I learned of the holy nature of little children when my wife, Barbara, gave birth to our first child, Clark. In those days, hospitals rarely allowed fathers in the delivery room to witness the birth. When Barbara was ready to deliver, a nurse sent me to the waiting room to pace and fret until she came out to tell me that mother and child were healthy and well.
That was an exciting moment—just as it was when our five daughters were born. I didn’t think I could possibly have a greater feeling than when I heard the nurse say, “Mr. Ballard, you have a new daughter”—or son—followed by, “Your wife and the baby are both just fine.”
Then our last child, Craig, was born. By this time hospitals encouraged a father to be in the delivery room with his wife when their child was born. Witnessing the miracle of birth was very impressive to me. I don’t think I will ever forget the feeling I had when Craig was placed in my arms moments after his birth. I looked into his scrunched-up little face, and I could not help wondering what this spirit son of God could tell us if only he could speak.
Can anyone witness the miracle of birth and not feel a divine, providential influence? Can anyone look into the face of a precious newborn child and not see etched in its tiny lines and creases the confluence of eternity with mortality?
Perhaps that is one reason why the Savior tearfully urged his Nephite followers to “behold your little ones” (3 Ne. 17:23). Notice that He didn’t say “glance at them” or “casually observe them” or “occasionally take a look in their general direction.” He said to behold them. To me that means that we should embrace them with our eyes and with our hearts; we should see and appreciate them for who they really are: spirit children of our Heavenly Father, with divine attributes.
When we truly behold our little ones, we behold the glory, wonder, and majesty of God, our Eternal Father. All children are His spirit offspring. We have no more eloquent testimony that our Heavenly Father lives and that He loves us than the first raspy cry of a newborn child. All babies have faith in their eyes and purity in their hearts. They are receptive to the truth because they have no preconceived notions; everything is real to children. Regardless of physical limitations or the challenge of circumstance, their souls are endowed naturally with divine potential that is infinite and eternal.
Jesus showed His great love and respect for children when His disciples asked Him this probing question: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
“And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
“And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:1–6).
During one encounter with children during His mortal ministry, Jesus “took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:16). On another occasion, “he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and … [took] him in his arms” (Mark 9:36). But nothing in recorded scripture rivals the beauty and intimacy of His tender ministry to the Nephite children in the land Bountiful.
“He took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.
“And when he had done this he wept again;
“And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.
“And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them” (3 Ne. 17:21–24).
Clearly, those of us who have been entrusted with precious children have been given a sacred, noble stewardship, for we are the ones God has appointed to encircle today’s children with love and the fire of faith and an understanding of who they are.
How can they know of these most important matters unless we teach them? According to the scriptures, parents should teach children “that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Moses 6:57). Children should learn “to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:28), and “to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; … to love one another, and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:15). Our children should know “to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Ne. 25:26), and they should learn that they are to “love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:5).
Quoting Isaiah, the Savior told the Nephites: “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (3 Ne. 22:13).
Peace. What a marvelous, desirable blessing to bring to the souls of our children. If they are at peace within themselves and secure in their knowledge of Heavenly Father and His eternal plan for them, they will be able to cope better with the unrest in the world around them and be prepared better for reaching their divine potential.
But how do we bring that peace into the lives of children who are growing up in trying, troubling times? Let us review what we can do as Church members. The best and most meaningful resources are found within the home where faithful, devoted parents and supportive brothers and sisters love one another and teach one another of their divine nature. Unfortunately, we live in a time when home and family values are under constant attack by Satan and his minions. We must ever recognize the significant and irreplaceable role of parents. Church leaders and teachers must support parents and teach them to fortify the home as a safe haven for their children. Allow me to suggest three ways that Church leaders and members can help bring peace and understanding to the children of God.
First suggestion: Bishops, you need to assert yourselves as the father of the ward. Parents are accountable for teaching their children and rearing them in righteousness, but bishops are responsible for the spiritual and temporal welfare of every person, including children, who lives within their ward boundaries.
