manner of happiness
Week 07 is scheduled for study Feb. 12-18, 2024. What does it mean to live after the manner of happiness? If you know, are you living your life after the manner of happiness?

Day 1

2 Nephi 3:6-24 – Joseph Smith was chosen by God to restore the gospel.

If I may, I would like to begin by making an aside, which is a private comment made by an actor to the audience that the other actors (supposedly) can’t hear. When someone, like Nephi or Joseph Smith, who is recording or reporting a monumental work that was many years in the making, they usually focus their retelling on the important points of that story. To discuss their personal imperfections and their weaknesses of character or habits would take away from what is an otherwise wonderful event. I believe that this applies in spades to both Nephi and Joseph Smith.

I’ve already discussed Nephi’s point of view in a previous lesson. The version of their family’s events came to us some 30-40 years after they actually happened. Nephi was an old man who was pulling from his records and retelling what he had already written. The important points were the end results of the events that took place, not the fumbles or stumbles that everyone took along the way as they tried to be obedient or struggled with their faith.

This same idea applies to the life of Joseph Smith, who wrote little of his own life story. Most of what we have about the life and personality of Joseph Smith comes from the writings and observations of others. This gives us a decidedly one sided view of the prophet. If the person recording the event was a faithful believer in what Joseph taught then their record usually paints the prophet in a light that masks any personal defects. Even with all the transparency of today’s church and broadcasting, we still only see one side of the prophet – his best side.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying any of what I just said above is a bad thing. It is natural that this happens. To discuss the weaknesses of habit or personality of a great individual is to diminish the good they do otherwise. Showing us that even with natural human weaknesses a person can accomplish what the prophets do in their lifetimes should give us hope for ourselves.

Whether we are talking about Nephi, Joseph Smith, or any other great person, we need to remember that every person has their Achille’s heel, their weak spot. We need to focus on the good that they do and leave their flaws where they belong, between them and the Lord. Hopefully others will be as generous with us. Okay, that is the end of my aside.

This is my testimony of Joseph Smith. God has a few children who have special gifts or abilities that He can use to further His work among all His children. He has placed those children at unique times, places, and in special situations so that what those children accomplish leads to the blessing of thousands, if not millions of His other children. Such is the truth of Joseph Smith.

Joseph had the ability to be extra sensitive to spiritual things. This tenderness of heart allowed him to live in an era when revelation was almost unheard of, except in the rarest of circumstances, and even then people chalked these prophecies up to dreams, and only hoped in them, because the gift of revelation had been taken from the earth for more than a thousand years. The faith required by Joseph Smith to receive a visit from both God and Christ is akin to the vision of the Brother of Jared. The Brother of Jared had no clue as to what God looked like, or anything about His personality, except from his own personal experience with him in having his prayers answered. Both men were able to receive great visions, all because they had such powerful personal belief that they turned that belief into a faith that literally opened the heavens. Both men were gifted with the ability to have extraordinary belief and faith. All of us have been blessed by their gifts, even generations and millennia later. Who cares about any personal weaknesses in the light of such ennobling gifts of the Spirit that still bless us all?

Day 2

2 Nephi 4:15-35 – “O Lord, I have trusted in thee.”

Let’s look at the following two verses and talk about some comments Nephi makes in them (2 Nephi 4:15-16).

15 And upon these I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.

16 Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.

Nephi kept a journal. He also had access to all the scriptures his people currently possessed. Yet verse 15 says he spent the time copying the scriptures from the brass plates into his own record. Why? My lazy nature kicked in immediately and said, “What a waste of time! They are already written and sitting in front of him!” But is that all there is to it? Verse 16 tells us that his heart pondered continually upon the things that happened in his life, both the things he had seen and the things he had heard. How do you think taking those personal experiences and combining them with the written word of God from the brass plates in his own journal writing may have turned those experiences and words into something more in Nephi’s life than just words from a book of scripture?

There is power in the written word, whether or not they are your words or someone else’s. If you take the time to write them down, there is a muscle memory preserved of what you have written. You may mentally forget, but your body never forgets its experiences. Our bodies are perfect record keepers. We live with those memories, remembered or not, the rest of our lives. And those physical memories our body stores will no doubt be used as part of our judgment in the last day.

Nephi took his personal experiences, and by pondering on them, their meaning, and the meaning of the scriptures he read from the brass plates, was able to see ways in which those scriptures applied to his life, and how they gave guidance or answers to his own life’s difficulties. His response to this pattern was to take the time to copy those scriptures into his own life’s record as part of his own witness of the truths they bore. It is literally the same as a modern prophet teaching us gospel principles by relating already existing scriptures to things that have happened in his own life, so we get some of the lessons to be learned from those scriptures.

