This is a story about a man named Zeniff. Zeniff was dissatisfied. 

Dissatisfied, a definition:

A rich woman can be as dissatisfied as a poor man. It has nothing to do with what you have or don’t have. Nothing in the world can make you satisfied. No food. No toy. No trophy will make you satisfied. Only God can do that. And if you try to replace God with something else, you will fail. And you will be dissatisfied. 

If you are ever dissatisfied like Zeniff, that is okay. We are all dissatisfied sometimes. But beware, this is a sad story. It is about a man who lets dissatisfaction into his heart. And dissatisfaction hangs there like a bat pooping all over the floor until everything is black and sad and sticky.  

When Zeniff was young, something very sad happened to him. He was forced to leave his home by the Lamanites. Zeniff was a Nephite. And as you know by now, the Nephites and the Lamanites didn’t get along very well. They couldn’t even live next to each other without fighting. 

And so Zeniff and his family left their home and walked into the forest and across rivers. They slept nights under the stars. They were scared when they heard a twig break because they thought it might be a dangerous animal and because they had lost everything. They would need to find a new place to live. Build new homes. Plant new crops. Everything would begin again. 

And that is when dissatisfaction fluttered its way into Zeniff’s heart and clouded his vision. He did not see how God was blessing them with sunshine and food and children and joy. He didn’t see the green grass or the tall trees or the brown soil. Even after he had built a new house and married a wife and had children, Zeniff was still dissatisfied. He said, “I want to go back home, only then will I be satisfied.” And that was sad because Zeniff believed his home was behind him, not right there in front of him. He didn’t see that God had already given him and his family a new home. 

And so Zeniff and others like Zeniff went to reclaim their homes and their lands. They put together an army and were ready to fight and even kill the Lamanites if they had to. And Zeniff was a spy in that army. He was supposed to find the perfect place and time for the Nephites to attack. So he sat and he watched and watched and watched the Lamanites for days and days and days.

And then something happened. While Zeniff was watching the Lamanites, he began to see that they weren’t all bad, terrible, horrible people like he thought they were. Actually, most of them seemed like normal and even good people! How very confusing.

And as it turns out, it is actually very hard to attack people once you realize they are good and normal, and so Zeniff did something remarkable. He ran back to the Nephite armies and as one man against a hundred, he defended the Lamanites.

“This was a big mistake,” he said. “You see, the Lamanites seem sort of normal. And good, actually. And maybe good is normal. Maybe God’s children are normally good, even if they aren’t Nephites. I think we should go home, and not try to destroy them after all.”

Some of the Nephites agreed with Zeniff, and some of them didn’t like what he was saying. And so they fought together about what they should do and eventually agreed to go home, and let the Lamanites be. 

But it didn’t last forever because Zeniff and other Nephites like him were still dissatisfied. It wasn’t long until Zenniff and the others like him marched right back to the Lamanite city and said, “Lamanites, we want our homes back.” And amazingly, the Lamanite king agreed. The king asked all the Lamanites to move out of part of the land to make room for the Nephite families. And so the Nephites walked right into the land, no fighting necessary, and they set up farms, and homes, and cities, and churches. 

‘Now we will be satisfied,” said Zeniff. And he looked around and the grass was not as green as he had remembered. “Hmm,” he thought. “The Lamanites must not have been doing a good job keeping the grass.”

And he began to dislike the Lamanites because now they were neighbors. And he wanted what they had and they wanted what he had and everyone was dissatisfied. And they began to hate each other. And Zeniff, who had once defended the Lamanites as good people, could no longer see anything good in them. 

“The Lamanites are just terrible horrible wicked bad people,” he wrote, because he was angry. “There is nothing at all good about them. Laman and Lemuel were terrible, and now all their relatives are terrible. They’re all just terrible terrible terrible.” And the Nephites and the Lamanites began fighting and hating again. And no one defended each other. And everyone was very dissatisfied.

And I wish I could give you a better ending to Zeniff’s story. I wish I could say that Zeniff remembered the goodness that he saw in the Lamanites, or that he saw it all over again. And that he ran up to his own army, one man against a hundred, and cried “This is all a big mistake! These are our brothers, and they are good. It is wrong for us to fight.”

But that isn’t what happened then, and it often isn’t what happens now. Because we are all like Zeniff. Because we are all so easily dissatisfied. And we try to make ourselves happy by gathering things and places and other people into our hearts instead of God. And we think we will be able to love these things and places and people. And that will make us satisfied.  

But we are wrong. The miracle of loving God is that once you love God you are finally able to love things and places and people. And you will be happy and satisfied. Which means, you will love yourself.

Maybe you feel dissatisfied. Maybe you want what someone else has. Maybe you have become mad and can only see the bad things in someone else. If that is you, and it will be you sometimes, do what Zeniff forgot to do. Reach up your hands to God and say “God, I am dissatisfied. Help me feel your love.” And then God will do something remarkable. He will send you Jesus. 

And Jesus will run up to you, and he will teach you how to love, how to see what is good in your brother or your sister or your neighbors. He will defend them against armies of hundreds or thousands or millions and millions. “Here is the good,” Jesus will say, “They too are loved.” And you will realize that there is goodness and God in the world all around you, and in the people, too. And your heart will be calm. And you will be able to love.

All artwork by Lauren Blair.

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3 thoughts on “Zeniff, who was dissatisfied (Mosiah 9-10)

  1. I love the ending and moral you drew from it.
    I’m a bit confused by the “And he wanted what they had, and they wanted what he had…” part leading up to the “and so the Nephites decided to fight the Lamanites.” I get that Zeniff himself would be a biased narrator and that he’s writing with a lot of bitterness/disappointment/discontent after years of fighting, but I’ve never seen grounds to reject his claim that the Lamanites attacked them first and his people were fighting defensively and needed support from the Lord to be able to be successful in that defence. Your tone here suggests that you might even view him as the aggressor, is this mostly just to reinforce the idea that there would have been two sides to the story and that Zeniff is a biased narrator, or were there specific parts of his account that led you to this view? (or am I just misreading your intent?)

    1. Thanks for the comment. I edited the outbreak of the fighting to be more ambiguous. I believe there were two instances of fighting: one which was instigated by the Lamanites, and one which resulted from Zeniff sending spies who reported that they found Lamanites preparing for war, so the Nephites met them in battle. Certainly you could see both as a result of Lamanite greed. But there is also room, I think, for some culpability on Zeniff’s part, particularly as his claim to the land is something shy of selfless in the first place. It’s for that reason that I struggle to get behind Zeniff’s attribution of his victory to God. Zeniff isn’t a prophet, so we needn’t read his theological interpretations as prophecy. Which is not to say his interpretation of events is necessarily wrong. Would God support that kind of self-aggrandizing land grabbing? Maybe. The Old Testament has a lot of stories of God leading the children of Israel to conquer other people’s homes and lands. Certainly Zeniff (like many colonial powers) seems to think God was on his side, but I’m not certain. And either way, I find his developing hatred of the people he had once defended with his life deeply tragic.

      1. I certainly agree with the tragedy in this story and really appreciate how you brought that out. While rereading and studying it multiple times this week, I tried to imagine the Lamanite perspective on the story more and reflected on how Zeniff’s grievances against the Lamanites were warped by the lense of his flaws. Yet, inasmuch as he did truthfully describe the flaws of the Lamanites, God repeatedly makes it quite clear elsewhere in the Book of Mormon that he loves the Lamanites and is preserving them in spite of those flaws – just as he loves and preserves Zeniff and his people in spite of theirs.

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