Every year when Mother’s Day and Father’s Day roll around, I somehow think we ought to have a day to honor children too! Not by giving gifts or indulging them as we do on many holidays, but by recognizing their pure spirits. The Savior didn’t say “except ye become as a mother or father ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” It is little children he set forth as our great exemplars.
“I have a hard time with that concept,” a friend of mine said. “Children in the Savior’s day must have been very different from the ones today. The Savior couldn’t have been talking about these selfish, whiny, disobedient children!” We talked it through and recognized the great difference between being child-ish and child-like–very much like the difference between the natural man and the spiritual man. The Savior was certainly not suggesting we revert to childish behavior, but that we cultivate the childlike characteristics that are also Christlike. There are many, and I will give you examples I see every day in my four grandson, Malachi, Nathan, Ammon, and Thayne–because they are the children I am closest to in all the world.
The Veil is Thin with Infants
Recently I spent the evening tending my four-month-old grandson Thayne. We had a wonderful time, just the two of us. He is in that glorious stage of smiling and cooing that Grandmas love. He keeps at it longer than any baby I’ve been around. We had one “conversation” that lasted twenty minutes! I asked him what it was like in heaven, and with big blue luminous eyes locked into mine he proceeded to tell me. I felt the purity and beauty of his spirit and my heart overflowed with gratitude for the privilege of being with him.
After Thayne’s mommy and daddy came to reclaim their precious cargo I was happy to know I could go to bed and not be awakened during the night. Still, I hardly wanted the evening to end. Being so close to this shining new person, with nothing to distract me from noticing the beauty of his countenance, had somehow been a sacred time for me. I couldn’t quit thinking about him.
Thayne was born two months early and spent several weeks in Newborn ICU wired to monitors, with a feeding tube threaded uncomfortably into his tiny nose and down to his stomach. He tried a few times to pull the tube out, succeeding twice, but in general his patience with all the nonsense he had to suffer was remarkable. He would look at me so sweetly with seeming resignation, but sometimes I thought I saw pleading in his eyes too. I wished so much I could rescue him and take him home to all the loving arms that yearned to hold him. He was finally released, but less than three weeks later was rushed back to the hospital with pneumonia. It’s taken Thayne months to get well, but his patience and sweet nature through it all has impressed me deeply. Newborns have a Christ-glow that can truly remind us of what heaven is all about.
Children Are Alive in Christ
Thinking of Thayne, my thoughts turn back to the scripture “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). So we learn that it is the process of conversion that makes it possible for us to become childlike. In 1 Corinthians 14:20 we read, “Be not children in understanding . . . But in understanding be men.” Could it be that the conversion process (a lifelong quest for most of us) not only builds our understanding of spiritual things, but helps us become once more as little children? In what ways? Perhaps the summarizing statement is made by Moroni:” For behold that all little children are alive in Christ” (Moroni 8:22). And so this is my goal, to be “alive in Christ.” What characteristics does that entail?
What do I see in Thayne and my other little grandsons that could be the characteristics Jesus talking about and exemplified? What must I develop or “recapture” in my own character in order to be “like a little child” in all the right ways?
Many scriptures mention the necessity of the quality of meekness, which the dictionary defines as being “humbly submissive.” Thayne has certainly exemplified the quality of submitting with patience to all the Lord has seen fit to inflict on him so far. Since growth is a primary task of his little life, he readily submits to the need to spend lots of time sleeping and resting. As an adult, I’ve resisted that need, pushing my body to keep going when it was tired. I thought growth required movement, forward action, effort. Thayne teaches me that growth more often requires quiet rest, submission to the natural ebb and flow of life, listening to the needs of the body and willingly responding. And so I seek the kind of meekness and submission to God’s will that fuels spiritual growth and undergirds spiritual strength.
