Many people’s lives have been defined by long journeys. Leaving the homeland and traveling long distances over land and sea to a hopeful better life. What might be the motivation? Escaping poverty or persecution. Seeking religious freedom. Seeking gold! Rejoining a family that previously went ahead. Or maybe simply for adventure. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “I believe that every life is a collection of individual ‘journey stories.’”(Your Wonderful Journey Home)
Many of my direct ancestors left home on perilous journeys searching for a better future.
Charles Ross was a g-g-g-grandfather. He was born in northern Scotland in 1794. In 1818 Charles sailed to Canada to join up with the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company. He became a fur trader, living in remote postings in northern and western Canada. The difficulty of daily survival in these primitive outposts makes today’s TV survival shows look like literal walks in a park.
While living at a tiny fur trading post on the northern coast of British Columbia with his indigenous wife Isabella and 9 children, he wrote a letter to his older sister Elspeth. It would take six months for the letter to reach her. By the time her response letter had been received, Charles had died. Elspeth was experiencing her own difficult journey story, beginning in Scotland, then sailing with her husband and young children to South America where advertised fertile farm land never materialized, and then -- close to starvation -- ending up as a refugee with her family in Guelph, near today’s Toronto.
Here is a snippet from Charles’ 1843 letter to his sister Elizabeth:
“[Of] our way of life in this dreary wilderness nothing can be more dark and insipid (e.g. bland, uninteresting). The [fur trading] posts we occupy, though [there are] many, are far between [from each other], and [we] seldom have any [communication] with each other, [not more often] than once a year, and then for the most part is for the purpose of exchanging cargoes of merchandise for cargoes of furs. There is no society—[thus a] person … must divert himself the best way he can with his own thoughts.” Such was Charles Ross’s journey story.
In the scriptures many long trips are recorded – and in each case they are given an identical name – a Journey to the Promised Land.
In the Old Testament, the Promised Land is the land promised and subsequently given by God to Abraham and his descendants. The promise was first made to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21), then confirmed to his son Isaac (Genesis 26:3), and then to Isaac's son Jacob (Genesis 28:13).
The Promised Land can be a distant land where a better life is waiting. But the term can also be a metaphor for one’s own life journey. Are not we all on our own, personal journeys to a hopeful celestial Promised Land? Through the restoration of the gospel came the restoration of lost knowledge, and a clear understanding of where we came from, why we are here, and the ultimate destination in this journey.
Elder David A Bednar of the Twelve Apostles has taught, “The Father’s plan is designed to provide direction for His children, to help them become happy, and to bring them safely home to Him with resurrected, exalted bodies.” (We Believe in Being Chaste)
In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin gives the basic travel instructions: “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth.”
Every journey itself is fraught with trails, detours, delays, disappointments and discouragement. Of course! Of all religions, philosophies and belief systems, the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints understands this, accepts this and even embraces this. The natural man will want to give up. Or, when the going gets tough, to rationalize stopping at a halfway point and calling it quits. By doing so, such a persona puts at risk his or her eternal destination and destiny.
Now let’s focus on a well-documented journey to a Promised Land. A journey found in the Book of Mormon – that of Nephi and his extended family. His journey is symbolic of our life journey – and we are encouraged to “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning,” (1 Nephi 19:23).
Nephi’s journey required boats. But he was not a boat builder. He had most likely seen boats, but he had never built a boat. Yet, if God said to build a boat, Nephi would build a boat.
A normal problem solver – and Nephi had already proven that he was very good at solving problems – would have studied the boats in the local area, talked to local boat builders, perhaps hired 1-2 experienced helpers, and would get started on the project – that of building a boat like all the other local boats.
But Nephi was not a normal problem solver -- he had formed a pattern in his life, that when difficult and important assignments were given – ones that required responsibility and leadership and clear vision – he didn’t rely on his own problem solving abilities. He sensed that the eventual consequences of these assignments were so great, that he sought help from heavenly sources – the source from whom the original assignment came.
And it came to pass that I arose and went up into the mountain, and cried unto the Lord. And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters. (1 Nephi 17:7-8)
Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men. And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things. (1 Nephi 18:2-3)
The ship got finished.
And it came to pass after we had all gone down into the ship, and had taken with us our provisions and things which had been commanded us, we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land. (1 Nephi 18:8)
From this story of Nephi building a ship and then sailing with his extended family to their Promised Land, we can learn two very important imbedded principles that are essential for our own trips:
1. Nephi didn’t know how to build a boat. So he went to the mount often to get instructions. The mount of yesterday is the temple of today.
2. And the key instruction given to him while on the mount was this: I will show you how to do it. It won’t be done after the manner of men. A regular run of the mill boat wouldn’t do … in the journey I’m sending you on, it will sink. And you must get to the Promised Land. So come often to the mount to get more instructions.
What are we to do with these two principles?
If we resort to being uninspired or fear-driven problem solvers, we’ll likely design the wrong boat and we, and our precious cargo, will sink. We must build our boats – that is, come up with creative solutions for our difficult challenges -- not after the manner of men. We must get help from a heavenly architect.
And to do this, we must go to the mount often. The mount is a metaphor for the temple.
Following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he made this great promise, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,” (Hebrews 13:5). This promise is the glue that holds our boats together in the greatest of storms and trials. I testify that this is true and have used this promise in my many trials.
Your journey story is unique and is yours alone, as it should be. And your journey story it is now forming you and defining you. You are a god or goddess in embryo. As we align ourselves with the will of God, moving forward step by step, He will improve us line upon line, precept upon precept. A little bit here and a little bit there. We will grow, and mature and gain wisdom. Incrementally and almost imperceptibly we can become more like Him. This plan, the Plan of Happiness, is designed for all and available for all.
Might we thus all be striving to arrive at the same place, His Promised Land. This is our journey story, this is our destiny.