Solving Problems God’s Way
In the previous post, I outlined the story of the teenaged Nephi, a future prophet, who went into the wilderness with his family at God’s command. In the course of the journey to a new home, Nephi, the family hunter, broke his bow and the family faced potential starvation. You can read the entire summary in Nephi and the Broken Bow.
One of the lessons we learn from this story is how God expects us to handle challenges. While the rest of the family whined and complained, Nephi went to work. First he tried to soothe his family’s nerves by reminding them of essential gospel principles. Then he set out to solve the problem as far as he was able to do so without help. He didn’t rush to God and say, “Make my broken bow whole again,” or “Leave a brand new bow lying over there in the bushes, please.” No, Nephi was self-reliant. He quietly went to work making a new bow. It wasn’t as elegant as the steel bow he’d broken. It was only made of wood, with a few sticks to use as arrows, but it would work and was a solution. For good measure, he also made a slingshot that could use rocks as weapons. Nephi took responsibility for his own well-being to the extent of his ability.
Next, Nephi went to his father for advice. This demonstrated his understanding of leadership chain of command and also showed respect for the man who was both his father and his church leader. He asked his father where he should go to do his hunting with his new, less powerful bow. Lehi then showed his own understanding of proper problem solving technique. Because he was probably unfamiliar with this new wilderness area, he went to the Lord. This was not something he could do on his own, but he knew God knew where prey was to be found.
Finally, Nephi accepted the spiritual guidance given to him by God and through his father and did exactly as God told him to do. This was Nephi’s normal pattern—he was an obedient and respectful young man.
It can seem easy to simply turn to God for everything we need, trusting in the adage, “God will provide.” However, if God were to simply hand us everything without any effort on our own part, He would be a poor parent, and God is perfect. Therefore, He parents perfectly. He expects us to do our part in order to help us to grow, develop our skills, and become self-reliant.
This is clearly a concept Nephi understood. He knew how to make a bow, so he made one without going to God for advice. Later in the narrative, he would be commanded by God to make a boat. As a desert child, he certainly had no experience with boats, so this time he would turn to God for advice on how to proceed. But when it came to bows, something Nephi, a skilled hunter understood, he took care of himself and sought advice only when he could no longer resolve the problems on his own.
Mary Ellen W. Smoot, a former General Relief Society President, taught,
From His prophets on down, the Lord has empowered His servants to come unto Him, to repent, and to seek for solutions. Not alone, but with God’s inspiration and support, prophets have had to solve enormous problems. Think of Nephi with his broken bow. Think of the brother of Jared with his dark boats. Think of Captain Moroni in the heat of battle. Any and every Church leader has had to “study it out” (D&C 9:8), humbly present a solution to the Lord, and then faithfully act upon it as guided by the Spirit. The Lord perfectly sustains, but He usually does not solve problems for us. Surely He could have given Nephi a new bow. He could have just commanded the brother of Jared to bring Him some rocks. He could have won all of Moroni’s battles for him. But higher laws were at stake. Learning and growing had to take place.
This process is vital to our spiritual growth and cannot take place as long as we look to other people, circumstances, programs, or institutions to solve problems for us. President Brigham Young (1801–77) taught, “Instead of searching after what the Lord is going to do for us, let us inquire what we can do for ourselves” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 293). Then we can take it to the Lord for confirmation.– Mary Ellen W. Smoot, “Seeking Solutions,” Ensign, Feb 2002, 42
Nephi exactly demonstrated the proper procedures for coping with challenges—soothe others if needed, solve as much of the problem as you can alone, seek counsel when you are no longer able to continue alone (through a leader, advisor, or prayer) and then follow the counsel.