A Heart Full of Love
Tiny children find loving as natural as breathing–perhaps because they so recently came from a heavenly home full of love. When I look into Thayne’s little face and speak lovingly to him, he focuses his attention on me and the love just pours out of him. Is he selective of who he responds to in a loving way? When he was in the hospital, was he accepting of only some of the nurses who cared for him? Of course not. Is selectively loving, then, a learned thing?
My older grandsons, like all well-loved children, are friendly and loving , not critical, not fearful. All my grandsons greet anyone they know with open arms and total acceptance. Do I worry when I tend them that I haven’t had time to do my hair or that my shirt doesn’t match my pants? Of course not. They notice only my love for them, and criticism is a foreign language they have not yet learned. So how do I unlearn it? Are children born with charity, the pure love of Christ, then gradually lose it? When we pray for charity, are we really praying to remember how we loved as tiny children?
Jesus, in his loving way said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” (Luke 18: 16-17) How would a little child receive the kingdom of God? In the same way he receives love from those around him–whole-heartedly, without questioning, withholding nothing. How can I return to that loving state? Only through the healing power of Christ and through following the injunction to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons [little children?] of God.” (Moroni 7:48) The loving heart of a small child is recaptured only through the most heart-felt prayers. It is “bestowed” as we become true followers of Christ.
A prime quality of little children is their humble eagerness to learn, their willingness to be taught. I remember one of the first phrases little Nathan, now three, learned was “what’s that?” He asked that question incessantly, pointing to the tiniest things on a storybook page, things I hadn’t even noticed, and every object in my house, wanting to assign names to all the wondrous things in this world he was trying to adjust to. My oldest grandchild, Malachi, has always seemed to take learning very seriously, concentrating on a task totally–whether it is learning to put a cassette in and take it out of a player, zip his coat, or put together a new puzzle. He wants to learn, asks you to show him, tell him, teach him. And so must I go to the scriptures, to the Lord and his representatives, asking in humility to be taught the things of the Spirit, never assuming that my poor understanding is sufficient.
As mortal children we all have spirits in need of refinement and perfecting, and we have been given weakness to make us humble. (Ether 12:27) Only Jesus was humble without having weakness to humble him. All children come to this earth as “works in progress” in need of the refinement that meeting mortal experience with spiritual help can bring. It is the life work of each growing child of God to seek the Spirit in order to become more Christlike.
As children grow older, they find they can use agency to choose to be unhappy. Sometimes they choose to stay in their rooms and cry when they could choose to stop crying and come out. Sometimes they make a poor choice repeatedly when they know from experience that the consequence is going to make them unhappy. Too often I am like little children in these ways, which are far from Christlike! But humility–the willingness to learn to do better–shines the Savior’s light on my life and I learn repeatedly to use my agency in more Christlike ways.
Faith and Joy
Faith is the life-breath of a child. Two-year-old Ammon’s face is full of faith, his life shines with faith, and his faith is the fountain of his joy. I must seek every day to recapture the trusting nature of the child I once was. When I feel simple trust, I find again in me the child-spirit, with its joy in life. Could anything be sweeter than the laughter bubbling from Malachi when a duck waddles right up to his toes and gobbles up the bread he offers? That kind of laughter has a beautiful, pure crystal sound as much a part of God’s world as the babbling of a brook or the patter of raindrops. And it takes so little to bring it forth–a push in a swing, a tiny tickle, a funny noise, an unexpected clap in a finger-play. How I’d love to laugh again that way.
My grandsons take joy in BE-ing. I love to watch babies discover themselves. They do not know the meaning of self-consciousness or self-doubt. They simply enjoy being themselves. They think that little person in the mirror is wonderful. They do not doubt or criticize themselves or think they should look or be different than they are.
