When Lehi tells Nephi and his brothers that God wants them to go back to Jerusalem and get the brass plates from a man named Laban, they’re not exactly thrilled about the mission. These plates contain the scriptures and their family genealogy and are important for Preserving and teaching their posterity the ways of God.
As such, they promise Lehi they’ll try.
And try they do.
The first time they visit Laban personally and outright ask for him to give them the brass plates.
He calls upon his guards to kill them.
They escape the guards and are naturally feeling totally defeated. Their plan didn’t work.
In a moment of inspiration, Nephi remembers that the home they left behind in Jerusalem is filled with many fine treasures. He suggests they try again, and this time they gather their precious belongings in an attempt to buy the plates from Laban.
Laban is certainly covetous of their treasures. But not to be taken so easily, he once again calls upon his guards to kill them and keeps the treasures in their frantic escape.
This plan fails as well.
After having their lives threatened twice now, and losing all their fine and precious things, the brothers are understandably upset. They’ve given up with a vengeance.
But our hero Nephi, is not to be deterred. He is determined to fulfil his father’s command to get the plates. He’s out of ideas at this point, but trusts that God will help Him and returns to Laban’s house a third time by himself. And as the story famously goes, he discovers Laban drunk and lying on the ground, and is commanded by the Spirit in each next step to eventually get the plates.
Now, Nephi and his brothers may have gone into this whole mission thinking that one grand attempt would be all it took. Just like we can fantasize into thinking there’s a perfect master plan that will make all our wildest dreams come true and bring the reward we seek in one dramatic moment.
Additionally, Nephi’s brothers saw each of Laban’s refusals as a failure. The experiment failed.
But if we’re going to learn by experience, or more specifically, learn by experiment…we must find something small to change and try again.
Nephi was a great experimenter. He noted that it didn’t work to just ask Laban. He saw one small change they could make, and tried again. Let’s buy the plates!
When that didn’t work, he still tried again, this time without a plan of his own, but eyes to see and ears to hear so the secrets of the universe that would come to him. God delivered Laban and the plates into his hands.
Learn by experiment.
We change one small thing, and try it. We experiment. Gather data. See what works and what doesn’t and do it again. You don’t have to be married to the new way forever. It’s just an experiment.
Try it. Gather data. Try it again.
Ask for God’s help. Try it again.
Work on the change together with God.
What are His commands that will help you improve things more? What does He see in the data that you don’t?
If you are following his commands, He will provide a way. But it doesn’t mean that the first way will be the grand master plan. I don’t think God purposefully withholds grand master plans from us to watch us suffer and fail. Rather, I think there’s little tiny treasures we’re supposed to gain in the process of experimenting that we wouldn’t notice in any other way.
We’re on a scavenger hunt. He doesn’t just want to give us the big treasure of Eternal Life, but He wants us to discover all the small tiny treasures on the way. Can you develop Christlike attributes and virtues that only come through incremental growth? Can you develop patience? Love? Trust? Courage? Forgiveness? Can you develop your ability to Hear Him?
From a strategic point of view, I’m sure that two previous visits to Laban gave Nephi and his brothers the opportunity to get more familiar with Laban’s territory and his personality. It gave them the opportunity to exercise faith and learn how to be united in a cause. It gave them the opportunity to develop virtues of courage, bravery, faith, forgiveness, and trust. All virtues that would be needed many times later on in the other challenges they would face in the future.
Learn by experiment.
Don’t wait for the grand master plan. Just change one small thing and see how it works!
Brooke – thank you for these insights! I gave a talk at Education Week at BYU Idaho about adjusting when the Lord changes our plans and used Nephi’s story as a big part of it. For me, I have often followed a prompting to do something (like start a PhD program – twice) with an expected outcome (like a PhD). Often, the expected outcome has not come to fruition (0 PhD degrees for me, but – eventually a PharmD). When that happens, it is important that we don’t view that loss of “expected outcome” as a failure. For me, one PhD program led to being introduced to the missionaries and joining the church while the other led to deciding to serve a mission. In the eyes of some, (including my family), I had failed because I had not achieve the expected outcome. As I learned to shift and recognize that just because the Lord started me on that particular path, it didn’t mean He intended me to get to the outcome I had imagined. Turns out, he had a whole other path planned but I needed to take those first steps.
Anne! Wow! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights and your own personal story! I love this! It is thrilling to look back and see how the Lord’s intentions are usually so much bigger than what we realize in our limited understanding. There is a reason he reveals only a little at a time! ha ha! And quite likely, even though life often requires pivots or jumping paths from the one we started on, in the end it still ends up as the perfect journey for us individually and what we need to learn and discover. Life is certainly an adventure! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective!