5:30AM is never easy. I wait until the last possible moment then slip into a t-shirt, jeans, Nikes. Then I wake up my 14-year-old.
Her alarm hasn’t gone off. Again. I nudge her. She gives me the sleepy evil eye and turns her back. I persist, “We have 10 minutes til go time. Let’s do this.”
At fourteen I didn’t enjoy seminary much either, even with options: early morning, lunch, after school, or home school. For me, seminary was no spiritual nirvana. It was more like mandatory teen boot camp Bible study. Waking before dawn like a zombie was more curse than blessing.
The “home school” option was clearly the best choice. I took advantage of this each spring when I was on the track team. The booklet had fill-in-the-blanks and multiple choice. And Nephite illustrations nothing like the Living Scriptures. I slogged through, smuggling it into sacrament meeting at the far end of the pew. I worked on it steadily each Sunday (my parents never knew).
I spent the rest of ninth grade in early morning seminary: I could hide more easily in the back finishing homework or deciding which boy had the cutest hair/shoes/ears. That year was The Book of Mormon. I failed every scripture chase, vaguely learned the difference between brass and golden plates, and something about Moroni and a promise. The basics hung like loose clothes in my brain, an ill fitting sag. Sure, I grew up Mormon, but when it came to seminary I just didn’t care.
In tenth grade…umm, actually I have no memory of seminary that year other than The Old Testament. I didn’t memorize scriptures, I memorized my seminary teacher’s hairline. I needed to know, sought a sign, one thing to prove she wore a wig: pins, tape, slippage. And then there were donuts on Fridays, pure sugar bliss.
By eleventh grade things got worse. I fell in love with a boy and day dreamed 24/7 make outs. Seminary spun into one long, dawn-lit dream. I was still a back-row-seminary-sluffer but instead of doing homework I composed love notes. I chose my boyfriend over The Doctrine & Covenants. Joseph Smith would understand, right?
Twelfth grade meant The New Testament, turning the other cheek, gritting it out to graduate from seminary with a piece of paper that deemed me worthy of BYU. Walking on water? Yes. Life changing? No. That came later.
After high school I moved away from home to attend BYU. I’d escaped seminary only to enter the country’s largest religious university that…wait a minute. Required mandatory religion classes in order to graduate.
I got lucky with my freshman Book of Mormon class. Las Vegas roulette wheel lucky. I ended up with Mr. Bassett, the rock star of the religion department: funny but down to earth, passionate but humble. And he loved the scriptures. He made them come to life.
I slouched into his class the first day only to realize I was the chaff. I didn’t raise my hand, didn’t quip brilliantly about Ammonihah, didn’t have scriptures with color-coded intricate patterns and thematic stickers from hours of study and prayer and personal revelation. I didn’t have devotion. All around me students fluidly moved through the scriptures as if it were a waltz.
Me? I couldn’t even find the floor.
My scriptures still looked brand-new-store-bought. I didn’t raise my hand once that semester. Or year. Instead I hunkered down. I ate some humble pie and scurried to catch up to the rest of the class who had actually paid attention years ago in seminary. I stopped sluffing my religion classes and double downed.
Over the next four years I took a religion class every semester. World Religion, The Sociology of Religion, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, History of the Church, Family History. I began to put the scriptures and God first in my life before homework, boys, Oprah. I read and studied and prayed.
It took me four years at BYU to learn the lesson any high schooler attending seminary can learn: the benefits you get from seminary are not donuts.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Oh, and something called Moroni’s promise, which by the way, works. Try it. Boiled down to the basics it’s: read, ponder, ask, pray, learn, know.
Fast forward twenty years. My oldest just started seminary. Recently I sat down with her and explained the benefits of attending. That we can wake up; we can do hard things. And we learn quiet truths in the morning of our lives (or, erm, later on in college) that stick with us and change us forever.
Let’s be honest. I wasn’t golden seminary material, but I turned out OK. Just don’t tell my daughter.
What memories do you have of seminary? What did you learn?