I’ll admit it: sometimes I get tired of the scriptures referring so extensively to men, and I wish I didn’t have to work so hard to apply them to me as a woman. Just to keep sane, I have painstakingly collected scriptures in which Jesus compares Himself to a woman, refers to Zion as “she,” or calls the temple “the house of the daughters of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:11, 26–27). So I really appreciate scriptures like those above that refer to all of Israel, men and women alike, as the bride of Christ. I’m sort of sadistically grateful that when men read such verses they get to do the same mental gymnastics I have to do in order to remember how we all fit into the picture of God’s relationship to man. Mankind. Humanity. Huwomanity. People. All of us. You know what I mean.
Christ claims the committed righteous as His bride, but getting married is only the beginning of a relationship we want to make eternal. We don’t just want a happy wedding day. We want to be a married wife, a partner, holding on for the whole eternal union. The stages discussed in may help us better understand both where we’ve been and what is possible as we commit to give ourselves fully to God and receive Him fully in return. The lives of the great men and women in scriptures shed further light on what these stages might look like as real people attempt to claim God as their Ishi, their husband.
To flesh out these stages of an eternal, committed relationship with God in a little more detail, let’s look at how they play out in the lives of Lehi, Laman, Lemuel, and Nephi. (And if you’re a woman, remember that Lehi, Laman, Lemuel, and Nephi are all vying for the role of a bride in this story. Maybe you’ll feel better.)
Lehi, Laman, Lemuel, and Nephi
Lehi, Laman, Lemuel, and Nephi are all invited by the Lord to take a journey to the promised land. But these four brides-to-be have different responses to the invitation, perhaps in part because they are in different stages of relationship with God.
Lehi is probably in something like Stage Four—Acceptance and Renewal. Presumably he has not only made his initial commitment to God but has worked through a number of challenges in bringing that relationship to maturity and fruition. His dreams and visions are not isolated events; rather, he has become a “visionary man” (1 Nephi 5:4) who has been changed by the journey and is well versed in spiritual things. He says to a worried Sariah as they wait by the Red Sea for the return of their sons from Jerusalem, “But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice” (1 Nephi 5:5). He has barely left Jerusalem, but as far as he’s concerned, he has already obtained the promised land. For Lehi, the Lord’s word is as good as His bond, and the promised land is not only a location but an embodiment of a relationship of complete trust in God and His promises. Lehi is like a married wife to God.
In contrast, Laman and Lemuel are unwilling to let themselves “fall in love” with God. In a way, they won’t relinquish their relationship with their earthly father and brother to establish a relationship with their Heavenly Father and Brother. They continue to turn to their father’s wealth, status, and stability for their sense of security rather than to their Heavenly Father, and they are deeply threatened when their father stops playing by the rules and walks away from all they stood to inherit. They are firmly in the Power Struggle Stage with their brother and earthly father for reasons we aren’t fully privy to, and they never even get to the Honeymoon Stage of commitment and trust in God. They never partake of the fruit of the tree that represents God’s love, and in good times or bad, whether an angel appears to them or their lives are in danger on the high seas, they don’t really turn to God. They “date” God a few times, and they make the journey across the desert and the ocean to the Americas, but they never find the promised land at all. As far as they are concerned, God has never been deserving of their commitment or trust. As they face obstacles and periods of struggle, Laman and Lemuel get more argumentative, less creative, more impressed with the power of men, and less confident in the power of God. They are ever the bridesmaids, never the bride.
Nephi, on the other hand, is open to a relationship with his father’s God. In fact, Nephi’s relationship with his father paves the way to a covenant faith for Nephi. Trusting in his father’s testimony, Nephi asks to see the vision his father saw and is shown “a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy” (1 Nephi 8:10). Lehi has described this fruit as sweet above all he has ever tasted, white beyond any whiteness he has ever seen, and desirable above all other fruit (see 1 Nephi 8:11–12). Nephi adds from his own experience that it is beautiful to exceed all beauty, whiter than driven snow (see 1 Nephi 11:8), precious, and “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (1 Nephi 15:36). This tree of life is found not in the Garden of Eden but in the world, accessible to all who push past the dark mists and blinding temptations of the devil and the “vain imaginations” and mocking pride of the “large and spacious building” (1 Nephi 12:17–18), holding fast to the word of God that leads to the tree.
And what does this tree represent? “It is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. . . . Yea, and the most joyous to the soul” (1 Nephi 11:22–23).
Can there be anything more important for us to seek, grasp, taste, partake of, let into our hearts and souls, and hold onto with all of our might, mind, and strength? How significant it is that Laman and Lemuel do not find the tree or partake of its fruit! They may have felt the powerful reprimand of an angel and the shock of being touched with God’s power (see 1 Nephi 3:29; 17:53–54), but they do not open their hearts to feel God’s love, available to all “who will have him to be their God” (1 Nephi 17:40). In contrast, Nephi tells us that despite sins and temptations, God has “filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh” (2 Nephi 4: 21), and Lehi shares his dying witness: “. . . a few more days and I go the way of all the earth. But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1:14–15).
Although Nephi’s trust and commitment are strengthened through miraculous experiences, he also struggles with God. He debates with the Spirit about whether to kill Laban (see 1 Nephi 4:10). He is overcome by the affliction of seeing in vision the destruction of his people (see 1 Nephi 15:5). He struggles with his brothers (see 1 Nephi 7:16), suffers with the rigors of the journey (see 1 Nephi 16:18–19), and wrestles with self-doubt and sorrow over his temptations and sins (see 2 Nephi 4:17–18, 26–27). Nevertheless, he eventually lands firmly in the promised land of mature, committed trust in and love for the Lord. Even after ongoing struggles with life, family members, and himself, Nephi writes:
"Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. . . . Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God". (2 Nephi 4: 19, 35)
Nephi, Laman, and Lemuel each take a journey, but only Nephi finds the promised land. Only Nephi is willing to fall in love with God, commit to Him, and realize the full blessings of becoming a married wife. He sees his relationship with his earthly father as a stepping-stone, not an obstacle, to faith. As he takes his journey, Nephi gets closer and closer not just to a new homeland but to a new and everlasting covenant and home. Despite periods of struggle with adversity and self-doubt, perhaps even periods of distancing, boredom, or withdrawal that we are not privy to in his record (Arabia probably feels to him a lot like Nebraska has felt to me), Nephi stays with the journey. When Lehi’s faith momentarily falters (see 1 Nephi 16:20), Nephi looks to God, not to Lehi, for his inheritance and security. As he faces obstacles, Nephi gets physically stronger, more skilled and creative, and more spiritually powerful. Nephi, like his father, Lehi, is a bride who goes the distance of a long-term committed relationship, becoming a covenant partner with God.
Get more insights to improve your relationship with God in Let God Love You: Why We Don't, How We Can by Wendy Ulrich.
What have you learned about yourself from your past and current relationships? We learn who we are and what we can hope for from others in the context of our relationships with family, friends, and others around us. Some of what we have learned and experienced may even blind us to what is really true about God, leaving us both yearning for and afraid of closeness with Him.
Coupling the teachings of Christ and His prophets with gospel-oriented ideas from her counseling background, Wendy Ulrich probes faulty assumptions that we may bring to our relationship with God. By understanding and healing these false beliefs and then following the teachings of Christ about how we can ''come unto Him,'' we learn to see God more accurately, rely on Him more trustingly, and become strengthened in His love.