The Jaredites knew what it was like to have a year of uncertainty and limited social interaction, but they also knew three important keys to not only surviving but also thriving.
While discussing the book of Ether (part of the Book of Mormon) in Sunday School the other day, I was struck by all the uncanny similarities between what the Jaredites endured in their voyage to the Americas and what the world is enduring in the year 2020:
- The Jaredites spent almost a year on the ocean, tossed about on the waves, not knowing when their journey would end. Just as no one knows the end of all the dramatic ups and downs of 2020.
- The Jaredites had to rely heavily on their food storage and other preparations.
- The barges that the Jaredites traveled in were a very tight and confined space. They probably felt very cooped up, just as many of us feel in quarantine.
- The Jaredites had very limited social interactions. There were eight barges total, but the Jaredites probably couldn’t even interact with their friends and family in the other barges.
- The Jaredites were concerned about their ability to breathe, just as many people in 2020 are concerned about being able to breathe—for various reasons, such as the wearing of masks.
- Based on the description of how the Jaredites put an air hole on both the top and the bottom of their barges, we can infer that their barges were sometimes turned completely upside down in the waves, just as many people’s lives have been turned upside down by health or economic hardship or natural disasters this year.
- The Jaredites had no control over how to steer their barges, so they had to put their trust in God to somehow carry them through.
The list above includes many grim similarities, but I want to focus on three very positive and comforting parallels as well. First, like the brother of Jared, we can ask God how we would like Him to bring us light during these times (see Ether 2:23). And after asking generally for “more light,” we can then choose and mold specific “stones” in our lives for the Lord to touch to create that light. (I’ll give an example of this after explaining the second positive parallel.)
As we consider how to ask for and receive more light, the second positive parallel to remember is that the Jaredites weren’t waiting for their voyage to end just so they could get “back to normal.” Imagine how the Jaredites would have felt to emerge from the barges—after almost a year—only to discover that they had landed on the exact same shore that they had left! No, the Jaredites knew that when the waves and storms ended then they would be in a better place than they were before. Likewise, the events of 2020 will lead to unimaginable blessings.
I can say that with confidence because of what Elder Uchtdorf said in the October 2020 General Conference. With his characteristic airplane analogies, Uchtdorf noted that, since the pandemic, many of us are waiting for life to return to normal, “like flying in a holding pattern, waiting for the fog to lift so we can land safely.” However, because of modern revelation, we can fly “forward and upward to places we’ve never been, to heights we can hardly imagine!”
Uchtdorf went on to explain that we reach these new heights by returning to the fundamentals and by focusing on the things we can do and not on the things we cannot do. These two key points that Uchtdorf discusses are important to keep in mind as we ponder how we would like God to bring us light during these tempestuous times.
For example, in recent months I’ve been tempted to give up on socializing because of the lack of traditional opportunities, but as I “return to the fundamentals,” such as loving God and loving my neighbor, and as I “focus on what [I] can do and not on the things [I] cannot do,” I realize I can still make phone calls. And as I think about how I’d like Heavenly Father to bring me more light during these times, I can pray and ask Him to give me the gift of being good at phone calls, turning me into someone’s “phone-call-angel” each day. My phone is an example of a “stone” that I can bring to the Lord for him to touch.
The third positive similarity with the Jaredites that I wish to point out is the magic of gratitude. Ether 6:9 says that while the Jaredites were upon the waters “they did sing praises unto the Lord; yea, the brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord.”
Like the brother of Jared, there is a prophet today who sets an example of giving thanks all the day long. On November 20, 2020, President Russel M Nelson gave an address to offer hope and healing during these troubled times. Regarding the many spiritual woes and maladies that we face, President Nelson said, “There is, however, a remedy—one that may seem surprising—because it flies in the face of our natural intuitions. Nevertheless, its effects have been validated by scientists as well as men and women of faith. I am referring to the healing power of gratitude.” He then challenged us to flood social media with gratitude posts, and to “unite in thanking God through daily prayer.”
Gratitude itself can be a source of great light. We can ask the Lord to touch our minds to help us notice things to be grateful for and to have hearts of gratitude all day long.
“And thus they were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water. And they did land upon the shore of the promised land. And when they had set their feet upon the shores of the promised land they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land, and did humble themselves before the Lord, and did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of his tender mercies over them.” —Ether 6:11-12
Like the Jaredites, we will see miracles as we (1.) ask the Lord to touch specific aspects of our lives to create light, (2.) recognize and anticipate that we’re moving forward and upward to unimaginable destinations, and (3.) never stop expressing gratitude.