The Lesson of Zeniff

I was reading in the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon this morning and I was struck by something as I was reading the account of Zeniff, who had gone back to the original Land of Nephi to reclaim it.  Now, Zeniff seemed to be a decent guy.  He saw good in the Lamanites there and didn’t wish to war with them.  He seemed to reign later in justice and follow the statutes of the Lord.  But when he wrote the record, with the benefit of hindsight, he said he was “over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers.”

Now, to be called a zealot today is generally considered an insult, because it has a connotation of being overly committed to something, to the point of being blind to facts and reason.  I’m not sure exactly what the connotation of zealous was when this was translated in the late 1820s, but I am sure that ‘over-zealous’ could not have been complimentary.  So for Zeniff to say this about himself indicates, to me, a great deal of regret.

So, as I try to do with scriptures, I began to ponder how this sort of idea could apply in my life.  Was Zeniff a bad person, or did he have bad intentions?  No, he doesn’t seem to.  Would getting back the land of his fathers’ inheritance be necessarily a bad thing, or violating the commands of the Lord?  No.  But the record doesn’t say the idea itself was bad.  It says he was over-zealous.

How many times in our lives do we have something we want so badly that we are willing to make many sacrifices for it?  Sometimes this is a good thing.  But sometimes, I think, we push things a little too hard or cling too tightly to something that may not be as important as we believe it to be.  For those of us in the Church, we often call this ‘kicking against the pricks.’  Sometimes in our lives, we have something we want SO BADLY that we fight even the promptings of the Lord that tell us that we should shift our focus a bit.  It’s not that what we want is necessarily bad.  It is usually that it may not be the best thing for us, or will lead to bad consequences we couldn’t foresee.

In Zeniff’s case, it led to many wars and bloodshed with the Lamanites, the drifting of the people from the Lord under the reign of Noah, the murder of a prophet, the loss of their liberty, years of heavy taxes and burdens, and contentions amongst the people.  He could not foresee these things.  But they happened.  And for what?  Because he wanted not just ANY land, but THAT land.  He was clinging to the past nostalgically, and ascribing an increased value to that specific land which was inflated and not real.

How many times do we do this in our own lives?  You really want to marry a specific person, so you get creepy about them.  You really want to get married, so you jump at the first opportunity despite obvious signs that it is a bad match.  You really want children, so you either go to inappropriate lengths to get them (such as sleeping around to get pregnant when you are not married), or you waste the rest of your life accomplishing nothing because you are too busy whining about how you were robbed.  You really want to do well in some worldly goal (a certain job or skill, perhaps), so you sacrifice everything (including family and/or personal integrity) to get it.

All of these desires are good, when accomplished in good and reasonable ways.  But when we carry them too far, we can hurt ourselves and others.

There is a false belief out there that if we really want something, we should NEVER give up on it and we should sacrifice anything and everything to get it.  While hard work and determination are good, we all will have points in our lives when, to remain sane, we MUST re-evaluate the costs and possible rewards involved, and sometimes that means letting go of a goal or desire.  I find this easier to figure out with the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, but most of us have the ability to apply reason to such things, especially if we work to set aside our passionate emotions and look at the situation wisely.

And on those occasions when you decide that letting it go is the wisest course of action, I think it is important to really let it go.  That means not only ceasing the relentless pursuit of it, but also not allowing the loss of that dream haunt you, like you had been robbed or you have to be miserable forever because you can’t have that thing.  We can always be happy.  Always.  It is our choice whether to hold onto something like that and be miserable about it forever, or to find something else to love and be happy about.

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