Getting My Mornings Back

Dear Will:

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”—which is a pretty good indication that Ben was annoying to most of his friends. I have Franklin on the brain these days because this week will be my last as an Early Morning Seminary teacher—for a while anyway.

Throughout the school year, I get up every morning around 5 a.m. to teach my class to high school juniors and seniors. It’s an assignment that I love, but it does take its toll. Because of that commitment, I don’t get enough sleep or exercise and have very little in the way of discretionary time. So as I anticipate the prospect of getting my mornings back (for the summer at least), I find myself trying to decide what to do with the time that might otherwise have been occupied with preparing for or teaching lessons in the wee hours of the morning.

The most obvious change is likely to be that I will sleep more. That’s probably a good thing, but I can’t help wondering what I might accomplish if I had the self-discipline necessary to continue getting up at 5 a.m.  Imagine the possibilities:

  • Exercise
  • Study the scriptures
  • Do work that might otherwise occupy my afternoon or evening hours
  • Goof off

Any of those options—including the goofing off—would be preferable to simply lounging away the hours (provided, that is, that I’m getting sufficient sleep)—especially since it promises to provide me more time with my wife and children. Continuing to show such early morning discipline would also show a strength of character that would make Ben Franklin proud.

He wouldn’t be the only one. The Lord has said: “Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated” (D&C 88:124). If I could just get the “retire to thy bed early” part down, I would be set.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It will provide a great test. How willing will I be to get up early when I don’t have to? I certainly have enough on my to-do list tomorrow to warrant it. We shall see.

There is a bigger issue here, of course. Any time we successfully get ourselves to do something we don’t much feel like doing, we build a pattern of discipline that is consistent with the expectations of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, he outlined a long list of challenges for us to rise above low expectations. It is what King Benjamin referred to as “putting off the natural man”—becoming a different sort of person than we might otherwise be: submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love (Mosiah 3:19). I don’t know about you, but none of those things come “naturally” to me.

Christ himself set the bar even higher: “What manner of men ought ye to be?” he asked. “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). Now I don’t mean to suggest that getting up before the sun is “Christlike.” I only suggest that my ability to show the discipline to get up and get going improves my chances of becoming more like Him in that which matters most. After all, discipline is the essence of discipleship.

Hmmm. You’ve talked me into it: Tomorrow, I shall rise early on a day I do not have to. And I shall be a better man for it. (Wish me luck.)


Bright Lights in the Early Morning

Dear Will:

As you may recall, I teach early morning Seminary five days a week. My class this year is made up of high-schoolers from 9th grade to 12th. Although I have 30 kids officially on my rolls, on a typical day I get no more than 20.

Even so: Twenty kids. Every morning—throughout the school year. (And mine is only one of hundreds of such classes that are meeting each day around the world.) Think about the sacrifice and dedication required for a 16-year-old to drag himself out of bed before the sun comes up, grab a Pop-Tart and slide into a chair by 6:45 a.m. (give or take). And then (poor souls), they have to put up with me for 45 minutes every day. It’s remarkable.

So let me make a few remarks about these extraordinary kids. There are plenty of mumbling sleepy ones, to be sure, but the vast majority of them are bright-eyed and enthusiastic. They smile more than they scowl and generally participate willingly in whatever I may have cooked up for that day. And if you ask me, even the unenthusiastic separate themselves from typical teenagers simply by virtue of the fact that they are there.

The contrast between these kids and the teenagers you too often read about in the papers (or see depicted on TV) is striking. Their goodness is apparent, and at this point, I know them well enough to know that they are generally trying hard to do what’s right—in spite of the pressures and distractions that make it so hard for anyone these days—let alone those as susceptible to outside influence as teenagers—to hold fast to that which is good. But because they do seek after that which is virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy, they have the added benefit of the active support of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives.

And it’s apparent. I wish you could see what I see each morning. There is a brightness in their faces that signals how extraordinary they are. The scriptures say that when we are spiritually born of God it is as if we had His image in our countenances. I think that these kids are evidence that that really happens.

I have a friend who sometimes says that a room full of these valiant youths is a sort of light show. Some shine brighter than others, to be sure, but it’s true that they do give off light. They remind me (often) of those familiar verses from the Sermon on the Mount:

     Ye are the light of the world.  A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
     Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
     Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

(Matthew 5:14-16)

I’m not exactly sure why I’m telling you all of this. Perhaps it’s because I have seen their good works and feel compelled to glorify my Father which is in heaven. Or perhaps I’m just feeling lucky to have the privilege of starting each day with these bright souls and I felt like sharing. Whatever the case, I wanted you to know about them. If you ever get the chance, swing by the building on Yorba some morning and sit in the back of the room (I’ll save you a seat). You’ll be glad you did.


Careful and Troubled

Dear Will:

When I was growing up, I learned not to complain to my father that I didn’t have enough time to get things done. “We’re all given the same 24 hours,” he would say, “it’s just a question of how you choose to use them.”

I hated it when he said that.

Lately, my dad’s voice has been in my head as I have struggled (unsuccessfully) to stay on top of my various obligations. Due to layoffs, we are shorthanded at work and my responsibilities have expanded; I have continued teaching my early morning Seminary class each day; plus I do some editing work which continues to take up much of my so-called “spare time.” Add to that that I am ostensibly a father and husband, and it doesn’t leave a lot of discretionary hours or even minutes in the day. It tends to get a little overwhelming, frankly.

In the last couple of weeks the pressure of overdoing has really gotten to me. I won’t drag you through the specifics, but suffice it to say that I have been feeling like a juggler with too many balls and not enough hands (and I have the bruises to prove it). I can’t help wondering—every hour or so—if it’s really worth it.

The truth is, it probably isn’t. My father’s aphorism is an apt reminder that when we choose to do anything in life we are also choosing not to do a million other things at that same moment. String those moments together and for sure you will have forgone a number of worthwhile things that perhaps, in retrospect, you might rather have done.

The whole thing brings to mind the story of Mary and Martha. You may recall that Jesus was a good friend of theirs and apparently was a guest in their home from time to time. On one particular occasion, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him teach while Martha bustled about fixing the food, setting the table, tending to the chores that come with hosting a meal. (The scripture says that she was “cumbered about much serving.”) Needless to say, Martha was more than a little annoyed with her sister for just sitting around while she did all the work. Finally, Martha complained to Jesus about it. Big mistake.

In response to her whining, Jesus gave a gentle, loving rebuke: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). It was the Savior’s way of reminding Martha not to let what she felt she had to do get in the way of that which she ought to do. And I might reasonably conclude that he would say something similar to me.

So the questions I suppose we all need to be able to answer are these: What things are truly needful? And how can we be sure to choose “that good part”? I’m not sure I know the answers to those questions (else I might not be feeling so overwhelmed), but I do know this: I have been careful and troubled about many things lately. And if I don’t find a different approach, the juggling balls are going to continue to crash down on my head.

After all, we’re all given the same 24 hours. . . .