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It’s been fascinating this year to study The Book of Mormon that I am SO familiar with… and find out that there is SO much that I’ve never seen it in before. How is it that I’ve read these stories so many times and there’s still more to unpack? I’m so grateful for the Come Follow Me program and how it helps me to dive into the scriptures in more meaningful ways.

This last week we studied about Nephi’s family preparing to leave Bountiful. If you’re unfamiliar with the story I’ll give a brief recap (or you can read 1 Nephi 1-18 for all the details). Nephi’s family was called to leave Jerusalem, their home filled with comforts and riches prior to the Babylonian captivity (as recorded in the Old Testament books of Daniel, Jeremiah and others). Despite the challenges, they obediently followed the Lord’s command, embarking on a journey into the wilderness that lasted eight long years. Finally, they reached the land Bountiful, a place of abundance and prosperity.

At first glance, Bountiful seemed like the promised land they had longed for—a place flowing with milk and honey, where their family could thrive. FINALLY, they had made it! They had escaped the perils of remaining in Jerusalem and being subject to captivity, and they had survived the long years in the desert where they had suffered hunger and privations. I can only imagine their gratitude to reach this beautiful place as their reward for enduring through nearly a decade of trials. Yet, even in this seemingly idyllic setting, they were not meant to stay. The Lord had greater things in store for them, beyond the comforts of Bountiful.

As part of my Come Follow Me study last week I listened to the Follow Him podcast where they had Dr. Tyler Griffin on the show. This part of their conversation keeps replaying in my head –

Hank Smith: We’ve made it through the wilderness. We’re to Bountiful and you would think we made it. We could stay here forever, yet there’s a lot more to come.
Dr. Tyler Griffin: This is a beautiful reminder to us that if we’re not careful, we will mistake these byways or these incredible locations like Bountiful. It’s oceanfront property. It’s got all the fruits we could want. Why not just set up our civilization here? […] From an earthly perspective you could say, “Hey, it’s Bountiful. This is the perfect place,” but the reality is God has so much more in store to give this group. They don’t even know the extent of the lands and the fruit and the flowers and all of the amazing things that they’re going to get to experience in the promised land after having given up all of their gold, silver, precious things in their house and their land of inheritance in Jerusalem. It’s like what they sacrificed is nothing compared to what he has in store for them and what he has in store for them is not Bountiful. It’s just a staging area for that next phase which involves crossing the ocean. […]
John Bytheway: I’ve never thought of that before, but we all understand what the Lord means when he says, “Leave Babylon,” but leaving your Bountiful. Ooh, that’s tough. And it was as Michael Wilcox who talks about the Lord sometimes calls us when the nets are full. That’s when it’s tough. I know people in my own ward, they just bought a house and got called on a mission, and asking you to leave when the nets are full. Maybe they got comfortable here in Bountiful and, nope, you’ve got to leave your Bountifuls too.

Leaving behind Jerusalem would have been very difficult. Lehi’s family seems to have been in a position of wealth and comfort. They knew that there were bad influences around them though. That sacrifice would have been hard but it feels like the kind of sacrifice you expect to make as someone trying to follow God. Leaving behind something that looks and feels good but is bad for you. Like when you’re comfy binging Netflix but you know it’s time to get your lazy butt off the couch and start exercising. You might be happy on the couch, but you know you could do better.

Going through the wilderness was obviously difficult. Lack of food, broken bows, living in tents – none of that sounds fun. But it was necessary. If they were to leave behind Jerusalem and escape the judgements that were coming there was a desert standing in their way. It feels acceptable to have challenges that come after making a sacrifice of something that is bad for us. It’s like the daily grind of waking up each morning to go to the gym after leaving the couch. it’s not fun, but the results are worth it. Plus, on the other end of it you can justify eating chocolate cake!

