Confessions of a Seminary Sluffer

· The benefits you get from seminary are not donuts ·

October 4, 2016

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.

Wait. What?

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?


  1. KJ

    October 5, 2016

    Where I lived, early morning seminary was the only option. Fortunately, I had a wonderful teacher and had a great experience. (It may have helped that I am a morning person!) I learned to love the scriptures and to make scripture reading a daily habit. The donuts every Friday were a nice perk, too. 🙂

  2. Hildie

    October 6, 2016

    I don’t remember learning a whole lot in seminary but I do rememeber feeling on several occasions “this gospel is true!”. So I guess that’s the ultimate payoff.

    My son is fighting about going to seminary and telling me how it’s ruining his life. At least he was; this year he transferred to the evening class: seminary every night at 8:45. It’s been magical. The kids are wide awake. But last week he got a job and evening seminary will only happen once a week. Mornings were so miserable and he resisted so much. I just don’t know what to do.

  3. Kim from Virginia

    October 7, 2016

    Thanks for giving me some giggles today! I’d never go back to those teen years, but you describe them well. Good reminder that not everyone who misses the seminary boat, loses out on it all.

    I love that some areas offer NIGHT seminary….what a great idea! And, Hildie, sorry about your dilemma. Being a morning person and LOVING to study made seminary the best part of my day, but I totally understand that only a percentage of us find it easy to love. So those who are NOT morning people or don’t like to study and a dozen other things, must surely get extra blessings for enduring hard things!

    We got 3 of our daughters up and out for 5:50am seminary before their 7:20am high school start time. And they grew good testimonies during those formative years. Then the last daughter just wouldn’t. We dragged her there for a couple of years, always in a bad mood, always late. By then we were in a different school district and seminary didn’t start til 7:00am and school at 8:45am. In her junior year she put down her foot and refused. It broke my heart, until other heart breaks came and seminary got lost in the flood. She still hasn’t come back to the church.

    But I learned at that point that you have to choose your battles and you can only take away so much of a teen’s free agency. (I know, we shouldn’t take away any, but we’re parents!)

    I teach Institute now and the kids who show up WANT to be there. I’m constantly amazed at the young people who come so full of knowledge and strength and testimony. I often think they come from perfect homes where the gospel was lived and modeled. And in the course of getting to know them discover they come from part member homes, single parent homes, or are new converts of a couple years.

    Bottom line: I think seminary is fabulous and wonderful, sets a much-needed tone for a teen’s day in a HARD world, and helps build a strong testimony. I think it should be encouraged as “something we do in our family.” But when your teen will NOT attend or the fight begins to break down relationships, you focus on other aspects of your family life that will build spirits and testimonies. When they are attending a non-church school, do anything you can to make attending Institute a part of the college bargain. (If a parent funds college, I think we have every right to set some expectations. Put attending institute right up there with attending church or keeping a 3.0 gpa or whatever your family standards are.) Good luck. So glad my kids are raised!

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