“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, returned from speaking with the Lord, to the tent of my father.” (1 Nephi 3:1)
This short, oft-overlooked little verse in 1 Nephi 3 speaks volumes regarding Nephi’s character, and teaches us how we, like Nephi, should return from sacred experiences peering into the Heavenly realm back into the often lone and dreary wilderness of this world. (and see also 1 Nephi 15:1)
Whenever we mortals have sublimely spiritual experiences, like attending the temple, performing or witnessing a priesthood ordinance, or attending a particularly special meeting; something where we feel to have had actual contact with the Lord, we are inevitably returned from a state which may be like the Garden of Eden in its peace and tranquility to the lone and dreary world. This can make for quite a frustrating journey, especially when we realize that we still have the same problems at home and the same challenges facing us when we commence with our life.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have gone to the temple and been loaded with divine perspective or been to a church meeting or a General Conference where my spirit has soared and I have quite literally felt to be in communion with God, only to then return home and upon learning that the same pressures and frustrations still exist become somewhat depressed and even short-tempered. Ironically, it is often after such spiritual experiences that I seem to lose my patience more easily upon returning to my less-than-perfect life and feeling the contrast between that and the feelings of supreme joy experienced just moments before.
At such times, it would profit me to look to Nephi’s example. In the verses cited above and the context surrounding them, Nephi gives us a pattern of how to handle this frustration and return from a sublime spiritual experience back into the world we live in. His problems were very pressing and they were waiting for him right upon his return from the mountain where he had spoken with the Lord and received wonderful promises from Him. Laman and Lemuel were still their same old murmuring selves when Nephi “returned to the tent of [his] father.” And Lehi had an overwhelming task for him to accomplish immediately on his return (which was actually an assignment from God).
The Lord didn’t give Nephi any warning of what was happening down there. He could have slipped a warning in as he was speaking to Nephi- “oh, by the way, Nephi, when you return home I have commanded that you and your brothers walk 3 days back through the scorching desert back to Jerusalem to obtain a record on valuable Brass Plates which at the moment are in the possession of one Laban, a powerful man who will probably refuse to give them to you and will try to kill you just for having asked for them.” No, he didn’t say anything to Nephi.
So Nephi, upon his return from the mountain of the Lord to the lone and dreary world found quite a responsibility hanging over his head. But instead of complaining of the task or losing his patience with his murmuring complaining brothers (as I disappointingly probably would have), he humbly said, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.”
Instead of getting angry at his brothers, Nephi used the power of persuasion to help him and he was thus able to keep the spirit with him, which proved to be very important in the next chapter (“and I was led by the spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do…”).
You and I also remember the glorious vision that Nephi saw opened up to him in 1 Nephi 11-14. Among other things, Nephi witnessed in that vision the birth, ministry, atonement, death, and resurrection of the Savior, His ministry among Nephi’s descendants, the later dwindling of Nephi’s people in disbelief, and the miraculous coming forth of the Book of Mormon in these latter days. Again, he sums up his return from that glorious vision to the daily grind: “And it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had been carried away in the spirit, and seen all these things, I returned to the tent of my father.” (1 Nephi 15:1).
Upon his return, things were again frustratingly less than ideal. As Nephi records, contention once again ruled in his father’s tent when he returned: “And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them.” (1 Nephi 15:2). Again, instead of getting angry with his brothers, he calmly sought to understand what they were contending about, and took the time to share with them the wonderful insights he had received in the mountain of the Lord, and was actually able to convince them to “humble themselves before the Lord,” causing Nephi to have “joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness.” (1 Nephi 16:5).
See how much a house can be blessed by those who carry the power of their spiritual experiences back with them to the reality of daily life? Remember also that soon after this particular return, Nephi was able to draw on this spiritual power to save his family from starvation in the wilderness when his bow broke.
I am so grateful for Nephi’s example of how we ought to act upon return from a holy place or sacred experience. The world is tough but we were sent here so the Lord could see if we “will do all things, whatsoever the Lord shall command” us (Abraham 3:25).
When we return from such sacred experiences into the world of frustration, sin, and sorrow, we can feel so alone and sometimes even forgotten. Perhaps this is why the Lord told his disciples during his earthly ministry when they were sad at the prospect of His leaving:
I will not leave you comfortless. I will pray to the Father and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever. The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send you in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Joseph Smith also knew well the feeling of returning from the lofty zenith of glorious visions to the often jarring nadir of his persecuted life. As he sat in a dark, rotten dungeon in the infamous Liberty Jail experiencing the overwhelmingly bitter fruits of this fallen word, surely a shocking contrast to previous experiences in the actual presence of the divine, he cried in his lonely agony: “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (D&C 121:1) To him, and through him, to us, the Lord revealed: “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion.” (D&C 121:46).
If we are worthy to participate in the ordinances spoken of above, whether in the temple, in Sacrament Meeting, or at home, then we are worthy to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, which gift we are given after baptism. When we feel discouraged by the cares of the world, We can humbly pray and invite the Holy Ghost to comfort us and be with us. We may not feel his influence immediately, for the Lord often expects us to act on faith, but we can be comforted in knowing the scriptures I have cited above.
Just imagine how much more blessed and peaceful our homes could be if, instead of leaving the wonderful spirit of sacred experiences at the door of our homes as we return to our daily frustrations, we instead strove to bring that light back into our homes and allow it to uplift everyone around us? Many people I know do this already, but it is something that I need to work on.
I am grateful for Nephi’s example on how to return from a supernal spiritual experience to everyday life. I pray that I can follow his example.
(NOTE: This is adapted from an essay I wrote a few years back when I felt “led” to this verse during a frustrating moment. But since many of us are discussing 1 Nephi 1-7 tomorrow in our LDS Gospel Doctrine classes, I found myself reflecting on this verse again and once again recommitted myself to work harder to bring the Spirit back home with me whenever I return from communion with the divine to the daily grind at the “tent of my father.” (Link to Michelle’s wonderful post about the symbolism of the “tent”)It is just one of many wonderful lessons we can learn from the Book of Mormon characters in 1 Nephi 1-7. This is why I decided to include it in my Book of Mormon Blogging (“BOMB”) this year.)
(Link to Last (and first!) BOMB post. Also a few thoughts regarding Nephi and his vision of the Condescension of God here)