When they reached Bountiful – they had made it! All of that misery in the desert was over and now they were being rewarded. It might have been so hard, but looking around them I would imagine they thought it was worth it. They didn’t have to worry about being captured by Babylonians, they weren’t starving in the desert – clearly this is what the Lord had in mind for them. They had gotten in shape and THIS was the chocolate cake that they had earned by putting in all that time at the gym.

But instead they were told to leave that beautiful, rewarding place as well. In order to get into the really amazing shape that you want to get into, you also have to give up that chocolate cake that you feel like you’ve earned. For Lehi’s family to get to America – a land that was teeming with natural resources, space and so much more than they could have ever dreamed of – they had to give up Bountiful. It was the best they had seen so far – but they had no idea what was in store.

Nephi’s story must have been very comforting to Latter-day Saint Pioneers. As they were driven from Palmyra to Kirtland to Missouri to Nauvoo and ultimately to Utah. How hard it must have been to give up homes, businesses and lands in Illinois for the deserts of the Mountain West. But what would they have given up if they had stayed? Would the church have had the space it needed to grow and thrive if they hadn’t been willing to give up what they already had?

I keep asking myself, what about me? Would I be willing to give up Bountiful for the Promised Land? What are the good things that I might have to give up for something that would be even better?

One example that came to mind from my own life happened about a year and a half ago. I had 4 children and my youngest had just made it into preschool. Things were clicking along with my business and my kids were starting to be able to handle their schooling on their own – I was actually getting to a point where I had something resembling free time in my day! We were getting out of diapers and carseats, no one needed to be back at home for naptime. My oldest had finally reached 13 too so I had a legitimate babysitter built in when I wanted to leave the house. I had done the baby/toddler/little kid thing for so long and I’d finally made it to having big kids. This was the life!

Then… the prompting came. It was time to have another baby. What?! Didn’t the Lord know? I already had 4 kids – which is maybe not a LOT of kids – but it is certainly still a lot of kids. I was past 35, which meant that I now qualify as a “geriatric pregnancy” (lots of feelings about that terminology, but that’s another topic). Plus, my 4th pregnancy had been ROUGH – gestational diabetes, kidney stones, back problems – and when it was over I got a difficult baby who was always mad, didn’t sleep and required a lot of attention. Was I really being sent back to the wilderness of newborns and toddlers? Hadn’t I earned my Bountiful?

I would be lying if I said that I jumped right in with Nephi’s “I will go, I will do!” personality. It took some time for me to warm up to the idea, to discuss it with my husband, and to clear it with my midwife. But eventually I allowed myself to be “led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (1 Nephi 4:6) Within a few months I was pregnant again – being tossed about on the seas of morning sickness, kidney stones and tachycardia. It was a pretty rough go of things, and there was a lot of misery through those nine months of pregnancy. But at the end of it…

I got this sweet baby! He is sweet tempered, loving and adorable. He even sleeps through the night! He only sleeps in my bed next to me – but to be honest, that’s par for the course and he actually *sleeps* so he’s ahead of his siblings. The word most often used to describe him is “delightful” and it is certainly fitting.

Before his arrival our kids had pretty well decided that babies were ROUGH. They weren’t really sure about having a baby again after how much their youngest brother had cried and been miserable to be around. But this baby has completely changed their tune. They carry him around like he is their own. He has been so good for the big kids to learn some responsibility, and he’s even helped the youngest learn to regulate himself a little better. In all he has been the most wonderful blessing that we had no idea we needed in our family.

There was nothing wrong with our family before. But now that we know how wonderful our family is with this new baby – how sad it is to think how easily we could have stayed in a place of contentment and complacency and missed out on him! How sad it would have been knowing all the vastness and bounties of the Americas were given up for a few miles of oasis on the Arabian peninsula.

I don’t think that leaving Bountiful is a one time thing in our life. I’m pretty sure it’s a pattern that will happen again and again and again. Because we have no idea the treasures and blessings that God has in store for us. He will continue to lead us from good to better and better and better until He can finally lead us into Kingdoms of Glory. But we have to be willing to let go of the good that we have now, and cross the raging seas before we can get what He has in store for us.