Sacrificing cities

Amalickiah, the new illegitimate king of the Lamanites, was not successful in his first military campaign against the Nephites. His captains tried to attack Ammonihah, then Noah, but failed miserably in both attempts. Moroni had fortified the cities so well that they could not prevail (in fact, they only attacked the city of Noah because they had taken an oath to do so).

During the few years following, while the Lamanites were still reeling from that stunning defeat, Moroni had been preparing the hearts and cities of the Nephites to be victorious the next time Amalickiah’s forces would come. By the time Amalickiah had decided to come down himself with the rest of his army, all the cities of the Nephites had been turned into an Ancient American Fort Knox. The Nephites were totally prepared.

But when the Lamanite armies arrived in Alma 51, Moroni was not there. His army was not there. And without the strength of the Nephite armies, the cities, which had been so carefully prepared with ditches and walls and embankments of earth and pickets and towers, all fell quickly and easily into Lamanite control:

And thus [Amalickiah] went on, taking possession of many cities, the city of Nephihah, and the city of Lehi, and the city of Morianton, and the city of Omner, and the city of Gid, and the city of Mulek.

Ouch, what a loss! If not for the fact that Teancum and his army happened to be in the neighborhood responding to a domestic dispute when the Lamanites arrived, Amalickaih would have likely conquered the rest of the eastern seaboard and made it to the land northward. From there, he could have attacked the Nephites on all sides.

So where was Moroni and his army during this critical time? Why were the expensive Nephite defenses they had spent years building nearly unmanned when the enemy showed up? Was Moroni sleeping on the job? Was this some ghastly oversight? Did they just have no warning to get to their battle stations?

Moroni sacrificed cities

It turns out, just prior to Amalickiah’s arrival, the Nephites had gone through a very heated, very controversial election (something we know all too much about). And when Amalickiah showed up at their gates to wipe out their freedom, the losers of that election were so bitter and angry at the winning side and the elected official that they were happy for the arrival of that terrorist and his goons. When they were conscripted to enlist in the service of their country and their people, they dodged the draft. I suppose they expected Moroni and his soldiers would defend their freedom with his army while they could sit on the sidelines.

But Moroni was not going to stand for that:

It came to pass that when Moroni saw this, and also saw that the Lamanites were coming into the borders of the land, … it was his first care to put an end to such contentions and dissensions among the people… And it came to pass that Moroni commanded that his army should go against those king-men, to pull down their pride and their nobility and level them with the earth, or they should take up arms and support the cause of liberty.

As I mentioned earlier, this left the door wide open for the Lamanites:

Behold, it came to pass that while Moroni was thus breaking down the wars and contentions among his own people, …behold, the Lamanites had come into the land.

In the end, Moroni effectively sacrificed at least 7 notable, heavily fortified Nephite cities to Lamanite control so that he could resolve the internal dispute going on in the Nephite capital. Why make such a sacrifice?

Good, better, and best

It is one of the principle tenets of our faith that, “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” We are commanded in the scriptures to “lay hold upon every good thing,” because “all things which are good cometh of God.” This is why we as Latter-Day Saints try not just to be active in the Church, but active everywhere. We fill our lives and the lives of our children to the brim with wholesome, “good things” like friendships, family history, church callings and programs, service organizations, social clubs, sports, music, arts, academics, and our careers. These are all worthy of our time and attention.

But it was also a worthwhile, “good thing” for Moroni to stay on the battlefront and defend his country against the oncoming hoards. We can learn from Moroni’s example as he applied the principle Elder Oaks calls “Good, Better Best:”

Just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives… We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.

Moroni understood that if there was not unity of purpose and values at home, any battles they fought on the plains (no matter how well-prepared) would be without the aid of the Lord’s hand. He knew that the best choice was to pull away from the Lamanite conflict for a time (as important as it was), and focus his efforts on what matters most.

We all likewise have encountered or will encounter a time when the “right” thing to do is sacrifice what is good and worthwhile for what is best and necessary.

Don’t let Church get in the way of home.

This is hard to do, even especially in the Church. We believe and know that this is the work of the Lord, and there is much work to do. We feel the weight of the need to participate and magnify our efforts. “We all have work; let no one shirk!” So while we may cancel our son’s trumpet practice to accommodate family time without remorse (it sounded awful anyway), we cringe with guilt at the thought of foregoing presidency meetings, missing out on home teaching appointments, or skipping a quorum activity we were supposed to be at.

