One of the greatest blessings of life on earth is obtaining a physical body and learning to walk over stumbling blocks. An important way to develop our abilities and talents is to overcome obstacles. When we succeed, we may react as our antemortal spirits did after the Lord laid the foundations of the earth, and we, “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). We longed to “prove” that we would “do all things whatsoever … God shall command [us] … and have glory added upon [our] heads for ever and ever” (Abraham 3:25-26).
How do we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints respond, though, when we fall and experience failure? One of the “Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening” in the September 13-19 Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Doctrine and Covenants 2021 invites us to consider these two questions: “Has your family (or one of your ancestors) ever been asked to do something that didn’t turn out the way you expected? What can you learn from the reactions of members of Zion’s camp when their journey did not turn out as they expected?”
A “Hill of Hope”
As I reflected on the first question, an experience I had when I was about sixteen came to mind. In mid-June, my uncle gave me the task to drive a sick cow, her calf, and a yearling heifer from the river valley up a winding dirt road to his Utah/Colorado ranch house, an arduous trek of about five miles. At first, I tried to make my herd of three move quickly. The result was that the wheezing cow with her calf kept veering off the road to rest while the yearling wandered away into the trees. As I tried to keep them moving together, I ran my horse so hard that her entire body was dripping with sweat. After about two hours, we had traversed barely a single mile up the road.
When my uncle returned to check on our progress, he taught me that I needed to be more watchful, caring, and patient. He would stop frequently, giving the cow time to breathe and recover her strength. After several hours, we finally reached the last hill that I named: “Hill of Hope.” It was a long and steep climb, but with my uncle’s attentive guidance, we slowly completed the ascent near sunset and reached the refreshing waters of a reservoir at the end of our journey. The real task that my uncle taught me that day was that a true cowboy needed to shepherd with an understanding kindness: following the example of the Good Shepherd—even Jesus Christ—who was willing to give “his life for [His] sheep” (John 10:11).
Lessons Learned from Zion’s Camp
Zion’s camp was a journey in May-June 1834 of nearly 1000 miles with the Prophet Joseph Smith. Their original intention was to enlist an armed force of nearly 500 men to help Church members gathered in Missouri driven from their homes to “return, and come to their inheritances … to build up the waste places of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:18). Only just over 200 men, with 25 women and children, completed this trek. During their travels, they suffered many hardships: wagon problems, lack of shelter and drinkable water, hunger, illness, frequent arguments, rumors of spies and armed attacks, and ending after a massive storm and flood (see “The Camp of Israel,” Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, vol. 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815-1846 , 194-206).
On June 22, 1834, the Lord revealed, “Therefore it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season, for the redemption of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:13). Joseph Smith disbanded Zion’s Camp, instructing those who had journeyed with him to preach the gospel as they returned to their homes in Ohio. Many members of the Church regarded this expedition as a complete failure.
What they did not understand were the schoolings received during their travels. For example, future Presidents of the restored Church of Jesus Christ—Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff—members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, members of the Seventy, and other Church leaders were: “chastened and tried, even as Abraham…. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:4-5). Because of the sanctifying experiences they endured on Zion’s Camp, leaders were prepared to be “endowed with power from on high” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:11).
Wilford Woodruff explains key lessons he learned from Zion’s Camp: “We gained an experience that we never could have gained [in] any other way. We had the privilege of beholding the face of the prophet, and we had the privilege of traveling a thousand miles with him, and seeing the workings of the spirit of God with him, and the revelations of Jesus Christ unto him and the fulfillment of those revelations. …By going there we were thrust into the vineyard to preach the gospel, and the Lord accepted our labors. And in all our labors and persecutions, with our lives often at stake, we have had to work and live by faith” (Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Doctrine and Covenants 2021, 160).
Living by Faith in Jesus Christ
The most important lesson we need to learn during our second estate here on earth is how to follow Christ. After feeding the 5000, Jesus taught his Apostles: “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. …If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:22-23).
Following in the footsteps of Jesus was never intended to be easy. In order to ascend our personal “hill of hope,” we need to be prepared to sacrifice our time, talents, comforts, possessions, and even our own lives in seeking “the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). The trials and challenges faced by Christ, Abraham, Joseph Smith, and Zion’s Camp participants teach us that we also will face and can learn to endure our own trials of faith.