I believe, as did the writers of the Book Of Mormon, that it is a book just for OUR day. The ancient civilizations never had a nice, compiled book like we have. They had plates and plates of different types of records which were not open to public viewing; but were kept under close surveillance by the prophets and historians. They wrote for us. Mormon was allowed to see our day as he was abridging different plates and sorting through centuries of records and information. He saw us. He saw us and then he looked at the stories in front of him and he hand-picked (with the assistance of the Spirit, of course) those stories which would be of most benefit to us in this gospel dispensation.
With that in mind, the Book of Mormon takes on a whole new light. With every story you can validly ask yourself, “Why would Mormon include this?” and there are layers and layers of answers. Some very personal, some very general-but all purposeful and extremely helpful. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the opening chapters include a story about rebellious children- after all we live in a time when it was prophesied that children would be ‘disobedient to parents’. (2 Tim 3:2) Here we are. And God prepared a VERY important treatise on parenting the rebellious child right in the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon.
We pick up the story just as Father Lehi is announcing to his family (a wife, 4 sons and some daughters) that he has been commanded by the Lord to get his family out of Jerusalem before the destruction. They have wealth, education, and property. I don’t think any of them really wanted to leave their security for an unknown destination, relying wholly on the Lord to get them there. And selfish, unconverted twenty-somethings boys boys would find this scenario especially annoying. Somehow Lehi is able to convince the whole family to leave with him, but he gets resistance from his two oldest sons the whole way. At each juncture when Lehi needs them to do something, they balk, first with irritation and then with faithless rhetoric. At one point they see an angel at many points, absolute miracles-but none of it ever penetrates the stony ground of their hearts. They never choose to believe. Occasionally they offer a very resistant obedience; but they never, ever seem to ‘get it’ for themselves. Have you ever been here with a child? To some extent, I have.
As you can imagine, Lehi feels desperate. Yep. He and his wife water their pillows with tears at night. Yes, yes. After all, a faithful parent is distressed by a child that can’t see the light of the Gospel, that can’t hear the word of the Lord, that can’t feel the ministrations of the Spirit. Exactly. Here the Lord intervenes with a VERY important lesson. I have personally gleaned a lot of important parenting truths from what happens and what doesn’t happen in this vision.
First, Lehi sees a tree, whose ‘fruit was desirable to make one happy‘; he could tell that just by looking at it and really ‘seeing’ it with his whole soul. Being the happiness-seeker that he was, Lehi walks straight across a spacious field directly to the tree. He eats the fruit and not only is it delicious, but it also fills his soul ‘with exceedingly great joy’. Naturally, he wants his family to come and eat the amazing fruit too. He sees his wife and his two believing sons off in the distance, looking a bit lost and confused as to what to do. He calls to them in a loud voice to come to him. They immediately respond and come to the tree to eat the fruit as well. Then Lehi calls to his two rebellious sons but they refuse to come to the tree. Not good. We learn in chapter 11 that the tree and the fruit represent the love of God as manifest through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ. His sons are rejecting the Gospel.
What doesn’t happen next is really important to me. Lehi doesn’t go fetch his sons and drag them to the tree. He doesn’t pluck the fruit and take it to them. In NO way does he try to force feed this fruit to them. In fact, if we really stop and think about it, you CAN’T force feed anybody. You can hold them down and try to shove food in their mouth, but they don’t ever have to swallow it. This was a huge epiphany for the parenting me. When a child rejects Gospel principles, it is not my job to override their agency and try to cajole them into partaking. We should not force feed or guilt them into. Lehi stays by the tree and tries beckoning to them; but he never backs away from his own faith and he doesn’t insist that they come; in other words, he doesn’t pull the ‘parenting card’ to get them there. He simply expends his energy hoping to get them to see for themselves.
What Lehi does do next is really important to me too. After the happy but distressing vision, he calls his family around him and he tells them what he experienced. He expresses ‘ exceeding fear’ about his rebellious sons and he ‘exhorts them with all the feeling of a TENDER parent’. He preaches to them and tries to get access to their hearts. And he never stops doing this until he dies many, many years later. The family goes through many harrowing experiences and many iterations of adversity and his older sons continue to choose hate and complaint; but Lehi NEVER GIVES UP HOPE.
That there is what we can do. We can pray, we can teach, we can seek the Spirit and we can hold onto Hope. These things are Heaven-approved. But we should never, ever try to make somebody eat the fruit of the Gospel against their very will. No matter how we euphemize it or pretty it up…if we are trying to force children into making ‘good’ decisions, we are in direct opposition to the Plan of Salvation, the very essence of which is individual, very personal, and owner-operated agency. Truly, Lehi’s vision is a vision for our time.