The problem is, it is so easy to justify putting the “best” things (like family) on the backburner. For example, let’s say your wife is sick and you have to be at Stake Priesthood Leadership meeting in 30 minutes. She’s not dying, but you know she would appreciate you babying her this evening and watching her favorite show.

If you’re me, you feel really torn. On the one hand, you feel you have an obligation to attend, and you’d feel guilty staying home, because honestly, you’d enjoy cuddling with your wife and watching “The Great British Bake-Off” more than watching another Ward Council role-play. And that makes you feel guilty. So you end up saying, “Yes my wife is my top priority, but she’ll be OK for a few hours and I can spend time with her later this week. I have a Priesthood duty to fulfill.”

Brethren, listen up. If we ever find ourselves using “Priesthood duty” as a reason to not be there for our families, we don’t really understand our Priesthood duty. The chapel must take a back seat to the home. If we are diligent to be there and fold the chairs but are not there to help our wives, something is very wrong, and we have it all backwards. Pres. Packer reminds us that “the end of all activity in the Church is to see that a man and a woman with their children are happy at home, sealed together for time and for all eternity.”

What Pres. Packer taught this with his words, Pres. Monson taught by example:

Several years ago, just before general conference, President Thomas S. Monson taught a wonderful lesson. This time it was to assembled General Authorities who had traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, many coming from places around the world where they were serving in Area Presidencies. We had come together to be instructed by the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles.

As the time for the meeting approached, everyone seemed to be in attendance except President Monson. Several minutes before the meeting was to begin, we stopped visiting with each other and sat reverently listening to the prelude music, expecting the prophet to arrive any moment.

We patiently waited as 9:00 a.m. came and then passed. Someone walked out the side door– obviously to see if some assistance might be needed. Upon returning, he said, “President Monson will join you shortly.”

About 15 minutes later, President Monson entered the room. Out of respect, we stood as he entered. We were happy to see him and pleased that he looked well. There was no obvious reason as to why he would have been late.

President Monson went straight to the pulpit and said, “Brethren, I’m sorry to be late, but my wife needed me this morning.”

I was deeply impressed and humbled, and I couldn’t stop thinking about his words.

This was a very important meeting. The entire senior leadership of the Church was assembled, but President Monson set the example for us all. His wife needed him, and he took the time necessary to care for her. It was a great sermon. I don’t remember anything else said that day, but I remember that sermon: “My wife needed me.”

Follow the Prophet

Before I give myself a pass and start skipping Church every week so I can skip town with my wife, it’s worth noting that sometimes the Spirit will prompt you to let your Church responsibilty eclipse a scheduled family activity. Elder Holland shared a touching example where a Bishop sacrificed a date night with his wife to literally save a sister’s soul. But he Elder Holland added:

Brothers and sisters, please understand that I am one who preaches emphatically a more manageable, more realistic expectation of what our bishops and other leaders can do… And because I am adamant about spouses and children deserving sacred, committed time with a husband and father, nine times out of ten I would have been right alongside that wife telling her husband not to answer that telephone.

Like I said, this is something that I struggle with a lot. It is too easy for me to feel weighed down by my obligations as a quorum member, a home teacher, and in my calling to the point that I am not adequately “diligent and concerned at home.” I think part of that is on the meeting-heavy, duty-driven culture that we have built up in the Church. But mainly it’s on me.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I suspect most men and women in the Church are in this same boat. When I was called to serve in a newly reorganized Branch Presidency, the Branch President told us, “The work we do every week is important. But it is not as important as the work you are doing at home. Never let this calling get in the way of your relationship with your wife and your kids.” It’s rare to hear counsel like that from your leaders. But it is essential that all members hear it.

We should strive to follow the example of Moroni. It probably would have been easy for him to say, “I have spent 4 years preparing the land with all manner of fortifications. We are very prepared for this battle and stand to lose so much. I don’t have time to deal with the political unrest in Zarahemla right now. The Lamanites are here. We’ll just have to settle this after the war.”

But he didn’t. He chose the harder path and made the difficult sacrifice so that his Nephite family could stand united against the enemy.

What cities in your life should you let go of for your family?

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