I’ve always enjoyed the analogies and stories based on nature in the scriptures and church talks. I’ve been planning to do a blog post on these stories, but after preliminary research, I’ve decided to make it a series of posts. I could write a book on each attribute of nature that is referred to in General Conference talks and scripture verses. There are so many: the mountains and valleys, the seeds and weeds, the storms, the sunlight, the darkness and night, the sheep and wolves, the flowers and trees, and even the simple sparrow that the Lord is mindful of.
The river represents many different things in the scriptures. It can be a dark negative force, like the filthy river in Lehi’s dream (1 Nephi 12:16). The river can have positive connotations; Sister Neill F. Marriot recently drew on Ezekiel’s description of the river as a wonderful source of truth so plentiful that it is too deep to cross over; a source that we can dip our buckets in again and again (Ezekiel 47:3–5). In Pharaoh’s dream, the river is a neutral force; the symbolic cattle of both prosperity and famine emerged from the same river (Genesis 41).
I’d like to relate a couple of General Conference stories in which the river is an inherently neutral, yet dangerous force. It is dangerous not because it is evil or dark in these examples, but because it is suddenly stronger than anticipated, especially when being navigated by the beginner.
Russell M. Nelson tells a story of a raft trip his family took down the Colorado River. As his family approached the first set of rapids, and Elder Nelson saw the drop ahead, he felt afraid for his family. He put one arm around his wife, and the other around his young daughter. As he held on to them tightly, he was flung into the river, and was briefly trapped under the raft, struggling to breathe. In his efforts to protect his family, he had forgotten to anchor himself. The next time they approached rapids, he told his family to cling to the ropes or cling to him as he clung to the ropes on the raft. Because the raft would always stay afloat, they would be ok if they clung to it. This method was much more successful. Elder Nelson drew this analogy from the experience:
“Brothers and sisters, I nearly lost my life learning a lesson that I now give to you. As we go through life, even through very rough waters, a father’s instinctive impulse to cling tightly to his wife or to his children may not be the best way to accomplish his objective. Instead, if he will lovingly cling to the Savior and the iron rod of the gospel, his family will want to cling to him and to the Savior. This lesson is surely not limited to fathers. Regardless of gender, marital status, or age, individuals can choose to link themselves directly to the Savior, hold fast to the rod of His truth, and lead by the light of that truth. By so doing, they become examples of righteousness to whom others will want to cling.”
Another story, told by Pres. Monson, also portrays the river as dangerous to the naive, but as an opportunity to serve for others. Those familiar with Pres. Monson’s life and talks will know that he spent many happy hours of his youth in Provo Canyon, often playing near the Provo River. One summer day when he was 12 or 13, he was enjoying a float down the river on an inner tube. He neared a swimming hole that was very deep. He had learned to swim there, and he was aware of the dangerous sucking whirlpool that could form near a certain rock during the summer. “The river held no fear for me, for I knew its secrets,” Pres. Monson recalled. On this summer day though, a young lady who did not know the river had gone down, and Pres. Monson heard the screams of “Save her! Save her!” from her frantic friends. None of them could help, and her head slipped under the water for the 3rd time as Pres Monson was able to just barely grab her by the hair, and pull her across his inner tube. He was somewhat embarrassed by the jubilant praise heaped on him after saving her, and quickly continued his tube ride alone down the river. He recalled, “The water was frigid, but I was not cold, for I was filled with a warm feeling. I realized that I had participated in the saving of a life. Heavenly Father had heard the cries, ‘Save her! Save her,’ and permitted me, a deacon, to float by at precisely the time I was needed. That day I learned that the sweetest feeling in mortality is to realize that God, our Heavenly Father, knows each one of us and generously permits us to see and to share His divine power to save.” Pres. Monson went on to emphasize how we should pray and live worthily, that the spirit might direct us to those we can save.
In both Elder Nelson’s and Pres. Monson’s stories, no one was breaking the law or even being blatantly reckless. River rafting trips are common and a great source of fun. The Provo River swimming hole wasn’t verboten either. But in both stories, the river endangered a life though naiveté. As I turn my mind to other examples of this that l see in modern life, I think of Elder Bednar’s recent talk, “To Sweep the Earth as with a Flood”. In this address, we were encouraged to share more gospel messages using social media. Social Media is like the river; it is perfectly fine to use, but we need to be smart and savvy or we can get hurt. Elder Bednar advised us to be “be wise and vigilant in protecting yourself and those you love. We should remember that the Internet never forgets. Anything you communicate through a social media channel indeed will live forever—even if the app or program may promise otherwise. Only say it or post it if you want the entire world to have access to your message or picture for all time.”
I don’t want to draw too many more conclusions, because I know how Heavenly Father teaches us on an individual basis, so my intent and synopsis of these stories won’t be exactly like yours. I thank you for taking the time to read my post. I don’t have a lot of experience at blogging or writing about the gospel, so your patience is appreciated. I do hope that this blog post helps or uplifts someone, whether in an important way such as a bright light bulb turning on in your mind, or in a small way such as enjoying the simple pleasure of reading a few charming stories from the lives of our leaders.