believe there is something we can learn as we follow Nephi through his transitions.
All throughout the chapters we have read thus far, Nephi has given us examples of his righteousness. He turned to the Lord for his own testimony, faithfully followed his father out of his home, valiantly encouraged his brothers to let the Lord help them accomplish the impossible, and then frankly forgave them after being beaten with a rod. We appreciate these examples; we learn a lot about revelation, turning to the Lord, and following in faith. If we can read these examples with the right heart, we will learn many of the mysteries of the kingdom. However, oddly enough, there is also something very strengthening and reassuring about hearing someone be vulnerable and open about their flaws. It builds connections between people that are much harder to cross over otherwise.
During his psalm, I feel like I catch a glimpse into Nephi’s heart, and it’s one of my favorite Nephi moments. In this awful moment of sorrow after his father died, he bears his soul a bit. He writes down his feelings exactly as they’re coming along and being processed, and it’s a beautiful process to watch. It’s a process that we can mimic. And interestingly enough, when we mimic this vulnerable process out loud at appropriate times, we can often strengthen our relationships with others and strengthen them in general.
Following Nephi’s process
I want to break up Nephi’s psalm into four parts. I will share a verse from each of the four parts that summarizes his train of thought.
2 Nephi 4:17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
So Nephi is experiencing what many of us have felt before. We’re frustrated with our own lack of progress. We’re frustrated that we continually hurt others with our weaknesses. Nephi then transitions into, “I’m a weak man, but I know the Mighty One I have trusted.”
2 Nephi 4:20 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 great deep.
After praising the Lord for all that He has done on Nephi’s behalf, Nephi is then like, “If He has blessed me so much, why am I so worried about my afflictions? Why do I let Satan come in and destroy my peace?”
2 Nephi 4:26 O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
Nephi then transitions one last time to more of a plea. He asks the Lord to keep him spiritually safe essentially. He recognizes the reality of his mortal weaknesses and asks the Lord to essentially not let him get lost.
2 Nephi 4:33 O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
Each of these transitions is important and has something to teach us about where to transition emotionally when we’re struggling. Honestly, I wonder if Nephi has actually given us the secret to his relentless optimism – namely consciously processing the yucky stuff with God. Let’s look closer.
Nephi speaks of feeling wretched; all of us know what it is to feel worthless and incapable and discouraged. Do we make the same transitions that Nephi makes? Do we stop to remember the doctrine surrounding our mortal lives and the power of Christ’s atonement? Do we stop to remember all of the encouragement that He has already given us? Nephi did; he looked back and remembered how he has been supported before.
After that original, “I trust the Lord,” it almost appears as if Nephi dips back down into despair again. He asks why do I get angry or yield to sin? It feels like Nephi might be getting discouraged again. Maybe he did. I have interpreted it that way many times, but there is also an alternate interpretation. When I read it this time, I saw an encouraged Nephi. I heard him saying something along the lines of, “Oh my gosh. How did I forget all the ways the Lord has taken care of everything? How did I forget that He always makes it okay in the end? I don’t have to be anxious or discouraged or angry. That’s just Satan trying to distract me from God.” When I read it this time, I didn’t see Nephi falling back into discouragement. I saw him standing up taller, recognizing Satan, and casting him off. And then of course, it ends with Nephi’s plea with the Lord to protect him.
We can follow Nephi’s transitions very easily. We can imitate them and find his same optimism. In the face of death, homelessness, and familial issues, we can literally choose to be like Nephi. It starts with acknowledging your discouragement very openly. It then proceeds with a conscious choice to trust the Lord again; this is much easier when we take the time to recall other times this trusting process has worked, and eventually our eyes are opened to the reality of the situation. We know that we have nothing to truly fear. We find ourselves asking, “Wait a minute; I have God. Why am I worried?”
Stepping away from worry
Worry is an interesting concept because of its close association to love. An oft-occurring reaction that follows love can be worry, and so I believe that sometimes we translate worry into a good thing, and we encourage it. If we’re worried about someone, it is “evidence” of our love. If we’re worried about our salvation, it means that we’re humble and don’t assume that we’re worthy. If we’re worried about accomplishing everything, then the Lord knows that we were anxiously engaged (the irony…). While I agree that worry can have appropriate bounds and doesn’t have to devolve into a dire problem in and of itself, I also believe that sometimes worry becomes this compulsion of righteousness. We feel like we’re supposed to worry because it makes us feel like we care.
Once again, I do not feel like we have to be ashamed of worry. There are appropriate times for worry because it can also help us act. However, Nephi is a fantastic example of the fact that we don’t need worry in order to be righteous or loving or engaged. He is also a fantastic example of how to overcome feelings like worry.
We consciously choose to trust, and one of the feelings that come along with trusting is rejoicing. It is casting off Satan and not giving him a place in our hearts to destroy our peace of mind.
Another reason I love the psalm
There is another reason I love Nephi’s psalm, and it connects to these transitions that we’ve been talking about.
I believe that Nephi’s immense examples of faith can make him feel different than us. Sometimes we can place him on a pedestal and because of this, we simply view it as unrealistic for most people and therefore are discouraged from trying. We commend him for his examples, we’re impressed by them, but we don’t always follow that faith because we turn Nephi into an “other.”
Nephi’s vulnerability in the beginning allows us to relate to him and then realize that we can follow him into that same faith. It’s a fairly simple transition to go from discouragement to faith; it’s a simple choice. Sometimes Satan can make us subconsciously feel like we don’t deserve to step into that faith and optimism, but the Lord literally commands us to trust Him. He wants us to experience the peace, faith, and miracles that Nephi did. He wants us to make the same kind of difference in the world that Nephi did, but it takes that simple choice of trust.
I’m grateful Nephi chose to be vulnerable. I’m grateful that he chose to record his feelings after the passing of his father so we could catch a glimpse of how Nephi is the way that he is. There is a small extension to this message that I mentioned in the beginning. There are appropriate times to be vulnerable. There are times when vulnerability and acknowledgement of weakness will take us much farther in our ability to reach others in comparison to advice or life lessons. Sometimes, simply realizing that you’re not the only one who gets discouraged does more to bolster you than any plea to be faithful. And when you choose to combine this vulnerability with an absence of shame, it gives others the permission to follow suit.
I’m grateful for a Savior that I can trust. I’m grateful for all of the powerful examples of faith given to us by Nephi, and I’m just as grateful for his example of mortal weakness. None of us are alone in our less-than-charitable thoughts, moments of despair, or times of anger. We are especially not alone when we consider the fact that the Savior is always ready to draw near. We can trust that outreached hand, cling to it, and find gratitude and joy in it.
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.