Beloved Song Turns 50

By Abbey Olsen, Church Magazines

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    The hymn “I Am a Child of God” (Hymns, no. 301) has rung across the earth, its music played and its words sung by adults and Primary children around the world since 1957.

    As it reaches its 50th anniversary in 2007, the song, published in more than 90 languages, continues to touch the hearts of many.

    The message of the three-verse hymn teaches the gospel truths that each person is a son or daughter of God and has been sent to this earth with eternal potential. Parents and teachers are asked to help each child make righteous choices in a mortal experience that can lead to eternal life and happiness.

    The hymn reads:

    I am a child of God,

    And he has sent me here,

    Has given me an earthly home

    With parents kind and dear.

    [Chorus]

    Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,

    Help me find the way.

    Teach me all that I must do

    To live with him someday.

    I am a child of God,

    And so my needs are great;

    Help me to understand his words

    Before it grows too late.

    I am a child of God.

    Rich blessings are in store;

    If I but learn to do his will,

    I’ll live with him once more.

    Naomi W. Randall, who served as a member of the Primary general board and as a counselor in the Primary general presidency, wrote the words at the request of the Primary general board. Mildred T. Pettit, who also had served as a Primary general board member, composed the music.

    Sister Randall described the process of writing the words to the song:

    “I got down on my knees and prayed aloud, pleading that our Heavenly Father would let me know the right words.

    “Around 2:00 a.m., I awakened and began to think again about the song. Words came to my mind. … I immediately got up and began to write the words down as they had come to me. Three verses and a chorus were soon formed.

    “I gratefully surveyed the work, drank of the message of the words, and returned to my bedroom where I knelt before my Father in Heaven to say ‘Thank you!’” (in Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns [1988], 303–4).

    Sister Randall sent the words to Sister Pettit, who spent many hours working on the music.

    The words in one line of the chorus originally read, “Teach me all that I must know.” After the song was written, President Spencer W. Kimball attended a conference where a Primary children’s chorus sang the song. He later asked if Sister Randall would agree to change “Teach me all that I must know” to “Teach me all that I must do,” and so the line reads today.

    “To know isn’t enough,” President Kimball said. “The devils know and tremble; the devils know everything. We have to do something” (“New Verse Is Written for Popular Song,” Church News, Apr. 1, 1978, 16).

    A fourth verse of the song was written for a Primary chorus to sing at general conference in April 1957. When the current hymnbook was prepared, the General Music Committee and the Correlation Department decided the extra verse was not officially part of the song and did not include it.

    Later, when the Children’s Songbook was created, the Primary general board decided to include it. The four-verse version has been translated into the 20 languages of the international Children’s Songbook. The verse reads:

    I am a child of God.

    His promises are sure;

    Celestial glory shall be mine

    If I can but endure.

    The hymn was first included in Sing with Me, a children’s songbook published in 1969, and then in the Children’s Songbook in 1989 with the music arranged by Darwin Wolford.

    “I Am a Child of God” is one of the 45 hymns and children’s songs found in the Gospel Fundamentals and Gospel Principles manuals. This means that when Church material is first introduced in a new language, “I Am a Child of God” is one of the first hymns received.

    Scriptures; manuals; instrumental, choir, or other adaptations; CDs; General Authority talks; “I Am a Child of God” stickers; and other materials all herald the message contained in the words and music of the beloved hymn, which has reached out across cultures, backgrounds, and traditions to instill in people the gospel truth that each person is a child of God.

    Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, then a member of the Seventy, elaborated on the theme of the song in 1978: “Our Father in heaven loves us more deeply than we can understand. He has said that He ‘numbereth his people’ (Alma 26:37) and that each one of us is important to Him. He wants us to return to live with Him and Jesus again. He wants us to communicate with Him in prayer, to tell Him of our love, and to show our love by obeying His commandments. Through obedience we can become more like Him, developing those qualities of character that He wants His children to have” (“I Am a Child of God,” Tambuli, Nov. 1978, 21; Friend, Mar. 1978, 8).

    Now 50 years old, the beloved hymn, “I Am a Child of God,” is sung around the world in more than 90 languages. (Photograph by Robert Casey.)