Today’s lesson is entitle “I have trusted in thee.” Part of that trust Nephi developed was when he was able to see that the scriptures have this wondrous way of mirroring our experiences in the lives of the holy prophets down through the ages. God can speak to us from the lives of those He called to teach His children. When we place our trust and faith in the scriptures He has given us, paths of peace and comfort open before us when we take the time to ponder what we experience each day and look for connections already written by the prophets within God’s scriptures. Much of what the Lord has to tell us in this life has already been written within the pages of the holy scriptures. It is up to us to seek them out and piece them together.

Remember that the scriptures are not a compendium of perfectly organized lessons. The lessons each person requires at any given time in their life can be found somewhere within the scriptures, but it will be in a different place or in multiple places for each person and at different times of our lives. It is up to us to search them diligently, placing our faith in God that somewhere within the covers of our scriptures lie the answers we seek. That, coupled with constant prayer and faithful living, and we are assured a path of comfort that stretches before us back to our heavenly home.

Day 3

2 Nephi 5 – I can find happiness in living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

27 And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.

What does it mean to live after the manner of something? I suppose that living after the manner of a clown means I behave like a clown each day. If I live after the manner of a scholar I will spend much of my time studying some subject of interest. Our manners are the way in which we live. It is way in which we live our life each day. Look at all the verses that come before verse 27. Nephi talks about wars with the Lamanite people and the making of weapons. He also talks about how they kept the commandments, built a temple, worked hard in their fields to raise their own food. Everything they did was connected to industry and labor.

Isn’t it interesting that Nephi’s description of the Lamanites was that they were an “idle people, full of mischief and subtlety.” Nephi’s people labored with their hands and were taught to build buildings and to learn trades. We know that many of these things had to come by way of revelation, since there is no way all the trades required for a society could have been learned by just those two families who came to the land of promise. Nephi, who had never before built a temple, built a temple patterned after the temple of Solomon. That had to be by way of revelation as well.

Life for the Nephites was difficult. They were learning new trades, building cities, farming the land, which takes a lot of hours each day, and fending off the attacks made by the Lamanites. Yet they could say that they lived after the manner of happiness. They could say this because they kept the commandments of God, according to the law of Moses He required them to live. And Nephi made sure they all understood the purpose of the law, so they could have the joy that comes with looking forward to their Messiah’s coming.

Isn’t this the manner in which we should be living today? We work hard, learn new things, fight for the things that really matter in our life, and keep the commandments of God. We look forward to the coming of Christ and to his millennial reign, and the peace that comes with that reign. There is no reason for us not to be able to find happiness in this life, despite the trials that come with mortality in the latter days. Life wasn’t easy for the Nephites, and it isn’t easy for us either. But when we live after the manner of happiness, it is happiness that flows into our lives.

Day 4

2 Nephi 5:20-21 – What was the curse that came upon the Lamanites?

I am a simple person. When the scriptures say that a curse of a dark skin came upon the people for their disobedience, I believe the scriptures. But I also understand that equating the color of a person’s skin with their worthiness before God is a deadly thing to do, because it doesn’t say anything about anyone except for those who rejected God in the first place.

The sins of our fathers do follow us from generation to generation. That is not the fault of those who follow after the sinner, it is the fault of the one who sinned. But their descendants have to bear the penalty for their forefather’s choices. We see this all the time in the church when a person chooses the world over the life the gospel offers. They think they are only living for themselves in that day, but their disobedience is taught to their children and even if they come back to the church later on, their children are still outside the church. Why? Because their parents taught them that the gospel of Christ was not important. I know many couples who mourn over the loss of their children and grandchildren, because of the choices they themselves made when they were younger.

Lehi understood this would happen. That is why in his farewell talks with Laman and Lemuel’s children he promised them that their sins would be answered on the heads of their parents, for if their parents had done their duty towards them they would have known to value the gospel of Christ. As a result of being lost to the gospel because of their upbringing, at some future point the Lord would save their posterity and bring them back into the gospel of Christ. The condition of their curse, whatever its true nature was, is not important, because all souls are precious to God. The curse was the punishment promised to Laman and Lemuel, and because of their disobedience they passed that curse (whatever it was) on to their children.

