Talk given in Burch Creek 3rd Ward
March 21, 2021
The great war in heaven was between two sides. Satan wanted us to come to earth and be forced into obedience. Everyone would be worthy to live with God again because they couldn’t make mistakes. Sounds good, except it negates the purpose of life – to LEARN. Without the ability to make choices, we cannot learn.
Christ wanted us to come to earth and be able to choose for ourselves if we would love God. We would make mistakes and many would lose their way. But through moral agency, we would LEARN. And Christ would overcome sin and death so that if we repent, those mistakes wouldn’t keep us from returning to God.
Everyone born onto earth chose Christ’s plan. But sometimes, especially, as parents, we start thinking maybe Satan’s plan sounds pretty good.
Early in my parenting, I tried my hand at coercion and force. I remember having toddler Georgia strapped into her booster seat for nearly two hours until she would swallow one bite of something she didn’t want to eat. For two hours, she kept it chipmunked in her cheek. For two hours I wouldn’t let her out. In retrospect, of course I realize this was a huge mistake. But sometimes as parents we get so stuck on the idea of compliance that we think Satan’s idea wasn’t so bad.
President Russel M. Nelson said “To rule children by force is the technique of Satan, not of the Savior. No, we don’t own our children. Our parental privilege is to love them, to lead them. And to let them go.
Another parenting expert expounded on this idea. L.R. Knost said “If controlling another human being is the goal, then force is necessary. Fear, intimidation, threats, power-plays, physical pain, those are means of control. But if growing healthy humans is the goal, then building trusting relationships, encouraging, guiding, leading, teaching, and communicating are the tools for success.”
I believe that when we teach children through persuasion and connection, instead of by force, we not only teach them to trust their own bodies and minds, but also help them to learn to heed the Holy Ghost. As they are empowered and trusted by us, they learn to trust themselves and can heed that feeling in their heart advising them between right and wrong.
The scriptures are replete with examples on how to teach by persuasion and connection. One way that is often repeated is by Heavenly messengers asking questions. When Nephi wanted to better understand his father’s vision of the tree of life, he is asked repeatedly “What desirest thou?” Each time, because Nephi asks for more, he gets more. But nothing is forced upon him. He gains knowledge and understanding by asking, line upon line, precept on precept.
Before I had kids I was driving some friends to the airport. Their daughter kept asking “why” questions. In spite of the parents’ warning, I began answering, to see where it would go. I was delighted to see that this 4 year old, through her curiosity, started out asking about what a mountain was (not from Utah) and eventually I explained plate tectonics to her. Her parents rolled their eyes when I said that I hope my kids went through a “why” stage.
Well, I got my wish. And it’s usually in the car when they pelt me with WHYs. And, mostly, I still love it. Most of our gospel teaching happens because of their questions about mundane everyday things. Now, getting in the car has become a trigger for my daughter Millie’s curiosity. I am amazed that she always phrases her questions through the lens of faith. “Why did God make birds?” “Why does God let people be mean?”
As we value curiosity, Children ask more questions. Through their questions we have the chance to not only teach them, but nurture our connection. We can become a safe place for when the questions get really big and scary. Our reaction to the little mundane questions build the foundation of trust we need to talk about huge moral concerns.
The story in 3rd Nephi 17 is another formula for how we can connect with our children.
Christ explains that it is time for him to go, but that they still aren’t ready to hear everything God requires him to teach them. He tells them to go home, meditate on what he’s said and pray. They look at him, begging him to stay a little longer.
This story sounds A LOT like bedtime at my house. I tell my kids it’s time for bed. I know that there is still a lot that needs to be done. And even though they are obviously tired and need sleep, they beg for just a little longer.
That’s where the similarities end. Because Christ then has compassion and begins an incredible act of ministry. Me, I just tell them to GO TO BED.
Christ heals the sick and afflicted, one by one. We too must offer healing and comfort to our loved ones. We may not have Christ’s powers, but we do have empathy.
Then he calls for all of the little children to be brought forward. With the children close to him, he explains he is troubled by the wickedness of people, then “prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written…Neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the father.” verses 16-17
We too must pray earnest and heartfelt prayers in the presence of our children. Not just the typical group prayer. Real SOUL prayers.
Christ then commends them saying his joy is full because of their faith and then weeps. So first he is troubled by wickedness, then weeping for joy. This tells me it is GOOD for our children to see our emotions. It’s good for them to see us cry, be joyful, and even be troubled.
Christ then blesses each child, and prays for them, ONE BY ONE, then he weeps again! I’m a cryer, so I really appreciate hearing that Jesus was too. Also, we need to remember that our kids need ONE ON ONE attention.
And then finally, he says BEHOLD YOUR LITTLE ONES. To behold isn’t just to look at something. It’s to really take it in. To give it your full awareness. We must prioritize times to regularly BEHOLD our children.
A week or so ago I was trying to get a lot of things done for primary. I had been busy trying to put the videos together, distributing flyers to families and other things. By all measures I was magnifying my calling. But Flora, my 3 year old, was getting frustrated with my unavailability. She asked me to play, then said “I know, IN A MINUTE.” That humbled me and so of course I dropped everything to play with her, but sweet Georgia had piped in, “I’ll play with you!” And Flora chose Georgia and huffed away from me.
I was so busy doing things FOR children that I hadn’t prioritized doing things WITH children. Yes, work is necessary. But it must not prevent us from BEHOLDING our children. It must not stop us from connection. When it comes down to it, all of the other work we do only matters if it is leading us and those we serve to a better relationship with each other and God.
Back to 3 Nephi 17.
The chapter ends with angels coming down and encircling the children and ministering to them. Even if our physical “village” is limited, we are not alone in caring for our children. We too can call upon angels to come down and help. We can ask god to enlist angels on our children’s behalf. HE WILL SEND THEM. I testify that this is true.
There are countless reasons Christ told us to “become as little children”. As we spend time beholding them, and we guide them with connection instead of force, we will find out many of the reasons why. I’m grateful to be serving in Primary so that I can be blessed by the faith of these little ones. Adulting can be so hard and frustrating. Thank goodness for the magic of childhood. Not all of us have the blessing of living with these little teachers, but we can all bless and be blessed by them.
And boys and girls, I know I was talking to the adults for all of this time, but I have a message for you too. Remember that Heavenly Father loves you, and so do we.