Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Who Writes This Kind of Stuff? How Late-Stage Fatherhood Strengthened My Testimony of the Book of Mormon

Yesterday during Sacrament Meeting it hit me. Recently something about the Book of Mormon has been seeming more relevant, more resonant with reality, more tailored to bless us, than I was used to. It hit me while I was cheating - surreptitiously preparing my upcoming Sunday School lesson instead of paying nearly full attention to the speakers, fine as they were. It hit me a little after I read Alma 56:27, describing the "many provisions" that the fathers of the 2,000 stripling warriors had sent to their sons and the Nephite army they were with. It hit me immediately after I then read the more in Alma 56 about Helaman and his 2,000 "sons," actually the young sons of converted Lamanite whose parents had sworn years ago as part of their personal path to repentance to never take up weapons again, but whose sons in a desperate time of war were free to fight and covenanted to boldly defend their families and the Nephites with whom they lived. After an intense march as decoys to draw a strong Lamanite army out of their fortified city, Helaman had to decide if they should continue marching or turn around and go back to engage the now out-of-sight Lamanite army, who might simply be preparing an ambush, or who might be already battling the rest of the Nephite army led by Antipus that had waited to pursue the Lamanites after Helaman's decoy operation. This was the moment of truth for these young men who had never fought before, tender Christians raised by pacifists without the benefits of Mortal Kombat and endless battle scenes on TV. From Helaman's epistle to Moroni in Alma 56:
But it came to pass that they did not pursue us far before they halted; and it was in the morning of the third day of the seventh month.

[43] And now, whether they were overtaken by Antipus we knew not, but I said unto my men: Behold, we know not but they have halted for the purpose that we should come against them, that they might catch us in their snare;

[44] Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?

[45] And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites.

[46] For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus.

[47] Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.

[48] And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.
At that moment I thought of my own sons and posterity. I have four boys, plus a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter, and I may soon have another daughter-in-law. I recently took one son to the airport to go to Germany, doing an internship at the Max Planck Institute, and on Saturday had taken another son to the airport to go to Utah, where he enters the MTC on Wednesday for his mission in Taiwan. One last son is at home now, and he'll be off to college and mission before I know it. I'm entering late-stage fatherhood and my wife is entering late-stage motherhood, where parents go from worrying about how to get through each week with all the demands and activities -- soccer games, concerts, scouting events, buying school supplies, getting kids to do their chores, scheduling dental exams, etc. -- to worrying about the bigger picture. Will they marry wisely, will they be prepared to raise their own families, will the grandchildren stay true to the Gospel, will our posterity have liberty and will they remember their Lord and God? Add one more to the list: will they face the trauma of war?

That's when it hit me: the Book of Mormon was written by parents. Not by a young single adult, newlywed, or even a young father (Joseph Smith and Emma would have a stillborn son in 1828 during the translation of the Book of Mormon) in the 1800s or even in 400 A.D., but by parents. Not any kind of parent, but by those in late-stage parenthood. The authors of the Book of Mormon have the perspective of fathers in late-stage fatherhood with a profound focus on the welfare of their posterity, with the worries and pains that come when there is weakness or sin in the lives of grown-up children (here I have to rely on my imagination), with the joys of seeing these children turn out well and succeed, with the constant concern for the generations beyond. That perspective was more remote and largely theoretical when we were trying to get a little sleep at night, struggling to decide which brand of disposable diaper really was best, or gasping for breath trying to get four kids to eighteen essential events every night. All this has changed now, or is changing, as we approach the empty nest (no, Mark, we're not kicking you out yet!) and begin working with a new generation.

From the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon, with Lehi's passionate but hopelessly "out of touch" concerns for his wayward sons and his views of future generations, to the closing pages filled with perspectives from Mormon and Moroni about the future (including Mormon's earlier epistles to his son and fellow warrior and fellow minister, Moroni), we encounter a book rich in the mindset that late-stage parenthood brings. Alma the Younger's interviews with and admonitions to his sons are so much richer to me now. Alma the Elder's concerns over his son and his patient praying for God's help to bless that boy are so real now. Nephi's words and Jacob's resonate more clearly than ever. And reading Alma 56, I was transported into the mindset of the parents of those brave warriors from pacifist converted Lamanite families about to send their boys off into war.