I watched Ammon the other day bounce and cavort and giggle across the couch with such total abandon that his laughter and joy lifted my heart a mile. Another day I played with Nathan and Malachi–holding the container so they could blow bubbles without spilling –and their absolute spontaneous delight reminded me again of what I have lost. I can barely comprehend recovering that capacity for sheer joy in the moment, of trusting life so totally that regrets for yesterday or fear or worry about tomorrow would be unknown. However, since the Lord said “of such is the kingdom of heaven,” it will be possible to experience that level of faith and joy again. A special part of “man is that he might have joy” must be to love trustingly like a child again, to have a childlike capacity to respond with heart and soul to the wonder of tiny moments, to be fearless, full of faith in Christ, in life, in yourself.
Quick to Forgive, Honest
Children are quick to forgive, without guile. My grandsons quickly forget wrongs done to them and do not carry grudges. When Malachi hurts Nathan for messing up his train set, Nathan cries, then forgets it. I’ve never heard from him later, “Grandma, do you know what Malachi did to me last week?” They are also honest and real and express what they really feel. I know immediately if Malachi is in pain, hungry, or unhappy. Storm clouds roll in, heavy with rain and his rain pelts the earth immediately and is gone. Within seconds his sun can be shining again, and the storm is gone and forgotten. When he does something wrong, his face shows it and his tongue tells the truth about it. I suspect it is only by the bad example or poor discipline methods of adults that children learn to be emotionally dishonest, to feel one thing and say another, to pretend, to lie, to sidestep, to deceive.
Children Are Whole and Clean
I think the idea of reclaiming pieces of ourselves is very valid–but only the Savior and his true doctrine can help us do it in a way that “sticks.” I want so much to be healed, to be whole, to be clean every whit and able to be with my Heavenly Parents and the Savior again.
Now that I have lived six decades in this muddy, blood-stained world, to experience once more the purity and innocence of a child seems, perhaps, the most unreachable. A child is innocent because he does not yet have the knowledge of the difference between good and evil. Christ was innocent because, having that knowledge, he always chose the good. I know my only hope for recapturing childlike purity and joy is to be healed and cleansed by the Atonement, one day at a time. Because of the mires and pitfalls of mortality, I always seem to return to the necessity of the Atonement, the wonder of the gift of love the Savior gave us all. Atonement means “at-one-ment” –becoming one with myself again, becoming one with the Savior and my Heavenly Parents. Perhaps that whole marvelous process is not much more than becoming like a little child again. Perhaps the “wholeness” we hear so much about in modern psychology is accomplished only by the Savior’s power to wash us clean of “adult” nonsense and sin and restore us to childlike purity. I heard the other day that healing means to bring back together what has been separated. When I came to earth, I was separated from my Heavenly Parents. Along life’s path I have been “separated” from the truth about myself. Only the true doctrine of Christ can free me from false traditions and the lies I have believed. Only the Savior can restore me to the wholeness of being childlike.
The Wonder of the Christ Child
As beautiful and pure as all children are, I’ve often thought of the joy Mary must have had raising the only perfect child, the only one who used his agency always to learn and grow and obey his Heavenly Father.
Only Jesus maintained his purity throughout his life, so didn’t have to be cleansed and healed to recapture it. He who would provide the Atonement for all mankind was the only person who had no need of it.
Christ exemplified the perfect mix of manly maturity and childlike virtues. He was ever loving, humble, submissive to His Father’s will, full of faith and joy. He, a God, condescended to enter the body of a helpless babe, have the veil drawn, and be willing to learn line upon line, precept upon precept. What a rapid learning process that must have been as He was tutored by the Spirit! What a joyous quest to ask His help to become more like Him, to become more childlike in Christlike ways!
Cherish and Become as Little Children
Today I am going to try to honor all the children of the world as Christ would–look to them in awe and wonder. I will cherish them every chance I get. I will smile at every little child I see, give encouraging words and tender pats. I will ponder how, in my daily process of becoming converted, of seeking to be “alive in Christ” I can be more childlike today. I’m clear about my goal–I truly want to prepare myself to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) To become childlike, to become like Christ, is to walk in the light. In Ephesians 5:8 we read, “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.”