Following is a slightly edited version of an address I gave at our Stake Women's Conference on Saturday morning.
We know the Book of Mormon was written for our day, for our profit and understanding. But when I was younger, I had to take that on faith sometimes. In particular, I didn’t understand why Mormon included the last 20 or so chapters of the book of Alma. It’s a lot of wars and bloodshed, often described in gruesome detail. How could reading about battles help me? Couldn’t I just read about similar things in the newspapers on any given day? In my study, I would often skim those chapters in order to get onto what I thought was the “good stuff.”
But now, as a wife, mother, and guardian of a home, I study differently. I think of those men of ancient times laboriously scratching words into sheets of metal that they created with their own, painstaking labor and the most basic of tools. When I see them in my mind’s eye, I recognize the enormous effort they put into creating this book for us, and I continually ask, “Why did Nephi or Alma or Ether, or especially Mormon, think this passage was important enough for us--reading it in 2012--to go to the effort of recording it? What is so essential about this verse/chapter/story?” Can you imagine the difference it might make to our study if we read with such questions in mind—and faithfully recorded our answers?
I hope that each of you keeps a notebook open and a pen at the ready when you study the scriptures. When the Lord gives us revelation as we read the scriptures, we show Him that we value that inspiration when we write it down. And when we show Him that we value communication with Him, He will give us even more knowledge. Always write down the impressions you receive when you study the scriptures.
I now see immense value in those “war” chapters. We as Latter-day Saint women can learn much about how to strengthen our forts as we study Book of Mormon battles carefully. Let me illustrate with a bit of what I now know Mormon was inspired to include in his abridgement.
In about the year 73 BC, the wicked Nephite traitor Amalickiah gains power among the Lamanites and incites them to war against the Nephites. In response, the great war leader, Captain Moroni—only 25 years old at the time he is called to lead—raises the title of liberty to inspire his people to defend themselves and their freedoms. In Alma chapter 48, Mormon tells us why Captain Moroni was chosen to lead the armies: Moroni was a strong and mighty man of God; he was a man of perfect understanding; he did not delight in bloodshed, but loved liberty. He remembered God with gratitude at all times. He worked hard for the welfare and safety of his people and was firm in his faith in Christ. Finally, Mormon writes this: “Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Alma 48:17) I think it is no coincidence that Mormon names his own son after this hero who lived some 450 years before Mormon’s day.
So—Amalickiah is on the move. Captain Moroni senses that he will soon have significant trouble from the Lamanites as a result. He therefore rallies the people to strengthen their cities as a proactive defense. In chapters 48 through 50 of Alma, we learn that the people construct huge banks of earth, strengthened by stones. They put up palisades of strong timber topped by sharpened sticks. They then build towers so that they can monitor these defenses.
These fortifications are so effective that we learn in Alma 49:18, “Now, behold, the Lamanites could not get into [the Nephites’] forts of security by any other way save by the entrance.”
When Amalickiah leads the Lamanites to battle, he is frustrated in his attacks over and over again. Alma 49:8 reads, “But behold, to [the Lamanites’] utter astonishment, [the Nephites] were prepared for them, in a manner which never had been known among the children of Lehi. Now they were prepared for the Lamanites, to battle after the manner of the instructions of Moroni.”
There is much to be learned from these few verses as we seek to strengthen our own forts. First, though, how do we define our forts? You may live alone. You may be raising young children or watching your older children find themselves and their way through life. You may have a husband, or you may not. No matter what our situation, we have a fort. In fact, we may have several. What are our stewardships? Whom do we visit teach? Do we teach a class? Who are our neighbors and friends? Where do we work? The lessons Mormon teaches through the history in the book of Alma apply to any situation.
Now, let’s consider Moroni. We know that Alma is the prophet among the people, but Moroni is certainly a visionary and inspired leader. After reading about the man that he is, we can certainly liken him to our general and local authorities. What does he ask his followers to do first?
