You know the pioneers who walked and walked and walked and walked? Lehi and Sariah’s family were like those pioneers. When God told them to leave Jerusalem, they took off a-walk-walk-walking. Because they did not have a car or a train or even an airplane. All they had were their own two trodding feet and maybe a donkey or goat or a camel. And so they just walked and walked away from their home and friends, and then they walked and walked into the wilderness where there was sand and heat and bugs.
And then, after walking and walking and walking, for days and days and days, Lehi stopped walking. “We will camp here,” he said. And everyone let out a huge sigh of relief, then put down their bags, and sat down to rest their walked-out feet. Everyone except for Lehi. Lehi just took right off walking again and found some big heavy stones. He stacked stone after stone until there was a big pile of stones. Then he pointed to the pile and said, “this will be my altar.”
Altar, a definition
An altar can be a pile of rocks, a wooden table, a string around your finger, or a soft spot in your heart. An altar is just something that helps us get to know God, the real God. Sometimes we think we already know God. We think God is like an imaginary friend or a stuffed animal we can talk to when we are sad and He will say exactly what we want him to say. But God is not imaginary and God is not a stuffed animal. He is real. And because He is real, He can be very surprising. So we use altars to help us thank God, pray to God, and get to know God better.
And that’s why Lehi built an altar. He wanted his children to remember that God was not what people back in Jerusalem thought. God was something much better. And when the altar was finished, Lehi stopped working and walking and stacking and he knelt down at the altar and prayed. “Thank you for bringing us here safely, God,” he said. “It has been good to walk.”
But not everyone was happy about the idea of camping in the wilderness. You might have heard of Laman and Lemuel. They’re pretty famous for COMPLAINING. And that’s fair because they did complain a lot. But their life was not easy. They had just left their friends and their games and their toys and their beds and their rooms back in Jerusalem. Sleeping on the ground was not comfortable. And the sun was setting and a cool wind was making them shiver and they were sore from all that walking. They had never been so tired and yet they couldn’t sleep. Because the sky was too bright. It was filling with stars, more than they had ever seen. The stars beamed, they twinkled, they spun. But Laman and Lemuel did not notice. They just complained and said, “We hate it here. Why did we ever leave Jerusalem? This cannot be God’s plan.”
And they weren’t the only ones who were uncertain. Nephi and Lehi and Sariah and Sam were also sore and tired and beginning to feel a little grumpy. Sleeping in the desert was difficult and didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. But instead of complaining, Nephi decided to go outside under the bright bright stars and ask God to explain himself. And lucky for Nephi, God did.
“Nephi,” God said, “It makes my heart glad when you talk with me.” And God explained to Nephi “You are in the desert now, but you won’t be here long. I’m going to send you somewhere else. Somewhere beautiful. I’m preparing the land, and I’m preparing you. And you will live there. And your family and your children will live there. And you will be happy and blessed for as long as you love deeply and have faith.”
“That makes so much sense,” said Nephi. “Of course we are not staying in the desert.” And so even though Nephi was living in a tent on the sand with itchy bugs, he trusted God. He was sore and tired and achy now, but someday there would be a land and a home and a family. And God would be there, too, just like He was with them already in the tent, on the sand, with the bugs.
All they had to do was follow God’s plan. Because God is God and so His plan is probably flawless. Nephi smiled. He was certain everything was about to start making a lot more sense.
And so Nephi returned to the family tent. And he was about to tell his family all about God’s flawless plan but Lehi stopped him. “I have bad news,” he said. “There was a kink in the plan.” Nephi had not expected this. How could there be a kink when they were following God’s plan?
Lehi explained: “You see, I forgot to pack a book. And because there are no book stores or malls or even Amazon here, you will have to go back and get it.”
Nephi and Sam and Sariah may have been confused but Laman and Lemuel were angry. They said, “You said God told us to leave. If God is talking to you, like you say, why did he not remind you to pack that silly book before we walked and walked and walked all the way out here!”
The trip back to Jerusalem was not going to be easy or convenient. It did not make a lot of sense to any of them. And because it did not make a lot of sense, Laman and Lemuel began to believe their father was not talking to God at all. He was just talking to himself. “You are just an old, silly, little-bit-crazy man,” they said. Because if Lehi was talking to God, they thought, things would be working out a lot smoother and a lot more comfortable. And everyone would all be a lot happier.
And it must have been confusing to hear. Because just like the people of Jerusalem, Lehi’s and Sariah’s family had their own ideas about God: what He likes and what He hates and what things He plans for us and what things He definitely doesn’t plan for us. But God had His own ideas. And this time His idea required Nephi and Sam and Laman and Lemuel to go all the way back to Jerusalem, to pick up a book.