Of course, you bishops are not alone in this stewardship. You have counselors and a ward council to assist in following the Savior’s admonition to “bring up your children in light and truth” (D&C 93:40). Is the Primary led by capable and loving leaders and teachers? Does a member of the bishopric meet regularly with the Primary presidency to teach them and listen to their concerns? Are calls to serve in the Primary being extended with dignity and without apology to emphasize the importance of ministering to the children? Do Primary leaders and teachers in your ward feel loved, respected, and appreciated? Do they have the vision that all children, active and less active, member and nonmember, within the ward boundaries need to be loved and invited to learn about Jesus and His gospel? Are you and your counselors finding ways to be personally involved with the children? Does the Primary get a fair share of the ward budget? Does one of you attend Primary meetings regularly to know firsthand how the children are nurtured and taught?
Some years ago when I was serving as bishop, seven-year-old Danny got into some trouble with his teacher. He had been acting up regularly, and his teacher tried everything she could think of to prevent him from being so disruptive in class. Finally, she brought him to me. “Here’s one of your flock, Bishop,” she said. “Tend it!”
Danny and I sat in the bishop’s office looking at each other for a few minutes. Then I said:
“We’re going to work this out, Danny. Here’s how we’re going to do it. Every week after your class I want you to check with me and let me know how you got along in class. We’re going to have a chance to become really good friends.”
And that’s just what happened. For the next couple of months, Danny met with me every week after his class, and we did become good friends. Knowing he would report on his behavior to me made a difference, and before too long he was able to behave himself without a weekly interview with his bishop.
Bishops, if you will listen and respond to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, you will be guided to similar opportunities to bless the children entrusted to your care and keeping.
Second suggestion: Leaders and teachers need to focus more attention on the children. They cannot provide for themselves, so we need to join forces to provide for them. During presidency, leadership, and council meetings, spend less time planning, coordinating, and correlating and more time addressing the specific spiritual needs of individuals and families. Creative, innovative sharing times and quarterly activities can be stimulating and fun, but they don’t mean much if the children are not there or if they come away having been entertained but not really enlightened, taught the gospel, or lifted spiritually. Teachers need to make sure that they are not simply preparing to teach a lesson, but rather they are preparing to teach a child of God. Every lesson, every meeting, and every activity should be focused on bringing these little ones to Christ.
Often, they must be brought quite literally. I remember serving as an Aaronic Priesthood adviser for thirty-six boys.
One youngster had a hard time making it to church. For many months I called him every Sunday morning and picked him up for priesthood meeting. This did not require much of my time. It did not take me away from my family. But it sent a powerful and important message to a young man that he was important, that somebody cared. Similarly, our leaders and teachers need to get involved in positive, meaningful ways with the children they have been called to serve.
Third suggestion: Remember, every individual child of God is equally important to Him.
His love is not predicated upon membership in the Church. His love for His children knows no bounds and is absolutely unconditional. Likewise, our loving service to His children should be freely and fully extended to each child. An assignment to teach a class of one is just as significant as an assignment to teach a class of thirty-six. The one child who does not attend deserves our time and attention as much as those who do. The needs of children of other faiths in our communities merit our consideration regardless of their attitudes or feelings toward the Church.
Also, we must teach our own children to love and appreciate children of other faiths. In other words, our love and service should be extended to all children everywhere. Find them and invite them, love them without reservation, and serve them because they are all children of God and because doing so is simply the right thing to do.
May we move forward in powerful, positive ways, my brothers and sisters, to extend the love of God unconditionally to all of His children. Only then can we feel as the Savior did just before He blessed the little Nephite children: He said, “Behold, my joy is full” (3 Ne. 17:20). We can share the feeling of the beloved Apostle John when he said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 Jn. 1:4).
May it be so for each of us I humbly pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.