Nancy and I recently watched the documentary Endurance, about British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 excursion to cross the Antarctic continent on foot. Only a day’s journey from his final destination, Shackleton’s ship, the HMS Endurance, was trapped in ice. For the next ten months, the crew dealt with the harsh Antarctic winter, dwindling rations, blizzards, boredom, and illness. They hiked, camped, and suffered. Shackleton ultimately took part of the crew, outfitted one of the lifeboats, and sailed for help. It took months to get help and return for the remaining crew. All told, they suffered terribly and never met their goal. (Movie description adapted from www.Rottentomatoes.com.)
Is Shackleton’s tortured and failed journey a good metaphor for life on earth? Do we work hard, suffer terribly, and, in the end, fail to get to our hoped-for destination? That is not the Book of Mormon attitude toward life.
A Book of Mormon Description of the Journey
There are probably many metaphors for the mortal journey in the Book of Mormon. A couple of passages seem especially relevant:
And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished (1 Nephi 17:41).
O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever (Alma 37:46).
If the story of the children of Israel confronting fiery serpents is taken as a metaphor for mortal life, then we can expect that we will get painful bites along the mortal path. But we can also be assured that looking to Christ will heal us. “If we will look, we may live forever.” In spite of the peril, we have nothing to fear. He will heal us and redeem us.
Traveling with Trepidation
So life may not be like a day in an amusement park. But neither is it a sentence to a torture chamber. It is a journey through a land that is often fascinating—and sometimes daunting.
There is a human tendency for us to be more anxious about the threats than cheered by the breathtaking scenery. Depression is a latter-day scourge. How would God have us deal with our inevitable burdens and anxieties? Again, the Book of Mormon shows the way.
A Book of Mormon Answer
And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord (Mosiah 24:15).
Intriguingly, the Lord enabled the people to bear their burdens—then He delivered them from bondage! As we learn the necessary lessons, we too may be freed from our burdens—if we “submit cheerfully and with patience.”
And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage (Mosiah 24:16).
When we have been set free, we should be filled with gratitude rather than anxious about future troubles. No matter what arises, we can bear it with His help.
Yea, and in the valley of Alma they poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God. And they gave thanks to God, yea, all their men and all their women and all their children that could speak lifted their voices in the praises of their God (Mosiah 24:21–22).
The Way to Travel
So, in spite of peril and uncertainty, each of us can make the journey resolutely, peacefully, and with quiet assurance. With His companionship, we have no need to fear. We can concentrate on learning and enjoying. He provides the travel insurance.
And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen (Alma 33:23).