I see a lesson of life here that I do not think Joseph Smith could possibly have contrived. It has too much meaning. He did not have the experience. He had not lived long enough. This is so simple a thing that I doubt many would pause to note it. It is the lesson of the day Nephi broke his bow when they were in the wilderness.
This bow was a symbol of food. He was keeping them alive, being a great hunter. And when that bow broke they were in trouble. Laman and Lemuel complained, of course. They were habituated to, they were looking for trouble. But for the first and only time the book tells us about, that I know of, even wonderful old father Lehi complained. He to whom God had revealed his will, this Lehi, when it came to facing starvation, even he complained.
Then what happened? This situation is sometime present in almost every business, every college, every governmental unit in the land, in many homes, in churches, where there is a crown prince and heir apparent, the boy who is ready to step up. Lehi was the prophet, but he was old. Nephi had already been designated to succeed. He had seen angels and had talked with the spirit of the Lord. He had had marvelous experiences. The time was here, now, for him to take over—his dad was wavering. The old man had lost it.
What to do? Nephi says he made a bow and an arrow out of some available wood, got a sling and stones and, ‘I said unto my Father, “Whither shall I go to obtain food?”’ It is a simple thing, isn’t it? This is what Goethe meant when he said, ‘If you treat an individual as he is, he will stay as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he could be and ought to be, he will become what he ought to be.’ This means that Nephi went to his father and said, ‘Dad, the Lord has blessed you. You are his servant. I need to know where to go to get food. Dad, you ask him, will you?’ Oh, he could have gone to his own knees. He could have taken over.
I count this one of the really significant lessons of life in the book, and, I repeat, the pages are full of them. A son who had strength enough, and humility enough, and manliness enough to go to his wavering superior and say, ‘You ask God, will you?’ because somehow he knew this is how you make men strong, that wise confidence in men builds them. Lehi asked God and God told him, and Lehi’s leadership was restored” (Steps to Learning, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 4 May 1960], p. 7).
President Ezra Taft Benson tells of an actual experience that illustrates how this principle can be applied:
“Some time ago, a young man came to my office requesting a blessing. He was about eighteen years of age and had some problems. There were no serious moral problems, but he was mixed up in his thinking and worried. He requested a blessing.
“I said to him, ‘Have you ever asked your father to give you a blessing? Your father is a member of the Church, I assume?’
“He said, ‘Yes, he is an elder, a rather inactive elder.’
“When I asked, ‘Do you love your father?’ he replied, ‘Yes, Brother Benson, he is a good man. I love him.’ He then said, ‘He doesn’t attend to his priesthood duties as he should. He doesn’t go to church regularly, I don’t know that he is a tithe payer, but he is a good man, a good provider, a kind man.’
“I said, ‘How would you like to talk to him at an opportune time and ask him if he would be willing to give you a father’s blessing?’
“‘Oh, ’ he said, ‘I think that would frighten him.’
“I then said, ‘Are you willing to try it? I will be praying for you.’
“He said, ‘All right; on that basis, I will.’
“A few days later he came back. He said, ‘Brother Benson, that’s the sweetest thing that has happened in our family.’ He could hardly control his feelings as he told me what had happened. He said, ‘When the opportunity was right, I mentioned it to Father, and he replied, “Son, do you really want me to give you a blessing?” I told him, “Yes, Dad, I would like you to.”’ Then he said, ‘Brother Benson, he gave me one of the most beautiful blessings you could ever ask for. Mother sat there crying all during the blessing. When he got through there was a bond of appreciation and gratitude and love between us that we have never had in our home.’”
(Marion D. Hanks, Ensign, Nov. 1977, pp. 31–32)