Thursday, July 31, 2008

August, and the Book of Mormon

August. The month makes me think of hot sunshine, weary air conditioners, lemonade cravings, cold backyard pools, premature back to school anxiety—and an urgent desire to read the Book of Mormon.

Weird, I know, and a very strange end-of-summer tradition. It all started four years ago. I was eighteen and was getting ready to start my freshman year at BYU. School started on August 30th that year. During June, July, and the first part of August I was still working my high school job and getting ready to move away from home for the first time.

As I started packing, I went through all the memories I had stored for all my growing up years. In a box under my bed I found a packet of envelopes I had received from a Young Women’s New Beginnings activity the year before. Inside each envelope was a spiritual thought with a scripture reading assignment from the Book of Mormon. Our leaders had called this scripture study program a “30-day Walk with Christ” and had challenged us to open an envelope a day and, by following the reading assignments, read the entire Book of Mormon in a month.

I had lasted less than a week. Swim practice and choir concerts had gotten in the way, and only a couple of envelopes had ever been opened. As I came across the packet again, however, I decided not to pack the envelopes away yet and set them aside, outside the cardboard box. I hadn’t been able to do the 30-day walk before, but wouldn’t this be a perfect time, right before I left for college? I felt like I could use a great spiritual boost just before I moved away from home for the first time.

I planned the thirty days so that I would finish reading the Book of Mormon right before my mom and I drove to BYU. I wasn’t perfect; some days I forgot or didn’t have time for the full reading assignment so I’d have to catch up and do double the next day, but I did it. After I reached the goal, I didn’t think too much about it—my mind was suddenly occupied with class schedules, buying textbooks, making friends, and settling into dorm life—but looking back I can see that reading the Book of Mormon in those thirty days just before I went to college did bless my life, immensely. The “spiritual boost,” as I called it to myself, helped me remember who I was even though I was in a new place, far from home, and making my own decisions.

That was the first time I read entire the Book of Mormon during the month of August. A year later, August 2005, I was back home again and working for the summer. In the Ensign that month, the First Presidency message, by President Hinckley, was about the Book of Mormon. President Hinckley began his message by talking about Parley P. Pratt’s experience with the Book of Mormon and how Pratt eventually wrote the hymns “An Angel From on High” (#13) and “The Morning Breaks (#1). President Hinckley’s message then continues as he adds his own praise for the Book of Mormon:

"Today, a century and three-quarters after its first publication, the Book of Mormon is more widely read than at any time in its history. Whereas there were 5,000 copies in that first edition, about 5,000,000 are currently distributed each year, and the Book or selections from the Book are available in 106 languages. Its appeal is as timeless as truth, as universal as mankind. It is the only book that contains within its covers a promise that by divine power the reader may know with certainty of its truth."

It is President Hinckley’s memorable challenge that we all remember the most about the August 2005 First Presidency Message: “I offer a challenge to members of the Church throughout the world and to our friends everywhere to read or reread the Book of Mormon. . . . Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will observe this simple program, regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.”

August 2005 was the second August that I read the Book of Mormon, thanks to President Hinckley’s challenge. My summer job was the most monotonous employment imaginable: I was pulling staples for a large company’s record archiving project. It was good money, but very, very boring. We were allowed to listen to headphones as we prepared the documents for scanning, and so I spent most of the summer checking out books on tape and CD at the library and listening to them at work. After the August 2005 Ensign came out, I decided to listen to an audio recording of the Book of Mormon before I left my job and went back to BYU. The recording was about 24 hours long, so covered just about three work days. I decided to save this book for last.

My last three days of work were amazing! I had never read the Book of Mormon in so short a time before. Listening to the audio recording was a unique experience too. I remember I popped in the first CD and started pulling staples, but it only took about five minutes until I had to grab some scratch paper and take some notes. I kept a pen handy next to my work so I could write down phrases that had struck me or thoughts I had during the reading. What amazed me most was the entire book fit together so much better than it ever had before; because I was covering the whole history and chronology in just three days, I understood where all the flashbacks and break-off groups fit in to the book as a whole.

At the end of my three day Book of Mormon spree I had eleven pages, front and back, of notes, thoughts, and impressions from that reading. I couldn’t help writing things down as I listened. I still have those notes, the record of when I reread the Book of Mormon just after I turned nineteen years old. By fulfilling the prophet’s challenge, I, with the rest of the Church, truly felt “an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord” in my life for the rest of that year.

Because of these two previous experiences, when August rolled around in 2006 I felt this intense intrinsic urge to read the Book of Mormon again. I had stayed in Provo that whole summer to work as an EFY counselor, and I finished my final EFY session the last week of July. I had a few weeks off of work before school started after Labor Day, so I decided to give in to that desire and challenged myself to read the entire book before school started. I spent all my free time reading the Book of Mormon. It took me a couple of weeks because I had other things going on as well, but I remember how great it was to pull my picnic blanket onto the lawn in front of my student apartment complex on a free afternoon and read the scriptures just because I wanted to.

The same thing happened the next year. August 2007 began and I felt this habitual desire to read the Book of Mormon during the month, so I did. This year will be my fifth year in a row that I’ve read the Book of Mormon during the month of August. It’s become a given activity at this time of year for me now, but this year, like every year, is a little different. President Hinckley’s challenge is a treasured memory for all of us now. This year is also the first time I won’t be going back to school in the fall because I graduated from BYU in April. As I look back on the past five Augusts, I am so grateful for the inspiration I had to rely on the scriptures to give me the strength I needed to get through transitional times that seemed to come every year, in August. I hope I can always be sensitive to do what the Holy Ghost tells me that my spirit needs, and I hope that throughout my life I will always read the Book of Mormon in August.

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