Two of our grandchildren are sleeping on our couches this morning. Mom had to be at work at 6:00 a.m. Dad spends all his money on the home they live in and he has no place of his own, so when Mom needs help, they come here. Divorce is so inconvenient. Currently, in their lives, they may well find themselves spending the night in any one of 3 different places. We try our best to make them feel welcome – to love them and tell them how priceless they are, but I don’t think our gestures are enough to overcome the roar of the fact that they don’t really have a home, an anchor, a bed, a room that they can count on sleeping in every night. A night at grandma’s house should be a treat rather than a subtle reminder (tragically, far too subtle for them to understand, while far too persistent for them to be able to cast aside as unimportant) that they are more of a burden than a cherished treasure.
I saw Carrie Underwood’s video “Little Toy Guns” this morning. It tells the story quite beautifully of how children are impacted by the conflicts between their parents. Its message of hope and redemption is powerful. It brought me to tears. It is through those tears that I began writing this post.
Many of you know that I taught at the Salt Lake County Jail for 6 of the past 8 years. It was powerfully impressed upon me during that experience that the men I was teaching, the rejects of society, were largely there because nobody truly loved them when they were children – and this probably because their parents didn’t know how to love them, in turn because they were never taught by their parents. What a vicious cycle!
My mother has told me more than once of the time when she observed a mother in the grocery store in Oklahoma City who responded to her toddler reaching from the grocery cart for items on the shelf by slapping her and exclaiming, “Stop it, you devil child”.
I wrote in a previous blog about the time I was talking to another of our grandchildren about her parents’ divorce, and she confided that she was afraid to grow up and get married because, “What if I get divorced?”
It is a great relief to me to know that my own biological daughter claims to not remember the days when I drank to the point of addiction. I am so thankful that I rejected this behavior before it seriously impacted her life. Nevertheless, I know she observed the conflict and tension between her mother and me, and I have no doubt that my divorcing her mother when she was 14 left scars that wouldn’t have been necessary had I been a more responsible adult.
I recently read a blog post in which a young mother described her personal battle overcoming the effects of years of sexual and ritual abuse at the hands of her parents. I have been told personally, although not in detail, of a friend who was ritually abused by church leaders when he was young. Such practices were exposed in the “Pace Memo” for the Strengthening the Members Committee. I mention this not to point fingers at the church, but to point out that no segment of society is safe from such unconscionable abuses.
Most of the readers of this blog live, like me, in a very protected world. The circumstances I describe above reflect the experiences of my world, but they pale when compared to the plight of children throughout the world who suffer greatly, and who frequently fear for the lives, whether because of hunger, neglect, abuse, or the violence of war.
Sometimes I just feel so sorry for the children.
Suffer the Children
…Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
I testified in my recent post, “Oh, The Glory of My God” about how Christ laid His hands on each and every Nephite child who was brought before Him, and how He blessed them and prayed for them individually. There were dozens, if not more, of these children, and He took the time for each of them. This He did after delivering the defining sermon at bountiful, and after healing equally as many sick, lame, deaf and blind:
And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and 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”.
A Holy Rebuke
In D&C section 93, after gracing Joseph with perhaps the greatest single treatise ever recorded on the nature of God, of Christ, and of their relationship with man and with each other, He said:
And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.
But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.
But verily I say unto you, my servant Frederick G. Williams, you have continued under this condemnation;
You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction. (D&C 93:39-42 – emphasis mine)
In order to teach our children light and truth, we must receive light and truth. We cannot teach our children light and truth that we have not received. Light and truth is reflected through acts of love, compassion, understanding, kindness. Even in the case of children, the Lords words hold true:
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (D&C 121:41-42)
There are many in our world who truly cherish their children and their own role as parents. Just this afternoon, I was walking with my grandson and we stopped at a neighbor’s gate and watched the children jumping on their trampoline. They invited us to come in, and I spent about 20 minutes just watching children play. Having already written most of this post today, it was an especially poignant coincidence for me – reminding me that there is much love and beauty to be recognized and enjoyed.
A Shining Example
My daughter, whom many of you know, has struggled mightily throughout her life. At times, she has been absolutely smothered beneath the evils of babylon. However, she has shown to me the most Christ-like example of parenting I have ever seen anywhere, in any experience of my life. Her son, Gunnar, (the above-mentioned grandson) has Down Syndrome, so his care is more difficult than that of “normal” children. She has learned to truly love him as Christ would love him – even as He loves each of us. I am often in awe of the love that drives the sacrifices that she offers in the interest of his comfort and happiness. She exhibits compassion and empathy that is far more than instructive to me, it is inspiring. I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to observe first hand her emergence as the world’s greatest mom, and as such, as a great disciple of Christ.
What Can We Do?
I am convinced that this is how all children should be loved. Failure to love all children, as Christ would, will perhaps be our greatest failing when we stand to be judged according to our works.
Children are so dependent upon us. For them, we are Saviors in Zion. If we cannot love them – those who cannot possibly pose any threat or danger that would provoke jealousy or fear – if we cannot love them as Christ would love them, how can we ever possibly hope to become one with Him? How can we ever hope to “…love thy neighbour as thyself”? (Mark 12:31) How can we ever possibly hope to enter into the Fellowship of the Suffering of Christ (Philip 3:10) if we cannot even love and sacrifice our all for our children?
As I said, it was through the tears prompted by the Little Toy Guns video that I began writing this. The story of the video is something that happens in thousands of homes every day. These tragedies occur largely because we are so consumed with just surviving the challenges of this fallen world that we forget the power that we have as adults and parents. I can’t help but think what our lives would be like if Christ, in all of His ongoing suffering, forgot the power that he wields in each of our lives – if he forgot to answer our prayers, or to love us, or to protect us, or to inspire us…or to atone for our sins. We look to Him for so much. He is the source of our hope, our vision, and our dreams. We would collapse in a heap of hopelessness at His slightest rebuke – just as if we were His children.
My heart breaks when I think of the suffering of children throughout the world. If, as a result of this post, only one person begins looking at their children as Christ does; if only one child is spared the wounds inflicted by a selfish, frightened adult, it will be worthwhile. We have the ability to open the heavens to their eyes by our teaching, our nurturing, and our love. We likewise have the power to scar them to the point that they will never be able to recognize the beacon of light and truth that is our Savior. Our work can lift and create, or it can destroy. The Savior’s work is the work of creation. We must choose each day to do His work…especially when it comes to our children.
Sometimes, I feel so sad for the children.