I teach Sunday School to a group of fabulous 10 year olds at church. It’s such a great age because they are beginning to come into their own. They are just getting into that tweenager stage so they don’t have the full attitude yet and are starting to ask their own gospel questions and look for their own answers.
A few weeks ago, our lesson was on a vision had by a Book of Mormon prophet named Lehi. We call it “The Vision of the Tree of Life.”
Here’s a quick and dirty summary of the vision: Lehi sees a tree with fruit, there is a rod of iron leading to it which keeps people safe from mists of darkness, dirty rivers, and a great and spacious building. The tree represents the love of God, the rod is the Word of God, the mist is tempation, the river filth, and the building represents pride.
Here are the specific links if you’d like to read for yourself. It’s good stuff.
As I was teaching, I noticed something I hadn’t before. That’s the wonderful thing about re-reading the scriptures. New stuff, even though it’s old stuff.
Anyway, something Lehi said about the iron rod made me pause in the middle of my lesson and mark the scripture so I could think about it more later on.
…they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.
And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
-1 Nephi 8:30-31 (italics added)
Some of the people had taken hold of the handrail and some had let go and were making their way to the building. But the verbs used are what really got me thinking. What’s the difference between pressing forward and holding fast, and feeling their way?
I typed those phrases into Google and came up with these:
Press forward – to move forward; to struggle forward; to continue. syn – advance; make up for lost time; pick up speed, proceed forward; progress. (synonyms from thesaurus.com)
Hold fast – remain tightly secured; continue to believe in or adhere to an idea or principle; stick or become stuck to. syn – attach; cement; cleave. (synonyms from thesaurus.com)
Feel your way – to judge where you are going by touching with your hands instead of looking; to act slowly and certainly because you are not certain how to do something.
Sounds like pressing forward is not always easy. It denotes difficulty and catching up. Living the gospel and standing up for what you believe are certainly difficult. Facing loss, sickness, heartache, or having a trial of faith can make it truly challenging to even struggle forward. But those who do press forward progress. I’ve had plenty of times in my life when I’ve felt like I was playing catch up with the Gospel. But I always knew there was a light I could look to to find my way, even if I had let go.
Holding fast indicates not giving up, even when those terrible difficulties arise. One of the synonyms for this is cleave, which Google defines as “become very strongly involved with or emotionally attached to”. The irony of this for me is that I didn’t feel that deep emotional attachment to Jesus Christ and my beliefs until after I had gone through the darkness, had let go a few times, and finally found my way back. That time of drawing close to my Savior and trusting Him with my heart and soul is when I truly grew to love Him.
Oppositely, feeling your way conjures images of darkness or not being able to see, experimenting with one thing or another trying to find what feels right. There is no light to look to. There is no solid handrail to grip when dark and difficult times arise.
I was 14 and struggling. I didn’t have many friends. Those I had were beginning to experiment with alcohol, tobacco, pornography, and immoral behavior. The pressure to participate was growing daily. I was struggling to stand up for my beliefs. I was struggling to find friends. I could understand why temptation was called “mists of darkness” (1 Ne. 12:17). I felt blind to the light of the Spirit.
Pressing forward and holding fast vs. feeling your way to me is equivalent to light vs. darkness, hope vs. despair, love vs. hate and anger.
Jeffrey R. Holland spoke on this:
Our times are turbulent and difficult. We see wars internationally and distress domestically. Neighbors all around us face personal heartaches and family sorrows. Legions know fear and troubles of a hundred kinds.
This reminds us that when those mists of darkness enveloped the travelers in Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, it enveloped all of the participants–the righteous as well as the unrighteous,the young along with the elderly, the new convert and seasoned member alike. In that allegory all face opposition and travail, and only the rod of iron–the declared word of God–can bring them safely through.
We all need that rod. We all need that word. No one is safe without it, for in its absence any can “[fall] away into forbidden paths and [be] lost,” as the record says.
I’ve been through some stuff, but I’m not standing before My Maker right at this moment, so I know there will be more stuff. Having a hope in Jesus Christ helps me not want to cower in a corner and hide until the great and dreadful day when He comes again.
As my boys are fast approaching the searching and experimenting teenage years, I have a lingering fear of what they will choose. But I also have a deep hope. If we as their parents keep the light of Christ alive in ourselves and our home, they will have a place they can look to for guidance and answers, even if they are feeling their way instead of holding fast. We’ve certainly had our times when we were feeling our way along as well, and (hopefully) sharing our own experiences will help them see the need to hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ.