Amalickiah's first military campaign against the Nephites failed miserably. The Lamanites approached Ammonihah but found it too heavily fortified to attempt an attack, and they withdrew. The army's pride was smarting from that previous retreat, so they swore an oath to take the next city or die trying. But the next city was even more heavily fortified than the first. So, they went the "die trying" route. A thousand Lamanites perished in that battle, but every Nephite soldier survived.
While the Lamanites were reeling from that stunning defeat, Moroni continued preparing the Nephites for the next wave. By the time Amalickiah launched his next assault, all major Nephite cities had been turned into the Ancient American equivalent of Fort Knox. There was no way the Lamanites could win.
Except that when the next wave arrived, none of Moroni's preparations mattered because there was no one manning the forts. When Amalickiah attacked, Moroni and his entire army were missing.
It was a total disaster. The Nephites had spent years of labor and taxpayer funds to build elaborate defenses around their cities only to leave them effectively unmanned when the Lamanites showed up! Without soldiers to man the posts, those cities which had been carefully prepared with ditches and walls and embankments of earth and pickets and towers fell immediately into Lamanite control. It was as if Moroni was just giving the cities away as gifts: the city of Moroni, "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." For context, here's what that loss might have looked like (courtesy of BYU's Virtual Scripture project):
Amalickiah didn't intend to stop with those seven cities. He would have conquered the rest of the eastern seaboard and the narrow neck, effectively surrounding the Nephites, and begun to attack them on all sides from their own fortified cities. The war would have ended right then and there. Coincidentally, Captain Teancum and his army happened to be in the neighborhood responding to an unrelated property dispute. This fortunate accident put them in the right place at the right time, and they stopped Amalickiah just short of achieving his ultimate objective.
Where was Moroni?
Where in the world was Captain Moroni? Where was his army? Why were they missing in action when the enemy arrived?
Just before Amalickiah's arrival, the Nephites had gone through a very heated, very controversial election (something that seems all too familiar today). The losing side became so bitter towards their countrymen that they were happy when Amalickiah, the terrorist, showed up. When the call went out to rise and defend the country, the kingmen collectively ditched the draft. They probably expected Moroni and his soldiers would give their lives defending their freedom while they sat on the sidelines and booed the home team (again, something very familiar today). But Moroni was not going to stand for that:
When Moroni saw [the king-men], 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.
Calling the army back home to quell political unrest left the door wide open for the Lamanites:
While Moroni was thus breaking down the wars and contentions among his own people, … behold, the Lamanites had come into the land.
This maneuver was costly. Moroni effectively sacrificed at least 7 notable, fortified, populated Nephite cities into Lamanite control. Just so that he could resolve the internal dispute going on in the Nephite capital. Imagine terrorists taking over the entire Southeastern half of the United States because the Army is occupied imposing martial law on DC, arresting Congressmen, and locking up draft dodgers in New York and California.
It would take many years and many thousands of innocent lives for the Moroni and the Nephite to recapture the territory they sacrificed. Now let's talk about why it was the right call.
Good, better, and best
Moroni surely cared for the innocent people in those cities that would fall under Lamanite rule. It would have been a "good thing" for Moroni to stay on the battlefront and defend his country against the Lamanites. Yet he didn't. Because "good" is sometimes not good enough. Pres. Oaks called this the principle of 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 knew that the best choice was to pull away from the Lamanite conflict (as important as it was) so that he could focus his efforts on what mattered most. If the Nephites had a conflict among themselves, they could not possibly hope for the helping hand of the Lord in the conflict against their enemies. Fighting the Lamanites was important, but to Moroni, it was even more important to first take care of matters at home.
How does this apply to us?
We are to "lay hold upon every good thing," because "all things which are good cometh of God." We seek after anything that is "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy." That's why we try to not only be active in the Church, but active in our relationships, our work, our schools, and our communities. That's why we fill our lives and the lives of our children with wholesome, "good things" like friendships, family history, Church callings and programs, service organizations, social clubs, sports, music, arts, and hobbies. These "good things" are all worthy of our time and attention.
