fortitude: mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously
Last night I watched one of my all-time favorite movies, “Dan in Real Life,” with a group of close friends. One scene stuck out to me like never before. Dan and his daughters were in the midst of an annual family reunion when he inadvertently fell for his brother’s girlfriend. In an effort to get away from the couple and their lighthearted flirting he took his daughter, niece and nephew on an impromptu field trip:
The scene reminded me something that happened back in August. I was sitting on my couch and spotted a Book of Mormon on a nearby shelf. It was the standard paperback issue the missionaries carry around. One of my friends had left it in my apartment by accident while he was on splits with the elders. On that particular afternoon my head was whirling. Something rather confusing had happened and I wasn’t sure what it meant. I didn’t know if I should feel hope or indifference. I picked up the book, closed my eyes, flipped it around a few times so I wouldn’t know which cover was which, and opened it. Keeping my eyes closed I placed my finger on the page. I opened my eyes and read Ether 2:23:
And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by light of fire.
I recognized the story. The brother of Jared had just built eight barges so his people could cross the ocean and inherit the Promised Land. The barge design was completely enclosed except for a hole in the top and in the bottom which would allow for light and air whenever the barge was on the surface of the water. The brother of Jared had just asked, “Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?” (Ether2:22). The Lord continued:
For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea? (Ether 2:24-25)
Before I continue the story of the brother of Jared I want stop and look closely at these verses. First off the Lord compares the barges to whales in the sea. The barges were designed to be completely submerged while withstanding a beating from the ocean. Waves, winds, and floods are each mentioned twice. Once the elements let up the barges could return to the surface of the water and the top hole could be unstopped to allow for new air. The word “prepare” is mentioned three times in verse 25. The brother of Jared’s preparation included building the barges but it didn’t end there. The Lord promised to prepare the people to cross the waters by giving them light. He challenged the brother of Jared to figure out how to light each barge.
The mere prospect of riding in a modern-day submarine freaks me out quite a bit. The idea of time-traveling back to the era of the Tower of Babel and watching people construct vessels with no steering equipment freaks me out even more. As mentioned in verse 23 there were no windows - only a measly skylight in the top of each barge. The people were expected to commend the vessels to the sea and leave all steering in the hands of the Lord. Okay, I might be able to get on board with that but then the Lord promises to hammer them with waves, winds and floods. Holy cow.
Luckily the brother of Jared was a man of great faith, “highly favored of the Lord” (Ether 1:34). Through his faith and prayers he and Jared successfully avoided the confounding of tongues at the Tower of Babel (Ether 1:33-35). The Lord spread that blessing to his family, Jared’s family and their friends and family (Ether 1:36-37). The brother of Jared had led these people away from the tower and through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land (Ether 1:38-43). He had already had a hand at testing out similar barges in the sea in the wilderness (Ether 2:6-7). Having already spent at least four years in the wilderness with these people he certainly knew their strengths and abilities. Some part of him knew the voyage was possible. Instead of backing down he stepped up to the Lord’s challenge and came up with a solution for lighting the barges. “And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) went forth unto the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount,” (Ether 3:1).
The third chapter of Ether gives an amazing account of the brother of Jared praying to the Lord for forgiveness and pleading with him to touch the sixteen stones, “…that they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light when we cross the sea,” (Ether3:4). Paraphrasing can do this chapter no justice. It’s worth a review if you have a few minutes.
After the Lord touched the stones, “the brother of Jared came down out of the mount, and he did put forth the stones into the vessels which were prepared, one in each end thereof; and behold, they did give light unto the vessels” (Ether 6:2). The final preparations were made and once all of the supplies were gathered the people, “got aboard of their vessels or barges, and set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God” (Ether 6:4). We know that the Lord always makes good on his promises:
And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind.
And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind. (Ether 6:6-7)
Although they were driven down into the dark waters time and time again, “no water … could hurt them,” (Ether 6:7) because of the manner and quality of the construction of the barges. Their physical preparation was sufficient and their spiritual preparation was constantly tested. In order to return to the surface the people would “cry unto the Lord.” The wind driving them to the Promised Land was constant as were their songs of praise and prayers of thanks (Ether 6:8-9).
And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water. (Ether 6:10)
These remarkable people survived these conditions for 344 days (Ether 6:11). That is three weeks shy of a year! If I had to choose between spending 344 days in a sea-tossed barge or 344 days crossing the plains with the pioneers I would probably pick the pioneer trek. That’s saying a lot!
And they did land upon the shore of the promised land. And when they had set their feet upon the shores of the promised land they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land, and did humble themselves before the Lord, and did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of his tender mercies over them. (Ether 6:12)
I’m grateful for that day back in August that led me to rediscover the story of the brother of Jared. Much of the tumult and confusion of summer has passed and, as predicted, fall is settling me down into a new, calmer rhythm. As a result I’m vulnerable to a constantly creeping false sense of security. Although I’m not in a barge several meters under the ocean’s surface I am living in a wild world full of dangers and temptations. Perhaps the greatest danger is forgetting I need God and the greatest temptation is to become lax in following His commandments. I want my heart and my testimony to be fortified and tight, “light unto a dish” (Ether 2:17). I don’t mean I want my heart to be closed. I just want to make sure I open it at the opportune times to let in new light and air. (Metaphorical light and air, that is. I don’t want a pulmonary embolism!)
I have kept Ether 2:24-25 on my bathroom mirror for the last month and a half. Remarkably September is already coming to a close. I’ve had many joyful days this month. Sometimes things are going so well I look at my bathroom mirror and think, “How could I have ever needed that scripture?” In those moments I carefully read the verses out loud and remind myself that anything can change at any moment. God has promised challenges and he has also promised deliverance. May I never cease to see his miracles in my life.