When my husband and I were engaged we invented a variation of the game “Would You Rather.” Generally this game is played by giving two dismal hypothetical possibilities, such as “Would you rather have your arm eaten by a shark or run out of water in the middle of the Sahara?”
Instead we would give options like “Would you rather lose a leg and starve to death, or go on a honeymoon with me to Hawaii?” or “Would you rather live in a zoo with a skunk, or live with me forever?”
It was a silly, pointless game because the answer was always so obvious. But the contrast with something awful can make us realize how amazing the blessings really are, and thus help us commit to not losing them.
Lehi uses this same technique when counseling his sons just before his death. In essence he is saying, “Would you rather be captive and miserable and die or be free and happy and live forever?”
The choice seems so obvious! Yet we often find ourselves choosing misery and captivity.
Lehi gives some insight into this human failing, and advice on how to overcome it when he speaks of drifting off into the sleep of hell or awaking unto righteousness.
What is the Sleep of Hell?
Sleep is a state in which we cannot distinguish reality.
For instance, we may actually think that we are still living the gospel and defending the truth, when in reality we have rejected the Prophet and His leadership. We may begin to believe the image we’ve presented of our family life on social media, but we are ignoring (or yelling at) our kids to create it.
Sleep is a state that feels good, a state in which you don’t have to face yourself or God.
Satan convinces us that “all is well in Zion” and we are doing just fine. And he blinds our eyes so we can’t even see what is happening! He pacifies us, lulls us into security, leads us carefully to hell, and cheats our souls of the eternal glory God intended for us.
The sleep of hell happens without any effort at all. It is not a conscious, intentional action. It is simply the lack of conscious intentional actions.
President Uchtdorf warns that if we go to sleep in our faith and righteousness, we will miss the whole glory of the day in which we are living. He speaks of selfishness, addiction and competing priorities as a few examples of Satan’s lulling, pacifying tactics.
No matter how deep our sleep one day we will wake up, and it will be an awful shock if we find ourselves in hell. Whatever is causing us to drift into sleep is not worth it!
So wake up!
How Do We Awake to Righteousness?
Waking up takes either deliberate effort or a sudden shock, usually both. We must place alarm clocks in our lives and then choose to heed them instead of snooze them.
When we are awake we can see things as they really are. It often hurts to come face to face with our own frail reality, but that is when we recognize our utter need for Christ’s grace and thus truly receive it and let it transform us.
This awakening and transforming process happens when we study our scriptures, pray sincerely, attend the temple, and partake of the sacrament with a repentant and contemplative heart.
These are places and activities which help us to see the true options before us: happiness and eternal life or misery and death. When we really understand the choices, it’s easy to choose.
Lehi advises his sons to awake by shaking off their chains, rising from the dust, and putting on the armor of righteousness.
As Lehi counsels, we must become aware of our bad habits and turn to the Savior to overcome them. But letting go of sin is not enough. We must rise to a higher level and defend ourselves with righteous living.
If we are truly waking up every day, we can never fall into the sleep of hell.
“Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer… that ye must build your foundation… a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall [asleep].”