One of the useful things about 1 Nephi 16-18 is they give us an illustration of the times when complaining and murmuring can arise and they show us that it is not a good way of reacting.
1. Complaining about misfortune when Nephi breaks his bow. We see that complaining doesn’t change anything.
2. Complaining about afflictions when they are hungry. Complaining doesn’t feed people or change anything. It’s a waste of energy.
3. Complaining about the loss of a loved one when the daughters of Ishmael lose their father to death. Grief is perfectly understandable, but complaining doesn’t bring Ishmael back from the grave.
4. Complaining about a big job that has to be done as Laman and Lemuel resist helping to build a boat. Complaining doesn’t do anything to help build, nor does it get them any closer to their goal, but rather it psychologically alienates them from the goal.
5. Complaining about leaders and parents as Laman and Lemuel oppose Lehi. Complaining doesn’t help them follow any better. It doesn’t give them someone else better to follow. It doesn’t help them understand Lehi and he’s doing.
We benefit from the reminder that complaining and murmuring are not going to help us. We see how Laman and Lemuel’s complaining would have cut them off from every bit of meaningful progress the Lord wanted for them and that Nephi’s faith and diligence allowed him to make it through discouraging circumstances and hard tasks (and even deal with complainers)!
I think part of the reason this is in here is that the Lord knows there will be plenty of things for us to complain about as we all do the heavy lifting of building Zion. Life is less-than-ideal, people are less-than-perfect, misfortune happens, afflictions and loss happen in the course of our duty, and it is not fun! And we face big jobs and scary callings from time to time that make us wonder, “Is this really necessary? Surely there must be a better way!”
Every two years we get this reminder in Sunday School, both from stories of Laman and Lemuel murmuring in the Book of Mormon and from stories of the children of Israel murmuring in the Old Testament.
Something I noticed is that this stuff is extra valuable because not complaining is countercultural in America, so we’re pushing back against a cultural milieu. Democracy rewards those who complain the loudest and who can gather the most support. Business customer service also rewards those who complain (although they definitely appreciate politeness). We have to know the difference between complaint and constructive feedback. We also need to recognize when it is appropriate to give feedback and when we need to just suck it up, give our full-hearted support, do the job in front of us, make do with what we have, learn new coping techniques, and roll with the punches.