Last month, our stake held Seminary Graduation, recognizing the youth who have participated in the early morning seminary program for four years and have studied the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and the Old and New Testaments. My class and I had been preparing for weeks for graduation and for finishing the New Testament.
Let me brag really quickly about my kids – they woke up at 0430 each morning to be at the church building by 0530, spent 50 minutes in the New Testament and engaging in gospel-centric conversations, all before heading to school. And not only that, the discussions we had were deep and insightful, filled with inspired questions and honest conversations. I am so ridiculously proud of each of them for all the hard work, heart, and humor they put into their studies this year (they made it through all of the Pauline epistles, and deserve an award for that alone). I have come to love each my students so much, for so many different reasons.
Mentally steeling myself to be released nearly 2 months ago, I began taking note of what I wanted my kids to remember from our class together this year, if they remembered nothing else. And I don’t mean the chronological events of the New Testament, or all the things that Paul taught, or the names of the Twelve Apostles and how they were related and their past professions. They don’t need to remember that Paul was only about 5 feet tall and that Peter was crucified upside down. That would be great, but to me, it’s not my top priority for them.
When I was a missionary in California, I would walk away from a lesson or a conversation on the street if I knew the person I had just talked with felt at least one, single thing: the love of God. It didn’t matter if we talked about the Restoration of the Gospel, about temples, or about the Book of Mormon. If nothing else, I wanted that person to feel the love of God.
Looking back on those experiences, and that desire, I realized that there are five things I want my seminary students to know as we approach the end of the year and our time together as a class.
5. They know more than they think they do.
They don’t know everything, they don’t know the scriptures inside and out, and heck, even some of the doctrinal/scripture mastery is a bit shaky. They don’t know the difference between Phillipi and Galatia, or the subtlety of word choices in the King James Version of the New Testament. That doesn’t matter. But more often than not, they know the truth of the principles and doctrines and have learned more than they think they have, and like Elder Andersen taught in the October 2008 General Conference:
Our spiritual journey is the process of a lifetime. We do not know everything in the beginning or even along the way. Our conversion comes step-by-step, line upon line. We first build a foundation of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We treasure the principles and ordinances of repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. We include a continuing commitment to prayer, a willingness to be obedient, and an ongoing witness of the Book of Mormon. (The Book of Mormon is powerful spiritual nourishment.)
We then remain steady and patient as we progress through mortality. At times, the Lord’s answer will be, “You don’t know everything, but you know enough”—enough to keep the commandments and to do what is right. Remember Nephi’s words: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”
They might not know everything, but they know enough.
4. They are loved beyond what they can imagine.
Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have a perfect, imitable love for them. The love of God is the very reason we live and breathe, and that love will never be diminished, never be taken away, never be changed. Because the love of God is powerful, eternal, and so crucial to our very existence. It is deeper and more far-reaching than any power imaginable. He will never not love them.
They are also dearly loved by us mere mortals as well – their parents and grandparents, teachers and leaders in the church, siblings, friends, and they love one another. That love is what helps us get through this life, to heal from the bumps and bruises, and to be able to keep growing and keep learning. That love encompasses a desire for them to be successful in all they do, to be protected from the influences of society (ahem, Satan) and a fierce loyalty.
3. They are not alone.
Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will not leave them. They will not abandon them, leave them behind, or drop them by the wayside. They are faithful to the ends of the earth to those who love Them, and strive to obey the laws of God, even as they struggle and sometimes fall short of the mark. They are not the leaving kind – we have to consciously drive Them away in order for Them to leave us alone. They will not let them go out into the world without walking beside them every step of the way, hands on their shoulder, kneeling beside them when they stumble and fall, lifting them to their feet, giving them the strength to keep on. Christ did not die for them in order to leave them by the wayside.
They will never walk alone.
2. Repentance works, and it’s not just for sin.
This is something I worked hard to underscore to my kids. Repentance. It helps us to overcome our sins and transgressions, through the Atonement that Jesus Christ made. When we confess our sins and seek forgiveness, the slate is wiped clean because of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us, not just as a collective body of Christians and sort-of Christians, but on an individual, by-name basis. Where sin drags us down, Christ’s atonement paired with our repentance lifts us back up. Our sins, though like scarlet, become white as snow.
When we wander, repentance – that process of seeking Christ and Heavenly Father again – restores us to the path that leads back to our Heavenly Home. It is a tool for us to learn by, to be strengthened by, all so that one day we can stand before our Father and tell Him, “I have done all I can do to return to you.”
And it’s not just about sin, those things we’ve done wrong, those mistakes we’ve made. It helps us to forgive, to overcome challenges that are cast upon us, and to gain a better understanding not only of the nature of God and of His Son, but also our own natures and our own infinite and eternal potential.
I could pontificate for hours on the principle of repentance (just ask my students), but what I love most is knowing that it works. It’s not a useless exercise, it’s not something that’s shameful, it’s not something to take for granted. We preach it because it’s true, because it is the way home to our Father in Heaven, and because it is one of the most crucial aspects of the gospel, and because it brings with it great peace and comfort, no matter what is going on in life or what has happened.
1. Jesus Christ is their Savior.
So often we get caught up in talking about Jesus Christ the Savior, that we forget to think and talk about Jesus Christ our Savior. He is our Savior on a deeply personal and individual level. Yes, He is the Savior of the world, but He’s also the Savior of the individual.
And not just any individual. Every individual. There’s nothing arbitrary about it, nothing impersonal. In discussions about the Atonement Christ made, you hear people often say something to the effect of “if you were the only person to walk the earth, Christ still would have died for you.” You hear it over and over again. Because it’s true.
In his BYU Speech “The Very Root of Christian Doctrine,”* Thomas B. Griffith relates the experience of the Nephites when Christ visited the Americas. They bowed before the Resurrected Jesus Christ, recognizing Him as the Messiah of their prophecies, but it wasn’t until they touched the wounds in His hands, feet, and side that they recognized Him as their Savior and Redeemer. It was then that they shouted Hosanna! and fell at His feet. Their understanding of their relationship to Him shifted from worshiping Christ as the Messiah to worshiping Him as their Savior.
Jesus Christ is their Savior on a personal and perfect level – the Atonement He made is for them, not just the neighbor down the street or the girl sitting beside them in Church. He is their Savior every day, in every moment, and in every joy and trial.
That Christ is their Savior is the most important thing I want them to know and to remember, if nothing else sticks. Because it is that knowledge which will get them through the tough times ahead, and will deepen their joy in the years to come.
I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to teach, if only for a few short months. My students were the greatest blessing and in all honesty, I had fun every morning talking about Christ (and sometimes dinosaurs) and about the Gospel and making it relatable. I learned far more from them than I could have ever taught them!