Eight months ago I never dreamed that I would say this: I love teaching early morning seminary. I spent the first six months scared out of my mind. I fretted over every little detail in the lesson manual and spent countless hours trying to "memorize" the content. Every now and then I felt somewhat successful, but the energy in the classroom more often than not could only be described as "ennui." I told myself at the end of each lesson, that at least I wasn't being ripped into pieces!
Discouragement set in and I was ready to give up. But quiet inspiration came to me during an early morning seminary inservice meeting. I realized that I spent too much energy worrying about how the students perceived my teaching abilities and not enough time asking Heavenly Father about what the students most needed to hear and learn. There is not enough time each morning to discuss every single principle presented in the lesson manual. I have the responsibility to discern the best use of that time to strengthen testimonies and help prepare these amazing youth for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Last week we studied Daniel 6-12. I knew the student's were familiar with the story of Daniel and the lions' den and I prayed about how to help them apply it to their lives today. I studied the material in the lesson manual. I read the passages in the Bible. The night before class though, nothing stood out to me. When I entered the classroom that morning I still struggled to know how I could make the lesson more meaningful to the class. Minutes before class was to begin, I decided to test the projector and play a video clip suggested in the manual. The story tells about an experience that Joseph F. Smith had on his way home from his first mission to Hawaii.
One evening a group of "drunken men rode into the camp threatening to kill any 'Mormons' that came within their path." Instead of running and hiding [as others had done] Joseph thought, "Why should I run from these fellows?" He boldly marched up to the campfire where one of the men angrily demanded, 'Are you a Mormon?' Joseph looked the man in the eye and said, 'Yes, siree; dyed in the wool; true blue, through and through.' Joseph's response completely disarmed the belligerent man who then shook Joseph's hand and said: 'Well, you are the [blankety-blank] pleasantest man I ever met! Shake hands, young fellow, I am glad to see a man that stands up for his convictions," (Life of Joseph F. Smith comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, , 187-89)."I turned to Daniel 6:3 and reread the words there that describe Daniel as being preferred above the presidents and princes, because "an excellent spirit was in him." While these passages have always taught me about being faithful in all circumstances, that morning I learned another principle - one that I knew the students could identify with and apply to their own circumstances as well. Being faithful includes choosing to be happy and developing a cheerful countenance - responding to people in such a way that they feel the Spirit and Heavenly Father's love for them when they are around me.
I asked the class, "Think of someone in your life who you really enjoy being around. Why do you like being with them? What do they do or say that makes you want to be around them?" All of the students could think of at least one person like that. Then I asked, "What made Daniel so special? And what would have happened if Joseph F. Smith had chosen to respond to the ruffian rudely?"
We had a great discussion about the pressure the students get from friends to do things that would break the commandments and go against the standards the Lord wants them to keep. They have a choice to respond with patience and kindness or to be rude and aggressive. What kind of person did they want to become?
We also talked about how this didn't mean we had to put on a happy face every minute of every day. Everyone has times when we feel sad or discouraged. That's part of life. But Heavenly Father wants us to know we can be happy and set a good example even when we face our own metaphorical lions or drunken ruffians. By not being afraid to show our obedience to the Lord, we can help others develop a desire to know more about Him so that they too can experience peace and joy.
Did I mention how much I love teaching early morning seminary?
Life is magnificent.