How to Build a Boat
1 Nephi 16-22
1 Nephi 22:25 And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture.
There are many reasons why living in the desert can make you discontent. There are bugs and spiders and probably scorpions. It gets very hot during the day and it can get very cold at night. There are no fast food restaurants or any restaurants for that matter. It is very easy to get lost because every direction looks the same. There are no mountains or oceans or anything to tell you which way you came from or which way you are going. But worst of all, there are not many people who live in the desert. You could very easily walk through an entire desert and not meet a single other person the whole time. It’s just you, the heat, the sand, and too little food. And so the one thing you are sure to be in the desert is discontent.
Discontent, a definition:
Most people are mostly content most of the time. You might not think so because when you are content, it is very hard to notice. We only notice when it is too hot or too cold or we’re hungry or tired or hurting or sad. But most of the time we are comfortable. And so we keep doing what we’re doing without even noticing how practically perfect everything is. And we keep right on being thoughtlessly content until we become hungry or sad or cold. There are many ways to become discontent and they all feel more or less like an empty stomach. Because it’s your body’s way of telling you that something needs to change.
There are several things that made Lehi and Sariah’s family discontent. One of the first was the no-people problem. “We cannot live in this world alone,” they said. “We need family and friends. We need girls and boys. We need people to play with and think with and talk with and flirt with and have kids with. We need more people!”
And God heard their prayers and agreed. And so God sent Laman and Lemuel and Sam and Nephi back once more to Jerusalem. And this time, instead of getting a book, they got people. They found a family with lots of kids who would make excellent friends. But instead of stealing the family, like they had stolen the book, they just asked a simple question.
“Hey,” they said. “Do you want to leave your home and your air conditioning and your restaurants and your friends and your happy content lives, and come and live with us in the desert?” And then a miracle happened. The family said yes. And this is amazing because the family had not listened to Lehi when he told everyone that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed and that they all better pack up and leave. But for some reason, they listened to Lehi’s kids. And God must have been the reason. God had come into their hearts and helped these girls and boys be brave.
It’s not that God wanted the family to be uncomfortable; it wasn’t going to be safe and comfortable and careless in Jerusalem much longer anyway. But beyond that, God knew that the parts of life that we care about and cling to and love and cherish the most are the parts we notice. And to notice our life, sometimes we have to do things that are early in the morning or hard or uncomfortable.
Now that Lehi and Sariah’s family had friends and companions and sweethearts and playmates, do you think they were content? Not quite. Because now that they had all these people, they had to feed them. And there were no grocery stores anywhere. And so they had to hunt with bows and arrows and forage with their fingers and fingernails. And they had to eat whatever they could find like birds and ants. And to make things worse, their bows and arrows were breaking one by one and then, they were all broken. And so they were, again, discontent.
And God showed them how to make new bows and arrows because God also knows that sometimes when we are angry and mean and bad the problem is not that we are angry or mean or bad people. The problem is that we are hungry.
But now the two families had friends and food, they were still not out of discontents. Because now they were lost. They didn’t know where to go or where they were going or what this whole crazy adventure was all about. And so God gave them a ball that was like a clock, only instead of telling the time, the hands of the clock pointed which way to go.
Because God knew that we all have far more time than we know what to do with. And when we have time but no direction it’s easy to let minutes and years slip through our fingers like desert sand. And we might arrive at the end of our life and ask why we had hardly enough time to do anything at all. So instead of giving them a clock that told them what time it was, he gave them a clock that told them what to do with the time they had.
But now that they had friends and food and direction, they were still not out of discontents. There were still bugs and hot days and cold nights. And sunburn and scorpion stings. And not enough food or water. And so God led them to a land that was full of shade, warm days, and pleasant nights. There was an ocean of fish to eat. And best of all, there was honey. They scooped it up into a jar and licked it off of their fingers and closed their eyes because it was the sweetest, tastiest thing they had eaten in years. “And after the desert, there is dessert,” they laughed. They were done with discontents and ready for some rest and relaxation.
And they thought they were happy because everyone was all out of discontents. Everyone except God. God had one last discontent. Because God knew that happiness was more than not being discontent. It was more than full bellies and free time and money and honey. There was something more. Something better. Some place better. Someone better. And God was not content for the two families to waste their whole lives simply being comfortable.
And so God told Nephi that he needed to build a boat. Do you know how to build a ship? Nephi didn’t either. But luckily, God knew, and he showed Nephi step by step. And it took a lot of steps. He had to go to the mountain and find metal hidden in the rocks. He had to melt down that metal into tools. He had to cut down trees and make wood from the trunks. And that was all before he could even start putting it together.
And Laman and Lemuel did not understand. “We already left Jerusalem once,” they said. “We traveled for years. We have had hunger and thirst and injuries and loneliness and discomfort and bad food. And now that we are finally comfortable again you are telling us that God wants us to leave! That cannot be true. If God loves us, he wouldn’t want us to suffer any more than we already have.”
Nephi explained that he did not know how to build a ship, let alone how to live a good life. All he could manage to do alone was keep himself eating and drinking and living. But there was something more to life than living. There was a kind of contentedness that was just as noticeable as all of their discontents had ever been. But instead of hunger, it was a feeling of being so pleasantly full that you will never be hungry again. It’s a contentedness that cannot be undone or replaced and cannot be missed or mistaken.
And that’s what God wanted for them. And so even though Nephi didn’t know how to build a ship or live a good life, God did. And God was there helping them. And Laman and Lemuel were shocked to feel a new discontent. They too were hungry for this better life, this more filling food, this more content contentedness. It was a quiet hunger they had seldom felt before. But they felt it now. Now that they were content enough to notice.
And so they picked up the hammer and the wood and began helping Nephi. And together all of them — Laman and Lemuel and Nephi and his sisters and brothers and their wives and husbands and children and God — built a boat that would carry the entire family across the ocean to the Promised Land.
And when it was finished, God said “ALL ABOARD!” And the families, with all of their food and animals and clothes and seeds, climbed up inside the boat. “Goodbye, desert! Goodbye, goodbye! We’re going away to The Promised Land.” They waved, and the ship slipped away into the ocean.
And the winds blew, and the waves rocked, and the big ship which was large enough to cross the ocean suddenly felt very small and cramped and uncomfortable. If you rolled over in your sleep, you would roll right on top of someone else. Or if you wanted to stretch your arms in the morning, you might poke someone in the eye. And so it didn’t take too long until everyone felt sick, and tired, and grumpy. They were back in the desert.
“We’re all miserable, and tired, and smelly, and it’s Nephi’s fault!” they complained. They were so full of new discontents they had forgotten all about having a better, holier hunger. They just wanted to be back in Jerusalem. And this made God sad and he wept. And God’s tears became a great storm that filled the whole ocean. And the little boat was tossed back and forth on the waves like a tennis ball.
And the people on the boat feared for their lives. “God,” they said, “save us!” And God calmed the storm. And everybody was so glad that the storm had stopped that they didn’t mind so much being crowded and smelly and sick. And God blew a gentle wind into the sails and pushed the ship through the ocean to the Promised Land. And when the people tumbled out of the boat and into the beautiful land they prayed “Thank you, God, for helping us survive.”
“Children,” God said, “I am not here to help you survive. I am here to help you live.”
Joshua is an award-winning writer and director. His recent book, Ali the Iraqi, was published by BCC press. Sarah is a literature and theology doctoral student studying the Book of Job in the twentieth century.
Artwork by Maddie Baker.