Think of the mothers, how worried they would be. When my father was sent into the hell of the Korean War, his mother, so worried for his welfare, prayed and pleaded for his protection. He wasn't fully converted to the Gospel yet. He needed time, he needed to come back safely, he needed God's protection. She consulted with her inspired bishop, who felt prompted to tell her that if she would be faithful, the Lord would spare his life. He would learn of this later, but during that war, he experienced many miracles where it was clear that the hand of God had delivered him (one example: an enemy mortar landed in his foxhole, inches from his back - a rare dud), and this began his own pondering and the remembering what his mother had taught him. This would lead to the growth of his faith and to a mission and temple marriage and yours truly being raised in a wonderful Christian home. Like his mother, the mothers of these young sons must have pleaded with the Lord and been inspired to offer an unusual promise to their boys: that if they would be faithful, the Lord would preserve them.

The fathers weren't left out of the picture. Bound by an oath and unable to fight, they still wanted to or needed to do something to help. And so we see a rich supply of provisions - the first recorded care packages - sent from the fathers to their sons and the army they were with. What sacrifice and love must have gone into those provisions.

Then reading of Helaman's words and the editorial choice to twice more remind us of their mothers and their faith - that's when it hit me. This is a book written by parents for parents, from a particular perspective that comes only after raising kids and seeing them go out into the world.

The flavor of the Book of Mormon, across its centuries and numerous contributing authors, is that of a guidebook from mature, late-stage parents to their posterity and to us, a distant generation blessed by the faith of mothers and fathers who knew what loss and joy really are.

By the way, please don't expect me to think that young Joseph Smith could have made all this up. There is a tonality and perspective that I can't see coming from a newlywed. That's open for debate, of course. But I suggest you come back to me after you've read it, pondered it, and have had a grandchild or two. Hopefully one almost as amazing as mine.

What an awesome book this is - and once again, for me anyway, it's truer than ever.

12 comments:

Bored in Vernal said...

What a wonderful post. As a late-stage mother, I really enjoyed reading this.

Aaron said...

Great Post - Although still early in my parenting, I have thought an awful lot about my children's futures. Hoping that I can give them what they need in their childhood that will give them the desire to stay honest, virtous, and clean in the sight of our God. I love them so much.

Tracy Keeney said...

"That's when it hit me: the Book of Mormon was written by parents."

So simple yet so profound. I never really thought about it that way, Jeff! It adds a whole new dimension, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Jeff, let's hope for the day when it hits you that the Book of Mormon was written by Joseph Smith.

gb said...

anon (10:18 an 9 16 2008), let's hope for the day when it hits you that the Book of Mormon is a true witness for Jesus Christ!

Tame35 said...

First he's got to get a name.

Dennis West said...

Very good remarks... and insightful. I guess you could say I'm an early stage parent, my kids are under 10. Definitely gives a different perspective and I think it IS helpful to have some idea of the background of the writer. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

That's beautiful, Jeff. It's the kind of truth that even the heart isn't deep enough to bridle--it gets in your bones.

Jack

Tony said...

What a beautiful insight, Brother Lindsay! A true faith-booster for me, and one that the fathers in my ward are sure to love!

It's just to divine to not be true!

Anonymous said...

Great post. It reminds me of a quote I heard President Hinckley gave to general authorities in the temple, as told by Glenn Pace of the Seventy. Reading Jacob 7:26, he said, "this verse was not written by Joseph Smith. This verse was written by an old man." You can really recognize perspective when you're old enough to have it.

Aaron said...

I just read your thoughts and feelings about how the Book of Mormon was written by parents and you are so right. Thank you so much for your testimony. You see I'm not a parent yet, I'm not even married. I'm a RM currently at BYU and loving every minute of it. It is different though. This is a time in my life where I am trying to find out who I am and what I want to do with my life. That's why I am so grateful for the Book of Mormon and the council that it gives. Learning from all these wise parents who are also prophets gives me an advantange over so many others world wide. Not only am I listening to the words of wise prophets and parents, but I am able to listen to my Heavenly Father. For He is truly the author of this Book. I completely agree with you, the Book of Mormon was written by a Parent.

Rich Wood said...

I never thought of it like that. Thanks!