I've seen myself in Laman and Lemuel much more this time through the Book of Mormon than ever before. I've had empathy for them in the past, I've felt like I understood their frustrations and anger and maybe even their descent into a willingness to commit murder. They were living through extreme times and their emotions, especially their rage, are so close to the surface.
But reading chapters 16 and 17 this time, I feel as though their arguments to Nephi could come from my mouth. This is a mirror I don't want to look into, but it's important to see myself clearly. Trials can push us away from godly things or they can bring us closer. Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael had the SAME experiences as Nephi, and yet their reactions were so different.
Some of these experiences they all went through:
1. Forced to leave their wealthy lives
2. Wandered in the wilderness for 8 years (EIGHT YEARS! That's a long time.)
3. Saw that the Liahona (a miraculous object) worked according to faith
4. Lost their means of obtaining food
5. Experienced hunger, possibly close to death (Did Ishmael die partially because of a lack of food? His daughters may suggest this in v. 35)
6. Ate raw meat. For eight years.
7. "Suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue" "We did travel and wade through much affliction"
8. Bore (or saw their wives bear) children in the wilderness, in much less than optimal circumstances
Why did Nephi become a prophet and his brothers become attempted murderers?
Is the answer all in chapter 2, v. 16? "I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers."
Once we turn our hearts from God, it is easy to be led in so many paths. Truth can feel so subjective. It is hard to move from a heart closed off to the things of God back to having a soft heart, ready and willing to believe. Fasting helps. Prayer helps. Learning to be as a child in our faith helps. Studying the scriptures helps. But so much of it depends on one simple thing: our willingness. We must be willing to listen, to hope, and to believe in the feelings we DO experience, and to accept that there are some hard things we may not understand right at this moment.
I mourn for Laman and Lemuel, for the great battle that would rage in the future, over and over again, between their children and the children of Nephi and Sam and Zoram. If only they could have been willing to turn their hearts to God. They were so close, so many times.