A life long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have forgotten how many times I have begun to read the Book of Mormon. Consequently, Nephi and his family have a very dear place in my heart. With a family full of brothers of my own, it is easy for me to imagine the daily life of Lehi and his family.
As in most stories, the reader often follows with interest the path of the main character, while the supporting cast of foils and antagonists often fall into the shadows. And rightly so, for who would choose Laman and Lemuel as heroes over Nephi? Nephi was such a great guy, he even got a sequel.
But are there still lessons to be learned from a study of Laman and Lemuel, two supporting characters vying for the role of villain of the year?
Laman and Lemuel aren’t just the customary bad guys, relegated to the role of stock character villians. There is a depth to their characters that is often overlooked, yet relevant to our own lives and to our relationships with others and with our Savior, Jesus Christ.
A LOT LIKE US
Like most of us, Laman and Lemuel, in the beginning of the first book of Nephi, are casually going about daily life. Life is good. It is convenient. And it is comfortable. Isn’t that how most of us want our lives to be? We hear nothing about Laman and Lemuel murmuring or complaining at this point in their lives.
However, when disaster strikes (in their opinion), in the form of their very vocal father and younger brother, suddenly their comfortable existance is shaken up. Their very reputations hang on the line as Lehi and Nephi share their very socially unacceptable opinions.
Think of it now. You are a well-to do member in your community. Well-loved and respected, you are involved in many facets of social life. Perhaps you run a successful business, are a member of the school board, or volunteer at the library. How do you feel when your dad and younger brother share their out-dated feelings within that comfortable space? And then proceed to judge and discredit your friends?
How do you feel when your friends and associates gossip and belittle those closest to you? Do you fear for your own reputation? Will it be sullied by your close connections?
Should you seek to find out what your family says is true? But what if it shatters your quality of life?
When put this way, it is easy to understand Laman and Lemuel’s level of discomfort. They want life to remain the same. They cannot forsee how it could get any better than this. They can only see how things could get drastically worse.
Because, for Laman and Lemuel and the rest of us, we do not share the same perspective as our Father in Heaven. We cannot forsee how, through discomfort and discord, things could get better. We can only see how the plot could thicken. For Laman and Lemuel to accept what Lehi and Nephi prophesed to be true, it would take a huge leap of faith.
Leave your comfortable home and go sleep in a tent in the middle of nowhere? Check.
Leave behind your beloved collection of treasured items? Check.
Leave behind friends and associates? Check.
Leave behind all modern conveniences and wi-fi? Check.
If someone asked this of us nowadays, we might consider them mentally unstable.
For, who in their right mind, would turn their back on all that modern society has to offer and venture off into an uncertain future?
Honestly, no one that I know.
And as I sit here contemplating myself this huge responsibility, I cannot say for certain what I would do. Ah, but then it hits me. There is one act alone that sets Nephi apart from Laman and Lemuel. And one act alone.
Honest. Heartfelt. Prayer.
“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
And they said unto me: We have not, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”
(1 Nephi 15:8-9)
WHAT KEEPS US FROM PRAYER?
What is it that kept Laman and Lemuel from prayer? And I’m not talking about your average prayer on the food that can be uttered in 5 seconds flat before the food gets cold kind of prayer, or the kind that ends with you face down and a puddle of drool adorning your pillow at the end of the day.
I am talking about the kind of prayer that leaves your soul gutted and sobbing. The kind that finds you on your knees and begging the Lord if he is really really there.
In an article entitled Laman and Lemuel: A Case Study in “Not Becoming”, Micheal A. Goodman gives four weakness exhibited by Laman and Lemuel that drive them away from this one game-changing factor—prayer.
So here goes, lets analyze this list.
Let us not doubt for a moment that Laman and Lemuel were great men. Great worldly men, that is. If Nephi was learned in the langauge and writing of his father, you can bet, that as the older brother and heir to all that his father had, Laman was just as on top of things. Lemuel too. They were leaders in society, and they knew it.
What they lacked was humility.
They could not understand why God would communicate to their father and their younger brother, and not with them directly. They refused to admit that they might not be adequately prepared for personal revelation. And in so doing they chose not to inquire of the Lord.
I have always thought it most telling that, when faced with the dilemma of rescuing the Brass plates from Laban’s clutches, Laman and Lemuel’s mind turns to gold. Like calls to like, and they know that Laban’s interests would be peaked in exchanging the Brass plates for riches.
When our focus remains on our treasured collection of worldly goods, it is hard for us to see beyond to the what-if’s. If we are scared of losing what we have now, we keep our spirit bound and our perspective blunted. We fail to recognize the blessings that come to us that are not of a worldy or material nature.
And by not recognizing those blessings, we fail to see the Lord’s hand in our lives. It becomes hard to pray when we cannot “see” the reason for it.
It is all too easy to play the victim. Laman and Lemuel had that role down to an art. Why is it that, when hunting for food in the wilderness and their weapons break, they round on Nephi and blame him? Had they not ruined their own chances for survival too? Was not Laman the eldest brother, a status that he held most dear? The responsibility should have fallen to him to solve the problem. And yet, we read that it was Nephi who took himself apart from the camp, into the darkness, and sought out divine revelation through prayer.
Sometimes, do we find ourselves unwilling to put forth the effort that would enable the Lord to bless us? It is not that God will make the path easier, it is that he will help us bare the uneasy path. He will give us the courage to face what we would rather not face.
Not understanding this keeps us from prayer when we need it the most.
Let’s face it, not many people take criticism well. So can we really blame Laman and Lemuel for acting like everyone else? No one wants to be told that their actions are less than impressive, even when the assessment is true.
Sometimes our ‘righteous’ anger stands in our way of changing for the better. We feel as though we have been wronged, and not done wrong. Therefore, there is no need to pray for forgiveness, right?
Responding negatively to each and every “helpful” comment, whether utterly false or unfortunately true, and not turning the other cheek erodes our self-control. We begin to feel like it is our right to mete out judgement and that can escalate if we are not careful.
Just count how many times Laman and Lemuel tried to kill Nephi in their journeys, ultimately leading to fruitless wars and loss of life later on in the Book of Mormon.
KNOW IT TO BE TRUE
And so it is in our day too. Heartfelt and honest soul-wearying prayer can dispell much of the confusion we are faced with today. The answers to our prayers may not always be to our liking. Although Nephi and Lehi submitted to leaving all that they knew behind, it is entirely possible that they did not like the idea of actually having to go. The difference was, they had gained their testimony through prayer and they knew it to be true.
It could have all been different. If only Laman and Lemuel had sought the Lord in prayer they could have gained a testimony for themselves that the words of a prophet were true. But they let pride, worldliness, slothfulness, and anger stand in their way of obtaining unshakeable knowledge. It was this climactic point in their story that led to their ultimate downfall.
But it doesn’t have to be ours. If you have questions, doubts, concerns, seek out the author—God himself. Who knows, you might find a deus ex machina ending of your very own.
Jessica Clark is a wife, mom, writer, runner, knitter, and proud Canadian. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Anthropology, and has been a student of people and cultures ever since. Right now she is busy studying the behavior and cultures of the people of Texas.