My husband and I are substituting this week for early morning seminary. In our ward, seminary meets at the the teacher’s house, which means that for the last half of this week, 17 teenagers have tromped into our house at 6:00 am and plopped themselves on our couches, our chairs, and even our floor to partake of the good word of God.
(Can we just pause for a second to recognize how awesome and totally crazy that is? Early morning seminary is totally mind blowing in so many ways, and as a spoiled Utah Mormon who attended seminary during regular high school class time in the middle or end of the day, I can not fathom how these teenagers do this.)
This year the area of study is the Book of Mormon, and each night before we teach (my husband and I are taking turns), we study the chapters assigned in the lesson plan, trying to figure out how we can A) invite the Holy Spirit B) teach these scripture savvy kids something they haven’t heard 80 million times already and C) keep them awake.
Tonight my husband was going over 1 Nephi 2, where everybody flees into the wilderness. We started talking about how old everybody was. There’s some clues in the text that can tell us a little bit, and with some guesses and conjectures, we came to the conclusion that since nobody was married before they left into the wilderness, Nephi was probably a youngish teenager (he refers to himself as “exceedingly young”), with his older brothers probably also in their mid to late teens. Also, we know that although they aren’t mentioned much, Nephi had at least 2 sisters who were probably younger than he was. We also know that Sariah was young enough to conceive and give birth to two more sons in the eight years they hung out in the wilderness before Nephi built a boat and they left.
Which means that Sariah was on an extended road trip in the wilderness with 6 kids–her 4 teenage boys and her 2 maybe almost teenage daughters, and then gave birth to two more children, and then took an extended boat trip with all 8 children, 2 of them who could not have possibly been older than 8 years old, and were probably younger.
We also know that by the time Nephi builds the boat, Sariah’s older children were married and were starting to have children of their own, but again, those children could not have been over the age of 8 eight either, and the text suggests there were several infants being nursed by their mothers, and presumably some toddlers.
So all of this means that Lehi’s family took a super long boat trip with a bunch of teething, crying, pooping, demanding little children. Sariah was not an old woman, as one imagines from the Arnold Friberg paintings, but probably a middle-ageish woman barely approaching menopause, (presuming she married and started having babies in her mid-late teens, as would have been the custom at the time), and she was stuck on a boat caring for 2 young children and probably some of her grandchildren, all of whom were under the age of 8.
To which again, I say, dude. No wonder family tensions arose.
But I find that tonight I can’t stop thinking about Sariah. It’s true that I had always sort of imagined her as an older woman, but again, I think that’s because we all grew up with the Friberg visuals. When you break down the text, there’s nothing to suggest she was an old woman at all, and it turns out it’s far more likely that she was a young, busy mother who was trying to do her best to hold her family together and get everybody fed.
Boy that sounds familiar.
I suddenly felt all these emotions I had never had about Sariah—how tired she must have been, how worried she must have been for her family (and we see that in the text too–she freaks out when she thinks her sons have died going back for the brass plates), how relentless her life would have been as a refugee. Because that’s what they were, really. Refugees, fleeing their home, their country, everything familiar. Nephi spends most of the text referencing his relationship with his father and everything he learned from him, but dang. Sariah was a freakin’ super hero.
In thinking about all of this tonight, I’ve also come to a different understanding of what it means to “liken the scriptures unto ourselves”. Tonight, for me, it meant putting myself in the shoes of a mother who was probably close to my age as she gave birth to her youngest son, having struggled through tremendous sorrows and afflictions, all to keep her sons and daughters safe. I am lucky in that I have never had to face such afflictions just to keep my family whole, but look no further than our current refugee crises to see the faces of families and mothers just like Sariah’s. For mothers, the principles of love, sacrifice, and exhaustion are universal.
Maybe it’s time to change our Book of Mormon images.
(All you talented artists out there–get on that, would ya?)