What Nephi Teaches about Overcoming Discouragement

By Elizabeth K. Ryser

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    In the beautiful passage of scripture referred to as the psalm of Nephi (2 Ne. 4:15–35), the prophet looks inward, and in the process reveals to us his magnificent heart. I identify with Nephi as he describes his struggle to be a Saint in a world where Satan rules and tempts. His is a dilemma we all face:

    “Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.

    “Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.” (2 Ne. 4:16–17.)

    In our modern language, we might say it like this: “I know better, yet I still sin. I am so blessed, yet I’m still not entirely happy.”

    Nephi spares no detail in describing his misery. He writes that his heart weeps, his soul lingers in the valley of sorrow, his flesh wastes away, he feels angry at his enemies. (2 Ne. 4:26–27.)

    How is it possible that Nephi, who had spoken with angels and been a witness to the reality of the coming Christ, could have such feelings? Perhaps it is the very depth of his testimony that makes his own failings so hard to bear. We might also point to the recent death of Father Lehi. In the aftermath of great loss, discouragement often afflicts us.

    Nephi understands that it is not easy to be a Saint. We are all trying to overcome the natural man, striving to reach that point where we have no disposition or inclination to do evil. In each moment of life, we are choosing between good and evil. Despite our righteous desires, we are tempted daily and we do sin.

    To add to our burden, we often sorrow over others. Nephi writes, “I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them.” (2 Ne. 33:3.)

    After expressing his despair, Nephi begins to question his thoughts. He searches for alternative ways of viewing his situation. He asks a series of questions: “Why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” (2 Ne. 4:27.)

    We, too, could profit by asking these questions and answering them for ourselves. Like Nephi, we often need to choose not to be sorrowful: “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.” (2 Ne. 4:28.) Nephi then reframes his thoughts and transforms them from sorrowful to joyful.

    What can we learn from Nephi that might help us to deal with our own discouragement?

    1. Nephi wrote down his thoughts, feelings, and desires. This in itself is a healing process. In my practice as a social worker, I often ask depressed, fearful, or anxious people to pour out their feelings in a journal. They report that it is extremely helpful.

    Nephi was a faithful journal keeper. He kept two records, even though he did not fully understand the purpose of the second one. He wrote, even though he was not “mighty in writing.” (2 Ne. 33:1.) But it was enough for him to know that it was a commandment of the Lord, who had a wise purpose for his record. As he closed his record, Nephi wrote: “I, Nephi, have written what I have written, and I esteem it as of great worth, and especially unto my people.” (2 Ne. 33: 3.)

    2. Nephi pondered. (See 2 Ne. 4:16.) This is a process that goes beyond thinking. It is the process of studying things out in our minds, of meditating. Pondering the things of the Lord, as Nephi did, opens us to the Spirit.

    3. Nephi studied the scriptures. He delighted in them and testified of their truthfulness. (See 2 Ne. 4:15.) He especially delighted in the writings of Isaiah and included his words so that “whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men.” (2 Ne. 11:8.) Nephi’s great understanding of the scriptures helped him keep his faith. They helped him know in whom he had trusted, even as his heart groaned because of his sins. (See 2 Ne. 4:19.)

    4. Nephi reminded himself of the Lord’s goodness, support, love, and protection. (See 2 Ne. 4:20–25.) He recalled the times when God had preserved his life, filled him with love, confounded his enemies, answered his prayers, and sent him knowledge. He made an inventory of his blessings and was grateful. Counting our blessings and recalling our spiritual experiences can be a powerful antidote for discouragement.

    5. Nephi encouraged himself. He discarded negative thoughts and replaced them with positive ones. His faith called for action: “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart.” (2 Ne. 4:28.)

    6. Nephi then prayed with all his might, with boldness and great sincerity.

    7. Nephi praised and rejoiced in the Lord: “O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.” (2 Ne. 4:30.) He was filled with gratitude. He rejected his negative label, “O wretched man” (2 Ne. 4:17), and embraced a positive one: “I will trust in [the Lord] forever” (2 Ne. 4:34).

    8. Nephi cried unto the Lord for help. He fully understood that his estrangement from God could be overcome only through the atoning blood of the Savior. He could be redeemed only by the Lord. This is the most important step any of us can take. We, too, need to seek the Lord’s mercy for a remission of our sins. True repentance can fill us with joy and peace of conscience.

    Nephi’s prayers were not general. He asked specifically for the gifts that he needed. He asked that his soul be redeemed, that he be delivered from the hands of his enemies, that he shake at the appearance of sin, that the gates of hell be shut before him, that the gates of righteousness be opened, that the Lord would encircle him in the robe of His righteousness, that he escape his enemies, and his path be straight and not blocked by his enemies. (See 2 Ne. 4:31–33.) These are all requests we could profitably ponder and make to the Lord.

    Nephi has gone from discouragement to great rejoicing, showing that the desires of his heart center in Christ. Toward the end of his life he wrote: “Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Ne. 31:20.) As we center our hearts on Christ, we, too, will find the key to overcoming discouragement.

    Illustrated by Ondre Pettingill

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    • Elizabeth K. Ryser, a social worker and marriage and family therapist, is presently serving as a full-time missionary in the South Africa Johannesburg Mission.