Last week I taught a lesson on Lehi's dream. Each time this subject comes up I'm reminded of a Family Home Evening, quite a few years ago, when we attempted to teach it to our children. Our youngest child Jessica had a difficult time with a couple of concepts though. She had a hard time grasping the fact that it was a dream and not real events. Even after we explained this over and over she would ask sincerely, "So did I already eat the fruit or is it something I'm going to do in the future?" She was also quite worried that the fruit wouldn't meet her expectations. She asked, "What if I don't like the taste of it?" and "What if I am allergic to it?"
As I prepared this lesson I kept coming back to a couple groups of people in Lehi's dream, one that holds to the rod of iron, goes to the tree and eats the fruit and then leaves-falls away. My first question is, Why would someone put time, effort and hard work in something only to refuse their reward? That leads us to my next question, What would cause someone to leave such a wondrous gift? A gift that as Nephi said is the greatest of ALL gifts. The other group I keep thinking of is the group that lets go of the rod and leaves the straight and narrow path. I've come up with some ideas. Certainly not all, but I think I've gained some insight that I didn't have previously-or maybe it just sank in more. Love it when that happens!
First let's talk about the rod of iron. We are to hang on to the rod with all we have. How many of us actually do that? I remember camping with my family when I was about 5 or 6. We went on a nature walk that led us to a bridge that crossed a swift flowing river. Even though the space between the slats holding up the railing were large I wasn't concerned with falling, I was busy looking at the wood slats we were walking on and I just let my hand drag along the railing-even though I was asked to hang on tight. It made my mom nervous when she could see my lack of understanding for my safety so she took my hand-knowing that I still needed help or I'd fall. I think some of us do this in life as well. Let someone hold our hand on the straight and narrow path- often our parents, maybe a teacher or friend.
Many continue to follow someone through the mists of darkness, letting them do the work, riding on their coat tails, not really worried about the danger because someone is holding their hand, pulling them along. Remember that this cycle happens over and over. Once we eat all the fruit we can we find ourselves back on the path holding to that rod so that we can again partake of that precious fruit. What happens when a child starts to grow up and either isn't taught how or decides not to turn to the word of God? Maybe they don't listen to the spirit. Maybe they don't read or study their scriptures. Maybe they don't follow the prophet- all of which are means of hearing God's words. Eventually the time will come when no one is there to hold our hand. It's a treacherous time. I think teenagers are often in this group. Not only are we responsible for our own safety but we haven't really learned to recognize the danger in that mist. We may try to get out of the mist by moving to the right or left, which requires letting go of the rod. Before we know it we find ourselves in a location that is very difficult to get back to the pathway. While some of us work hard to get back some decide to try the new area out a little longer, others say it's too hard and give up.
Opposition is an important factor if we're to appreciate good. Those dark mists are necessary if we're to truly appreciate the fruit of the tree. What of that group that leaves the tree while they are being rewarded? Isn't that similar to winning money and before it's used leaving the reward for something else? What can cause us to leave a reward? When I was in the 5th grade I discovered a doll that looked real, it ate and drank a bottle, it was more life-like than most dolls I'd seen. I fell in love with it. I dreamed of it. I went to a friends home to play with hers as often as I could. I told my family about this doll and how badly I wanted it. Christmas came and I got the doll. I was so excited. A few days later I invited a "really cool "girl over to play that was a year older than me. When she got to my house and saw my doll she said, "You still play with dolls?" She had that look on her face that let me know she disapproved with every fiber of her 11 year old body. Suddenly, I was embarrassed and down-played my love for that doll. Well, okay, I admit I was a closet doll lover after that but I have no doubt my love for her died off faster because of that experience than it would have. My point is, I allowed someone I wanted to impress sway my opinion- even on something I was passionate about. Her approval became more important to me than what was truly in my heart.
Nephi said that as people were partaking of the fruit of the tree there were people in the great and spacious building who were laughing and taunting them. Much more important than playing with dolls is the fact that most of our teenagers are faced with this every day. The frightening thing is when they stop eating the fruit for a moment and listen. Some are making fun of them, others are inviting them into their midst. It's at this point that they decide if the fruit is meeting their expectations and they ask themselves, "Do I really enjoy this all that much?" For those who are embarrassed and leave the tree for larger paths that will take them toward those mockers and false friends, they may even pretend to be somewhat "allergic" to the fruit to save face. They may tell those they meet that it isn't that great, that it's repulsive. We've all been taught that we are what we eat-and in this case we are also what we don't eat. I believe this an even truer statement when referring to the fruit of the tree than when we're talking about broccoli or peas. If we could somehow keep each other from even listening to the falsehoods coming from that building, just focusing on the beauty in front of us we'd be so much better off. This is where support, encouragement, strong family relationships and friendships come in. If we like where we are we'll be more likely to stay than to leave. Is it fool proof? No. It still comes down to free-will. But does it help? Absolutely!
I'm in the stage of letting go of my kid's hands and letting them get through the mists themselves. Rather than tugging them along I'm trying to shout encouragement to them, to let them follow my voice but hold to the rod themselves. For a mom I'm a little nervous about this but I thank the Lord every day for amazing people in our lives. For leaders that help support and encourage my children along their path. I'm grateful for the opportunities we have to partake of the fruit of the tree, for the satisfaction that comes with it. That's a joy to watch. I pray it will be enough. That they won't lose their focus. The greatest thing about the story is that the tree is always there for anyone who desires. No matter where you are in Lehi's dream you can go to the tree. Each person will be rewarded at their arrival. The fruit IS worth it. It really IS the greatest of all gifts. It IS sweeter than the sweetest fruit and more desirable than anything else. Sometimes we just have to clear the mist out of our eyes so we can see that.