Note that Moroni does not present the people with newfangled inventions or otherworldly weapons. Their materials of defense they use are humble and mundane: dirt, rocks, lumber. What is it that makes them effective? They are put to active and coordinated use by the people. The Nephites are unified as they build their defenses. In fact, Mormon is quick to point out throughout his history that any time the Nephites suffer defeat in battle, it is due to internal dissension and iniquity. Whenever the Nephites act in accordance with God’s will as revealed through his servants, they are preserved.
Our weapons of defense may appear similarly ordinary. Daily scripture study. Fervent, humble prayer. Faithful obedience. Sincere repentance and forgiveness. Constant remembrance of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The world will never understand how these weapons work, but we know that they do, don’t we? When we put them to active, coordinated use, they work mighty miracles. And just as Moroni sets his people to maintaining and continually strengthening those defenses, we must do the same. We cannot afford to slack off in our efforts.
Notice also that Moroni has the people begin preparing for war long before they can see any physical sign of danger. Because they trust their leader, they obey. They don’t wait to get ready for the attack until after the attack has begun. They work hard long in advance of the onslaught and are safe inside their forts’ walls once the aggressive armies appear.
Finally, Mormon tells us that the Lamanites can only get into the Nephites’ forts through the entrance. This is a point that is easy to miss, but it is oh, so crucial to remember if we are to be successful in creating and maintaining strong forts. What is an entrance? It’s the place where we let things in. Consider your forts for a moment. I may have strong defenses in many areas, but are there things I am letting slip through my door? Pride? Self-righteous judgment of others? Doubt? Worldliness? What are the chinks in my armor?
I will be brave and share with you one of my chinks. I sometimes give in to fear. Maybe you do, too; maybe that is why I felt prompted to share this with you. Patrick and I have six children. Our oldest is 18 and is a freshman in college; the youngest is three years old. Because of that wide age range, I can fall prey to a very wide range of fears concerning my children’s physical and spiritual safety. Fear, I find, is addictive. Even when I am doing my best to maintain my defenses, I sometimes allow fear to slip in through my door.
Oh, that’s not so bad, you might think. It’s natural to worry about children—or money—or our job—or our spouses—or our lack of spouse—or our weight—or our health—whatever it is we worry about. Some of us even wear our worry proudly, like a badge of honor. It’s a sign that we care. But what is worry? It is a courting, a hosting, a welcoming of fear through the door.
And we should regard fear as our enemy. Fear is one of the adversary’s best, most flexible tools. It keeps us too preoccupied and distracted to hear the gentle urgings of the Holy Spirit. It causes us to forget the miracles that the Lord has wrought in our lives. It holds us back from righteous action.
In his brilliant and inspired 1999 BYU address entitled “Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence,” Elder Jeffrey Holland reminds us that the adversary often throws fear our way just before—or just after—a great miracle occurs. Think of Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. “Thick darkness,’ as he described it, gathered around him and seemed bent on his utter destruction.” It wasn’t until Joseph exerted all his powers and called upon God that the darkness was banished by light. (JS-H 1:15-17)
Or consider Moses after the Lord shows him one of the greatest visions of all time high upon a mountain. Satan comes to Moses and commands his worship. Moses answers, “Get thee hence, Satan. Deceive me not.” Ah, but Satan doesn’t give up. He begins to rail and rant with such fury that Moses “began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell.” (Moses 1:12-22) Moses then does just as Joseph will do many centuries later; he exerts his agency and calls upon God to deliver him. And Satan is banished.
But what if Joseph and Moses had given in to fear? What if they had sat and stewed and obsessed about the darkness and fury they witnessed? We must banish fear just as they did. Let us put fearful thoughts, worry, anxiety, stress, out of our minds vigorously, as we would any evil thought.
