In Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, he saw four groups of people. When we follow Nephi’s counsel to liken the scriptures to ourselves (1 Nephi 19:23) we can gain great insight from these groups for our families and our children.
The first group. (1 Nephi 8:21-23). These people did ‘commence in the path which led to the tree.’ The path they were following was the 'strait and narrow path' (vs 20), which represents gospel principles and ordinances.
We often think of the path as being straight and narrow—or without curves—a path going ‘straight’ toward the tree. That is incorrect. The word used is ‘strait’. Strait means correct, having strict or set requirements, without variance. Applying that to the path, we learn that the path of gospel principles is a correct path, with strict and set requirements. There are no variances in the ordinances, no matter how ‘good’ the intention is. A baptism not done by immersion or with the proper authority is not a baptism on the Lord’s only path. This isn't something we've made up. Christ, too, used the term ‘strait’ when referring to the way whereby we can enter Heaven (Matt 7:13). There is truly only 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (Ephesians 4:5).
The people following this strait and narrow path in Lehi’s vision are participating in correct principles and ordinances. Yet a ‘mist of darkness’ arises ‘insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.’
What made the difference?
They did not hold fast to the iron rod.
Alongside the path Lehi saw a rod of iron. This rod of iron represents the word of God (see 1 Nephi 15: 23-24). The word of God is literally that, His word. Those who cling to His word, which comes to us through the scriptures and teachings of the prophets, arrive at the tree and partake of the fruit of eternal life (1 Nephi 11:21-22 and scripture chain 1 Nephi 15:36, D&C 14:7).
This first group partook of the principles and ordinances of the gospel, but they tried to arrive at the tree without studying the scriptures and the word of God. It didn’t happen for them and that path won’t work for us, either.
President Benson said, "However diligent we may be in other areas, certain blessings are to be found only in the scriptures, only in coming to the word of the Lord and holding fast to it as we make ourway through the mists of darkness to the tree of life."
(I also find it interesting that this ‘rod of iron’--meaning the ‘word of God’--fully changes the adage [adapted from Proverbs 13:24 and 29:15] ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.’ Spare His word and we will ruin our children.)
The second group (1 Nephi 8:24-28). These people ‘caught hold of the end of the rod of iron…clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.’ They actually partook of the blessings and ordinances of eternal life but then, because of the influence of the world, let go of the iron rod and ‘fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.’ They followed the right principles and ordinances, they clung to the word of God for a while but, when the pressures and influences of the world entered their lives, they quit.
Many, many members of the church are in this category. They study their scriptures sporadically or periodically. Maybe they are too busy right now. Maybe they intend to get back into a regular study habit when things change. Whatever their excuse or justification, they are not holding on to the iron rod. If they let go for too long, they will fall away from the spiritual. The word of God is that important!
(Note, too, the first group 'wandered' away because, from the onset, they really didn’t have a good grip on the situation. The second group ‘fell’ away. There is a difference.)
The third group (1 Nephi 8: 30). This is the only group that arrived and stayed at the tree. This group ‘caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron’.
Continually! They continually held fast to the word of God. Scripture study was a daily part of their lives.
The fourth group (1 Nephi 8:31-32). These people never even approached the tree. They went straight to the building!
Teenagers are often like this. They go straight for the worldly things, thinking ‘I’ll repent later’. They believe they have time to sow their wild oats yet, of these people, Lehi makes an unsettling observation. While ‘many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads,’ many were also ‘drowned in the depths of the fountain.’
While some lost souls can return, an attitude of 'I'll repent later' can be deadly. Some who choose this route will never return. They will drown and die spiritually. We should never head toward worldly pursuits, thinking we will return to the spiritual later. Nor should we ever think it is okay for 'kids to be kids' if their choices entail 'strange roads' or 'forbidden paths' away from the word of God.
To arrive at the tree we need to ensure that we and our children hold fast to the iron rod every day. That means family and personal scripture study. In a world so full of evil and enticing influences, continually holding to the word of God is the only way to arrive safely, and then stay, at the tree of life.