A little while ago, I was reading Jacob 4 in the Book of Mormon, as in the chapter before Jacob 5, as in the precursor to that chapter, as in an explanation on why we have Jacob 5. For those of you not entirely familiar with something as vague as a book and chapter reference, is the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon with a whopping 77 verses AND home of a famous allegory about olive trees.
The long and the short of this allegory is this: You start out with an olive tree. It gets old and starts to decay so the gardener prunes and digs about it and nourishes it. The tree put out young branches but the top got old and started to die. So the gardener takes the young branches and grafts them into olive trees throughout the vineyard and takes wild olive tree branches and grafts them into the original olive tree. Then he prunes and digs about and nourishes all of the grafted trees. Some of the resulting fruit is good and some of it is bad. There's more grafting and pruning and digging and nourishing. Until we get to a time when all of the fruit is bad and the gardener throws down his tools crying, "What more could I have done for my vineyard?" The gardener's helper convinces him not to give up on the trees altogether but that they should do a little more pruning and digging and nourishing, one last time. So they do.
There's a lot more to this allegory, obviously. Otherwise it would have taken two verses rather than 77 to express it all. This is not even the Cliff's Notes (Spark notes?) version. But essentially you get the idea: there's olive trees, good and bad fruit, lots of pruning and digging and nourishing and a number of confusing grafting sequences.
So, back to Jacob 4. I'm reading and suddenly this phrase caught my attention: "that [our children] may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents." This is Jacob talking. His parents are Lehi and Sariah, spiritual powerhouses from the time of Jeremiah. True, they did drag his older brothers and sisters away from their comfortable living (I assume) in Jerusalem and travel in uninhabited wilderness for eight years before getting on a boat that took them to this land but the American continent is the promised land! God said so. And I live here - and love it - so it must be true! Right? I thought about Jacob's older brothers who tried to kill their parents and their younger brother and wondered once again how much family drama and heartache I gloss over because it's written in old-fashioned language in verse form. How could Jacob teach his children not to hate their parents? He gave them an allegory - a really long one.
For the first time in my entire life, I was able to examine Jacob 5 as more than the history of the world (as per the usual interpretation). I viewed it as a family, with people making choices and affecting others for good or bad. Just like olive grafts, some people leave the family and others come in, bringing their own traditions and ideas. Some of those traditions mix well and some of them don't. The result can be messy and confusing (just like Jacob 5). I'm sure at some point in every family, possibly even every member of every family, asks, "What more could I have done for my family?" There are times, it seems, that we try and try and try and fail and fail and fail. Our best efforts blow up in our faces and we hurt people simply by not trying to hurt people. It's easy to say, "That's it! I'm through with this family. I'm not going to try anymore. Everyone will be better off without me." Except something stops us. For me, it's thinking about how much I care about them. "I'll try one more time."
The ending of the allegory is this: they work one last time and the good fruits are all gathered up together and the bad fruits are burned. When all is said and done (and here's the religious part - and with the mercy and grace of a Savior, Jesus Christ) it is possible for us to have a happy family, to have good memories and real healing. It is possible to let go of the anger and the hurt and to store up the joy. When that happens, we will be able to look at our parents (and other relatives) and ourselves without contempt.