The scriptures also refer to a period when the Lamanites repented and the “dark scales of ignorance” fell from their eyes. So was it a change in skin color or something that changed their countenances so that the Nephites could readily see that they were Lamanites? I don’t know. I don’t think it is important, frankly. As long as we understand that forsaking God brings upon us a separation from Him that leaves us to ourselves, and unhappiness follows that separation. That is the important lesson. God loves all His children, for we are all alike to Him. What we look like is immaterial. It is our personal behavior He looks at.

Personal Study

The wilderness of my affliction

This topic is my choice, since nothing in the rest of the week’s lessons struck me as needing to be talked about. Here is 2 Nephi 3:3.

And now, Joseph, my last-born, whom I have brought out of the wilderness of mine afflictions, may the Lord bless thee forever, for thy seed shall not utterly be destroyed. [emphasis added]

This comment by Lehi has always intrigued me, but until now I haven’t stopped to really consider it. In Lehi’s allotment of verses in the Book of Mormon he talks about his time in the wilderness in two main places. First, he talks about the lone and dreary waste in his dream where he was forced to wander for hours without any hope of escape. Finally, he prayed and a messenger came and led him to the Tree that bore the precious fruit that represents the love of God. Second, is the real world wilderness of the desert his family wandered in for almost nine years before being taken to the land of promise.

The real world wilderness was indeed a time of affliction. They couldn’t build fire, because the Lord was trying to keep them safe. The desert was full of marauders and bandits who would have loved to take all their remaining possessions then either kill them or sell them into slavery. So to keep better hidden from others the Lord forbade them from building fires so no one would see the smoke or be able to tell how far ahead they were from the heat of their ashes. This means they had to subsist almost entirely on raw meat.

Lehi’s family was wealthy. They were accustomed to fine food and good drink. Now they were being led through a hostile and barren landscape with nothing more to hold on to than their commitments to each other and their faith in their God. They did this for year after year, not just for a few days or weeks. They had children in these conditions. Starvation was not unknown to them, yet God blessed their women to be strong, despite their diet, and they were able to raise healthy babies in this harsh situation. This is what I think of when I read the verse above where Lehi talks about “the wilderness of mine afflictions.” He was no longer a young man. Most of his children were already grown and having children of their own.

Is it any wonder that those in Lehi’s family who had less faith than Nephi and Sam complained bitterly that they were being led away from the land of their inheritance to starve and die? Yes, there were signs that God was with them. They had the Liahona and their father’s dreams, but to someone who was starving, tired, sore, and feeling helpless to bring comfort to his family, these might have seemed like insignificant assurances.

As I think about Lehi’s “wilderness of mine afflictions” I think of the times I have been in my own wilderness of afflictions. When my family was very young I found myself with no job, hence no income whatsoever. My wife was promised a low-paying job by her family in another state, so she took our children and left. I was not consulted in this decision. I was given the choice of either following or living without my beloved family. So in the next three days I either sold or dumped every possession I had, broke my rental agreement, packed what remained in our dilapidated car, and followed after her. We lived in an only partially furnished trailer. Our children slept on the floor, for we had no beds or furniture for them. We were truly poor.

We lived for the next year or two off the mercy and kindness of others, food stamps, and Medicare/Medicaid. I had no hope, no end in sight, and no self respect left. I was fully beaten down. It was in these trying times, my first real taste of a wilderness of affliction, that I made discoveries about myself. I learned at the end of my time of greatest suffering that God was intimately aware of me the whole time. For some reason I needed that experience. I learned that when I had absolutely nothing that was actually mine that I was more generous than I had ever been in my life. I felt free to give of myself for I had no possessions to hold on to. It was only as I became employed (and I use that term very loosely) that I discovered that having some money (I also use that term very loosely) caused me to become more possessive and selfish with what I had. I was so ashamed of myself. Ever since I have prayed for help to not fall in love with my physical things and to be generous to a fault with everything with which the Lord blesses me.

We don’t know what all the lessons were that Lehi and his family needed to learn in order to come out on top at the end of their journey to the land of promise. We just know that they were all they had. Because they were truly alone they needed each other in ways most of us will never understand. Each of them had to learn about themselves and about their personal faith in God and His prophet.

Have you been through your personal wilderness of affliction yet? If so, have you considered what lessons you were forced to learn in that time of trial? Have you recorded your experience for the learning and profit of your family? And have you thanked God formally in prayer for the experience that made you grow in your faith and knowledge about yourself, and about Him?

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BoM07-2024 – We Lived After the Manner of Happiness