While I have been serving in this calling, I have made some new friends. Eliza can sing many Primary songs. Lucas is learning the Articles of Faith in Spanish. Caitlyn is shy but curious. I sat by Martha in Primary, and she wrapped her arm through mine. These children reflect the light of the gospel in their faces.
Who are the children in your home or in your neighborhood? Look at them. Think of them. The Savior teaches us that to enter the kingdom of God, we must become as a child, “submissive, meek, humble, patient, [and] full of love” (Mosiah 3:19).
But however full of faith children come to us, they face the challenges of a fallen world. What does it take to help these children keep the light of faith in their eyes? We know that nothing can replace a righteous family in the life of a child. But in today’s world, children will need not only a devoted mother and father, but they will need each of us to protect, teach, and love them.
Brothers and sisters, protecting children means that we provide an environment that invites the Spirit into their lives and validates it in their hearts. That automatically eliminates any form of indifference, neglect, abuse, violence, or exploitation.
And while conditions of depravity are more serious, we also protect children from other detrimental conditions, such as expectations that are too high or too low, overindulgence, over scheduling, and self-centeredness. Either extreme dulls a child’s ability to identify, trust, and be guided by the Holy Ghost.
Children are open to gospel truths more than at any other time, and protected childhood is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to teach and strengthen children to choose the right.
It’s easy to know what to teach. The scriptures and our prophets are clear about what to teach our children. Nephi summarizes it in this verse, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ … that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26).
Knowing that we teach of Christ and His gospel, how do we do it? Begin by following the counsel of our prophets and making time in our homes for family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. Have we heard that counsel so often that it seems too simple? Or are we so busy that adding one more thing feels too complex? I testify that even when our family worship seems less than effective, obedience alone invites the blessings of the Lord.
In fact, personal obedience and example in every part of our lives are the ultimate gospel lessons for children. So study, learn, and apply the gospel. We cannot teach principles that we do not know and that we do not live. Who we are and what is in our heart are discerned by children more quickly than we think.
So love the children. I remember feeling loved as a child, and because of that, it was easy for me to believe that the Savior loved me too. Children thrive in a home where parents understand their “sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Liahona, Oct. 2004, 49; Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102).
But all of us can help. Notice the children around you, and learn their names. And then invite, listen, affirm, guide, build, serve, and share testimony. Your love can help bring a child to the love of the Savior.
Vasily is a child who spends much of his time in the streets and is not supported by his parents in his search for truth. He found a small branch of the Church in his town, and he came to every event held at the church. He also brought his three younger brothers to church, and other friends joined him in Primary. In fact, at one time, the largest Primary in that area was made up of these little boys who are not members of the Church. They were drawn to the truth, and the light of the gospel began to be reflected in their faces. They were welcomed, protected, taught, and loved by all the members of that little branch, including youth, young adults, missionaries, teachers, and priesthood leaders. Think of the children in your neighborhood or Primary class. Who are the children in your branch or ward? Is there one, like Vasily, who needs you?
When I think of these little boys and children like them, I take great hope from the account of the Savior’s visit to the American continent. Remember that before the Savior’s appearance, there were tempests, earthquakes, fires, and three days of profound darkness (see 3 Nephi 8). I have often thought about the children who experienced these events. And I can only imagine the fear and concern in the hearts of the parents.
And then the Savior appeared and commanded the multitude “that their little children should be brought” to Him (3 Nephi 17:11). How eager those parents must have been to bring their children to the Savior. And then they watched as the Savior wept over their children, blessed them one by one, prayed unto the Father for them, and called down angels to minister unto them (see 3 Nephi 17:21, 24). This account reminds us that it is the Savior who is the great protector, the ultimate teacher, and the eternal source of love and healing.
As the darkness of this day surrounds us, we are also commanded to bring our children to the Savior, and as Elder Ballard has reminded us, “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” (“Behold Your Little Ones,” Tambuli, Oct. 1994, 40; “Great Shall Be the Peace of Thy Children,” Ensign, Apr. 1994, 60).
Brothers and sisters, as a mother and a Primary leader, I know this work with children is not easy. Protecting, teaching, and loving children can be demanding, often discouraging, sometimes exhausting, and occasionally the fruits of our efforts are long delayed. But it is precisely because it is not easy to bring children to the Savior that we must come to Him ourselves.
As we seek Him and His Spirit to help us, we will see a miracle. We will recognize that our own hearts are changing and we too are becoming “submissive, meek, humble, patient, [and] full of love” (Mosiah 3:19). We too will reflect the light of the gospel in our own countenance. We will come to understand these words of the Savior: “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me” (Matthew 18:5).
I love the Savior and testify of His redeeming power for me and you and for our children, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.