I love Jacob. As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that my affinity toward Jacob has grown. There is beautiful emotion and empathy, passion and pleading, and heartwarming humility in his teachings. This time around, I has also been drawn to his use of the word “anxiety” several times.
Before Nephi dies, Jacob teaches the people:
“...I speak unto you again; for I am desirous for the welfare of your souls. Yea, mine anxiety is great for you; and ye yourselves know that it ever has been (2 Nephi 6:3).”
Then once he assumes the leader role after Nephi’s death, Jacob reiterates his feelings:
“Now, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with sober ness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God. And ye yourselves know that I have hitherto been diligent in the office of my calling; but I this day am weighed down with much more desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls than I have hitherto been (Jacob 2:2-3).”
Again, just before he teaches the great Allegory of the Olive Tree, Jacob declares:
“Behold, my beloved brethren, I will unfold this mystery unto you; if I do not, by any means, get shaken from my firmness in the Spirit and stumble because of my over anxiety for you (Jacob 4:18).”
We have created such a negative connotation to this word: Anxiety. What is it? And is it as “bad” as we have made it out to be? In these words from Jacob, I can feel his anxiety, but I also see that it comes from his great love and caring for the people that he serves. Only in the last verse quoted do we see that he is anxious about himself; but again, only that his own anxiety won’t overpower the spirit and love he feels for his people. I find this endearing and a bit heart-wrenching.
Let’s pause to look at Jacob’s life. He was born in the wilderness. He knows nothing other than hard work, pain, suffering, sorrows. He watched his family disintegrate with contention and false beliefs. In Lehi’s final blessing to his son we read, “And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my firstborn in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren (2 Nephi 2:1).”
Of this beginning and living in the wilderness, Deidre Green explains:
The wilderness is a luminal space —a space of change and uncertainty, but also a space of transformation. And it’s a space of vulnerability and I think that really influences Jacob’s perspective on the world, and also his affinity to God...It seems that God and Christ, as he understands him, are really kind of the stabilizing forces for him in his life.
We see this in Lehi’s continued words, “Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain (2 Nephi 2:2).” Jacob has learned from an early age what it means to rely on and trust in God because of his childhood in the wilderness. Likewise, as we are born into and travel in our own wilderness called mortality, we learn to have this same trust and love for a Father in Heaven who is guiding us and protecting us.
It is because of Jacob’s experiences that he is able to empathize with a larger group of people. This brings us back to his anxiety. With his own heart enlarged by his life’s journey, Jacob feels deeply for the people whom he serves. I can understand this! I recently wrote a blog post entitled, “Caring too Much is Going to Kill Me.” Not only is there my own natural anxiety spurred on by my own weaknesses, there is also the pressure of truly caring for the sisters I serve and desiring their happiness. Oftentimes I worry that my over anxiety is getting in the way of leading them by the Spirit. Thus, I can relate to Jacob more than ever before!
We also learn from Jacob’s anxiety that it’s okay to live with some ambiguity. I feel some of his anxiety is spurred on by the idea that he doesn’t know what is going to happen to the Nephites once he dies. He also pleads with the Nephites to continue reaching out to their brethren, the Lamanites. He knows and understands that a relationship with God is first and foremost, and sometimes familial relationships only add to the complexity of understanding God’s ways and His children. Growing up in a time of uncertainty and constant change allowed Jacob the ability to see these dichotomies of life.
Ultimately, we see Jacob’s undying love and testimony of a living Savior. As taught by his father, Jacob experiences firsthand a knowledge of his Redeemer. “And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore, thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh...Wherefore, redemption comets in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth (2 Nephi 2:4, 6).” Then, when it is his turn to lead, Jacob counsels his people, “...be reconciled unto him through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrecting, according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ...(Jacob 4:11).”
What I gain from this message is that our anxiety does not need to keep us from the love of God. Despite his anxious spirt and sorrowful yearnings of his heart, Jacob is able to persevere and powerfully testify of Christ. Likewise, because of his anxious heart, Jacob has the capacity to gather his people in love and righteousness, to empathize and to teach in love and understanding. With this thought, however, we must remember one thing: Jacob’s anxiety was for the welfare of his people more so than for himself. We, too, can turn our hearts toward others and allow our anxiety to bring us closer to them and to Christ for nothing shall separate us from His love.
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“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of god, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”