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In February of 1846, Brigham Young chose 300 men to accompany him to what would become modern-day Utah. These 300 men were meant to get to Utah faster where they could plant crops to prepare for the rest of the Saints. Swollen rivers, bickering, and fear plagued the camp. Approximately 1,000 people attempted to follow this original company, and needless to say, the Saints did not make it very far in their migration. Brigham Young stopped the company as it got colder, and they developed a settlement named Winter Quarters.
Over time, 7,000 more people joined that original group at Winter Quarters, and there were 3,000 more of them strewn along that path. Almost all were starving and cold, and in these circumstances, Brigham Young found himself immensely discouraged. He felt as though he were carrying a huge weight around at all times.
It was during this time of distress that the Lord gave Section 136. It was a revelation that outlined how the Lord’s people should proceed with their migration in the coming spring.
So as I mentioned previously, the Saints made their original attempts to reach Utah in 1846. The results were less than desirable. That original company of men that Brigham had chosen made it 300 miles; this was just over 2 miles a day. After receiving this revelation from the Lord, the pioneer company that left the following year in 1847 travelled more than 1,000 miles. This was 4 times the distance per day in comparison to the previous year.
There are some extremely practical pieces of advice given to the Saints in Section 136, and this advice has the power to help us along in our own journeys as we travel through the “wilderness.” It’s interesting because there isn’t really anything in this section that is new doctrine. The Saints had heard it all before. And yet, it quadrupled the abilities of the Saints.
None of what I talk about today will likely be new to you. And yet, reminders are so crucial along our journey, and they have the ability to expand our abilities.
His work will continue on
Doctrine and Covenants 136:17 Go thy way and do as I have told you, and fear not thine enemies; for they shall not have power to stop my work.
The beginning of the church in the latter-day dispensation was not an easy time to be a Saint. There was an immense amount of persecution, and the Saints had been driven from home to home multiple times. Their beloved prophet Joseph had lived a life of difficulty before being assassinated. Now that the Saints were finally moving across the country from their enemies, they still found themselves bogged down with overflowing rivers, muddy plains, and abnormally low temperatures. Was there no end to the obstacles? They were doing the Lord’s work! And though they might not have expected it to be easy, they probably didn’t expect it to be quite so hard. From an outside perspective, it may have looked like the Lord’s work had stopped or that this had never been His work to begin with.
And yet, the Lord’s work has never been about building cities and homes or even a physical location of Zion. The Lord’s work has always been about building His people and all that other stuff had simply been tools to help Him accomplish His true purposes.
It was true what the Lord said in verse 17; His work had never actually been stopped by the enemies. In fact, what the enemies “accomplished” had only contributed to the Lord’s purposes of building His people. In their efforts to destroy the church, they only made it stronger.
When it feels like the work you have been asked to do is impossible, it never hurts to remember that the Lord’s main purpose is to build you. All the seemingly insurmountable obstacles facing you are actually contributions to the Lord’s ultimate work: building you. Any attempts by the adversary to stop His work of building you simply and ironically become stepping stones. The only thing that can truly stop His work of molding you is your choice to step away from Him.
Dancing along the way
Doctrine and Covenants 136:28 If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
This is always a good reminder for me. The Saints did not wait for happy times to dance. They created a happy time and danced in Winter Quarters. Though there seemed to be few reasons for dancing, they did it anyway. Happy times may call for celebrations, but celebrations can also create happy times. They don’t have to be huge celebrations. The action of creating happy memories on purpose is powerful.
Life will always be busy and overwhelming. Always. Even when we get to the other side, we will be busy. As we grow to become like our Heavenly Father, we will get busier. Just accept now that it never goes away and learn how to celebrate and dance along the way.
I have always tried to save my relaxation and fun time for after the work is done. I’m the kind of person who would have attempted to just keep walking across the plains through the winter with a plan to dance once I got there. What’s funny about this metaphor is the idea that there was more work to be done even after the trek was done. Dancing has to happen along the way, or it will never happen.
Prioritize dancing. Prioritize date night and family time and temple time. Prioritize quiet meals with people you love sans distraction.
There will be times when you have more to do than there are hours in a day. There will be times when the Lord requires more sacrifice than at other times. There will be times where you worry and pray late into the night and then get up early to work the next day. There will be points in your life where times for dancing are sacrificed, and those sacrifices are appropriate.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t dance during your other activities. Learn how to play with your kids while you scrub sinks. Learn how to serve and truly listen to others during your lunch break at work. Learn how to be happy in the midst of your tasks.
There was nothing new here
What strikes me over and over about Section 136 is the fact that it doesn’t really contain anything new from the Lord. There are no principles given that have not been given before. Within this section, we find counsel to return what you borrow, to stop talking badly about each other, to call upon the Lord when you’re sorrowful, and to let go of fear.
Some of the verses advise the Saints to divide into companies, but this wasn’t new either. Brigham Young had meant to divide everybody into companies the year before when the Saints originally started out west, but it had not been given priority and it fell by the wayside.
And yet despite the lack of “new” knowledge, the Saints underwent an enormous change that spread throughout the camp and enabled them to quadruple their abilities. William Clayton noted that, ““It truly seemed as though the cloud had burst, and we had emerged into a new element, a new atmosphere, and a new society.”
No new knowledge, but they were suddenly a new people. How does this make sense? What is it about this communication from the Lord that changed these people?
I believe it goes beyond reminders and good advice.
When we invite revelation into our lives, we are inviting the Spirit and all the good things that come with the Spirit. We’re inviting Christ’s atonement into our lives, and His atonement changes us. We become new creatures. Sure, the Spirit brings things to our remembrance, testifies of Christ, and teaches us truth but the Spirit also brings qualities. The fruits of the Spirit include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. When the Spirit comes to communicate something from our Heavenly Father, it brings the ability to change our nature. We become more Christlike. It goes far beyond acting more Christlike or following good advice.
There have been times in my life where I’ve been struggling and can’t see a way out. Discouragement, weariness, and so many other things seem to be drowning me. When I turn to the Savior, I do not often receive specifics or new doctrine. Sometimes I don’t even receive reminders. There was a specific time on my mission where I felt particularly bogged down. I remember praying and truly talking to Heavenly Father. I received no revelation, no reminders, no “words” of comfort. I simply felt like the Savior was sitting near and listening, and it changed me. I felt renewed. I felt an ability to carry on. I don’t know how it happened, but I know that it did.
I know that this revelation was full of good advice. I know that the Saints needed to be reminded of their purpose and power. I know that when these words were combined with the Spirit, it brought a power that transformed the Saints. I know that as we seek revelation, we not only receive guidance but we change.