Above all, we must not parent in fear. There is a difference between being fearful and being alert to danger. We can be calm in the face of danger, both physical and spiritual, if we are prepared and remember to call upon our Heavenly Father. Gospel scholar Catherine Thomas reminds us, “Jacob says, ‘I will unfold this mystery unto you; if I do not, by any means, get shaken from my firmness in the Spirit, and stumble because of my over anxiety for you.’ (Jacob 4:18) Overanxiety can actually block the Spirit. Maybe that’s why the Savior of the world reminds us, “Be still, and know that I am God.’ (Psalm 46:10)” (Selected Writings of M. Catherine Thomas, p. 185)
As we seek to strengthen our forts and allow no evil to slip through our doors, faith, hope, and charity are our best weapons. Faith comes first. Faith is a principle of believing action—but it is more than that. Just as light has a dual nature—being both a particle and a wave—faith also has a dual nature. Faith is both a principle and a substance. Faith has mass; it is matter, just like flour or sugar or sand, but much finer—science cannot yet measure it, but it is real nevertheless. Can we imagine studying the topic of faith in the scriptures while thinking of it as a substance? Might we learn something new about the nature of faith if we do so?
Like muscle strength, we accumulate faith as we exercise it. And like a pile of dry sand in the wind, faith will diminish and fade to nothing if we do not build it up constantly. As we obey with the eye of faith, we will cease to entertain doubt and fear. We will move forward with confidence, even when our circumstances look grim.
Of the three virtues, hope is the least understood. In English, the common definition of “hope” has gotten pretty feeble. We say, “I hope so,” when what we really mean is “That would be nice, but I just don’t see it.” I hope I don’t get sick; I hope I can pay my bills. But I began to get a handle on the real, gospel definition of “hope” when I served a French-speaking mission. Similarly, our Spanish-speaking sisters understand hope better than we Anglophones do.
In French, “hope” is translated as “esperance.” In Spanish, it is almost the same: “esperanza.” For comprehension purposes, let’s talk about an alternate translation for hope: expectation. Expectation is dynamic and powerful. An expectant woman looks forward with joy to the inevitable. When we keep our covenants, we expect that God will keep His. When we exercise faith in the Atonement of Christ, we expect that He has suffered for our sins and griefs; we expect that He will lift us as high as we are willing to go.
Near the end of his life, Mormon asked, “And what is it that ye shall hope for?” In other words, “What should you expect?” He then answered his own question: “Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.” (Moroni 7:41) That is hope in Christ—a firm expectation that the Lord means what He says. A robust hope in Christ will strengthen our defenses and keep evil from slipping into our forts.
The greatest of the three virtues is charity, the pure love of Christ. When we exercise faith through obedience, when we grow firm in our hope, when we have prayed with all the energy of our hearts, the love of Christ begins to seep into our hearts. It transforms us, hour by hour, almost imperceptibly. Nephi declares that the love of God is “the most desirable of all things…and the most joyous to the soul.” (1 Nephi 11:22-23) When we have tasted it, we want to share it with everyone, just as Lehi did.
As Sister Bonnie Parkin put it in 2003, “Charity is our love for the Lord, shown through our acts of service, patience, compassion, and understanding for one another….Charity is also the Lord’s love for us, shown through His acts of service, patience, compassion, and understanding.” (“Choosing Charity: That Good Part”) Joseph Smith translated 1 Peter 4:8 as reading “charity preventeth a multitude of sins.” How does this happen? Christ’s love heals our weaknesses. Those that are filled with charity lose their desire for sin—and that is perhaps the best defense of all.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing at the gate of the Nephite city of Ammonihah, listening to your stalwart young captain give you directions for strengthening your fort. Perhaps it is a peaceful, summer day. Crops are growing, animals are grazing. There is no sign of any danger. What the captain proposes sounds like an awful lot of work, and you are already quite busy.
Yet you know your people’s history and the nature of your enemy. Perhaps you have experienced a skirmish with the adversary before—or your loved ones have told you tales of previous struggles. Despite the serenity of the day, you feel an urgency to obey. The Spirit whispers to you, confirming the truth of the captain’s words. You catch his vision, and with your fellow citizens, you go to work.
And when the attacks come, days or weeks or months later, you are vigilant, but calm. You survey your stewardships from the ramparts of the Lord’s perspective. You have discernment and allow no smooth-faced liar in at the door. You are diligent in maintaining your defenses, and as you do so, you are held in the hollow of the Lord’s hand despite the raging war all around you.
That we may always so strengthen our forts is my earnest prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.