But if we are not careful, we can let these "good things" get in the way of the "best things."
Don't let Church get in the way of home
When we think of children's extracurriculars, this may not sound too burdensome. Maybe after enough headaches, you were thinking of canceling your son's trumpet practice, anyway. But this principle goes far beyond sports and band. Let's say you were asked to attend a Stake Priesthood Leadership meeting tonight but your wife has taken sick. She's not exactly dying, but you know feeding the kids and putting them to bed solo is hard, even when you feel well. Should you attend the leadership training? Or should you take the kids so she can sip chicken noodle soup and watch her favorite Korean drama show? What if it was a ministering appointment? A quorum activity? What if you're presiding?
If you're like me, you feel torn. On the one hand, your wife will survive. On the other hand, she could use your help. Plus, you'd feel guilty staying home because, to be honest, you'd enjoy cuddling with your wife substantially more than watching another Ward Council role-play.
So you end up saying, "Yes my wife is my top priority, but she'll be okay for a few hours and I can spend time with her and take the kids off her hands later this week. After all, this isn't some unimportant time-eater like sports she's asking me to give up– this is the work of the Lord! And there is so much work to do to bless Heavenly Father's children! "We all have work; let no one shirk!" I have a Priesthood duty to fulfill.
Listen up, especially you, brethren: If we find ourselves using "Priesthood duty" as a reason to not be there for our families, we don't understand Priesthood duty. The chapel must take a back seat to the home.
If we are diligent to "be there" to fold the chairs but we can't "be there" to help our wives and children, something is very wrong, and we have it all backward. The Brethren have been very clear on this for decades: "the end of all activity in the Church is to see that a man and a woman with their children are happy at home" (link). The Church is essential, and the only place we can find the ordinances and doctrines of salvation. But let's be clear, the Church is only "the scaffolding with which we build eternal families". That has been made especially clear with the new emphasis on the home-centered nature of Gospel worship.
So, when I am torn between my wife asking for help and some priesthood responsibility, I try to remember the example set by Pres. Monson. He arrived more than 15 minutes late to a General Conference training session. He kept all the General Authorities of the Church waiting on him. When he walked up to the pulpit, he simply explained "Brethren, I'm sorry to be late, but my wife needed me this morning. Elder Walker recorded this experience:
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."
Early in my marriage, I was called to serve in a newly reorganized Branch Presidency. I think it was at the first presidency meeting that the new Branch President told the presidency, "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. If you need to stay home for your family, just text me and let me know you won't be here and don't worry– you're doing the right thing. I will do the same. We'll bless and serve the members of the branch, but make sure we get one thing straight– family first!"
I wish every leader in every calling would say that to their members frequently.
But use discretion
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 occasionally prompt you to let your Church responsibilities eclipse a scheduled family activity in specific instances. Elder Bednar shared great insights about how to balance the demands of family, work, and Church callings. He said sometimes he had to miss out on family time to fulfill Church callings, and that's part of the sacrifice the Lord expects of his servants and their families. Elder Holland shared one touching example where a Bishop's phone rang right as he and his wife were about to leave for a date night. His wife pled with him not to answer it; she just knew in her heart that it would mean the end of their precious night together before it had even begun. Fortunately, this good man listened to the Spirit and answered the call, literally saving the soul of a sister in their ward, even though the date night was sacrificed in the process. But even here, Elder Holland was quick to add:
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.
We have to use discretion.
As I said, this is something that I have struggled with as I've held various callings. If I'm not careful, my obligations in my quorum, my ministering, and my callings can prevent me from being as "diligent and concerned at home" as I should be.
It's on us to choose to prioritize what matters most. It's up to us to follow the example of Moroni and sacrifice what's good for what's best. It probably would have been easy for Moroni to say, "I have spent four years preparing the land with all manner of fortifications. We are very prepared for this battle and we 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. I hope we can do the same.
NOTE: I originally wrote this years ago but felt impressed to share this message with my elders' quorum today so I dusted it off for a re-post.