Brothers and sisters, just one year ago Sister Susan Warner and I were sustained as counselors to Sister Patricia Pinegar in a new Primary General Presidency. Having reared twenty-four children between us, we might have had reason to feel quite confident in our ability to understand the needs of children. However, the responsibility of representing the children of the Church in today’s world weighed heavily upon us. Our greatest desire was to know the will of our Father in Heaven and to seek His direction. In counseling with Elder Robert D. Hales at the time of our call, he suggested that as we read our scriptures, we mark the passages that pertain to children. We found there are many. In fact, it seems that the scriptures were written for families. The prophets have left no doubt as to the desires of the Lord regarding His little ones:
Nephi began his record, “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father” (1 Ne. 1:1).
Enos began his record, “Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it” (Enos 1:1).
Our Primary theme is from the words of Isaiah: “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (3 Ne. 22:13).
Our Father in Heaven wants us to teach His children, to teach them who they really are, and to bring them to the Savior. In her general conference message last October, I remember Sister Pinegar’s searching question: “Who will teach the children?” It was not only a question, but an invitation for all of us, all of us who find children within the circle of our influence, to answer the call of our Father in Heaven to teach His children.
As we humbly try to answer that call, another, more probing question comes to mind: How do we teach the children? How do we impress the word of the Lord upon their hearts while they are young so that as they grow into the years of their youth they will have the ability to discern between truth and error and the inner strength to resist temptation? How can we so nourish them in their spiritual growth that their obedience moves from mere outward compliance to an inward desire born out of a love for their Father in Heaven and an understanding of who they are?
These questions, while perplexing to us, are not unique to our day. They have challenged parents through all generations. And the counsel of the Lord, though given hundreds of years ago through Moses to the children of Israel, is as if He were speaking to us today. In Deuteronomy we read:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. …
“And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deut. 6:5–7, 9).
When first we love the Lord with all our hearts, then we can lead our children to Him in all of our interactions. They will grow in their devotion to the Lord as they see our devotion to Him. They will understand the power of prayer as they hear us pray to a loving Heavenly Father who is there listening and answering our prayers. They will understand faith as they see us live by faith. And they will learn the power of love by the kind and respectful ways that we relate to them. We cannot teach truth to our children apart from the trusting, caring relationships that we have with them. President Howard W. Hunter said, “A successful parent is one who has loved, one who has sacrificed, and one who has cared for, taught, and ministered to the needs of a child” (Ensign, Nov. 1983, p. 65).
When our children feel our love for the Lord and our unconditional love for them, then our example becomes a meaningful guide to them as they develop their own spiritual strength. Remember the Lord’s commandment to the Israelites to, first, put His words in their hearts, and then He said, “Teach them diligently unto thy children” (Deut. 6:7). In all that we do, we can teach our children to love the Lord. At times our most impressionable teaching happens when we don’t even realize that we’re teaching.
I remember as a teacher of the eleven-year-old girls in Primary, we held a luncheon for the girls and their mothers. I had asked each girl to introduce her mother and tell one thing that she admired about her. One of the girls said that she knew that her mother loved to read the scriptures. She held up her scriptures and said, “I can tell where she has been in the house by where I find her scriptures.” I have remembered that example over the years and thought how natural it would have been for that mother to transmit a love of the scriptures to her children, because she had developed that love herself. We teach first what we are—and those are the impressions that live in the minds and hearts of our children.
There is a spirit that pervades our homes when there is a love of the Lord, a love for one another, and a commitment to obedience that springs out of that love. As I speak of that spirit, I remember our mission home in Frankfurt, Germany, where my husband served as mission president. Our daughter, Marianne, was ten years old at the time. Some of her friends from school would come to the mission home and occasionally stay overnight. One night, one of her friends said, “I like to come to your house because I feel safe here.” Marianne understood what she meant—all of our family knew the spirit of the mission home. It was a legacy that was left by thousands of dedicated missionaries who had passed through that home and shared their testimonies and their love for their Heavenly Father and the Savior. It is a spirit that can be felt in all of our homes when as families we share testimonies and feelings of the Spirit as we read the scriptures and when we kneel together in prayer.
President Kimball shared vivid memories of his home when the family knelt before meals to pray, their chairs turned back from the table, dinner plates upside down. He remembers night prayers at his mother’s knee. He said, “I feel sorry for children who must learn these important lessons after they are grown, when it is so much harder” (Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball, Jr., Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1977, p. 31). Home can be an oasis in the world. It’s a place where every child has a right to feel safe.
In a fast and testimony meeting I attended recently in my own ward, three children bore their testimonies. Richie stood at the beginning of the meeting and said, “Last night I was reading from 1 Nephi, chapters 1 [1 Ne. 1], 2, and 3; and as I was reading, I felt a great feeling of peace. I felt good inside. I’m thankful for the scriptures.”
Charity told of an experience she had of attending a concert with her family and becoming separated from her parents. She said, “I found a corner and sat down and prayed to Heavenly Father. I asked Him to send the Holy Ghost to be with me until my parents could find me—and I wasn’t afraid.”
Spencer had just been ordained to be a deacon. He expressed his appreciation for the bishop who had ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood and told how much it meant to him to be a deacon. These children had been touched in their hearts by parents, teachers, and leaders who first loved the Lord and then turned the children to Him.
Within our family circle, we can help our children identify feelings of the Spirit and encourage them to express those feelings in their own words. We can invite them to share the things they are learning in Primary and other Church meetings. By so doing, we open the door for the Spirit to confirm those teachings in their hearts.
Brothers and sisters, we can touch the hearts of our children and bring them to the Savior. They will see Him first through our eyes, and they will learn how to know and love Him as their most trusted friend. They will understand what it means to have His Spirit to be with them—and that will be their strength. It is my prayer, my brothers and sisters, that we may all keep that vision before us, and I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.