Children: the essence of love, hope

Children are the epitome of innocence and purity, and the essence of love, hope and gladness in a difficult and troubled world, President Gordon B. Hinckley affirmed Sunday evening, Jan. 23.

President Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, conducted and addressed a satellite broadcast, "Behold Your Little Ones," which offered suggestions to parents and leaders on ways to teach children to help prepare a righteous generation. Other speakers were President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency; Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve; and Primary Gen. Pres. Michaelene P. Grassli.The 80-minute broadcast was transmitted in 11 languages to more than 3,000 meetinghouses in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica, the West Indies and the Dominican Republic.

Parents, priesthood leaders, Primary workers, and "friends of children" were among those specially invited to attend the broadcast, which originated from the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

President Hinckley asked if there is any more touching or tender scene in all of literature than that portrayed in the Book of Mormon relating how Jesus spoke to the multitude, and ". . . took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.

". . . And he said unto them: Behold your little ones.' " (See 3 Ne. 17:19-23.)

President Hinckley asked, "Is there a greater miracle anywhere on earth more magnificent than the birth of a child?

"Is there any one among us who has not experienced deep and touching emotions at the sight of little children? Regardless of the color of their skin or where they live, can anyone doubt that they are our Father's precious gift, that they are indeed His offspring? Have you wondered at the significance of our Lord's declaration that if we are to return to the Father each of us must become as a little child?

"Channing Pollock once observed: `Some of us must wish . . . that we could be born old, and grow younger and cleaner and ever simpler and more innocent, until at last, with the white souls of little children, we lay us down to eternal sleep.' "

President Hinckley lamented that there are millions of children of who abused and neglected, and who become the victims of anger, abject selfishness and evil of the worst kind.

"Surely," he said, "it is time to awaken within people everywhere an increased awareness of the terrible offense toward God, our Eternal Father, that is given whenever a child is made to suffer. Sad to say, evidence of that suffering is all about us. There is tragedy in the land, much of it. I suppose there has always existed abuse of children, but it seems to have increased in tragic dimensions. Possibly it is because we are made more aware of it. Regardless, the time has come to do more than we are now doing to alleviate this suffering.

"Look about us at children born of drug-addicted mothers, children who may never escape the terrible handicaps that have come with life itself. Children, not a few, who are beaten, neglected, abandoned, sexually assaulted, who will never entirely get away from the trauma of their troubled lives. Children who are the victims of famine and war.

"Only this past week the Children's Defense Fund reported:

" `Our worst nightmares are coming true. After years of epidemic poverty, joblessness, racial intolerance, family disintegration, domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse, the crisis of children having children has been eclipsed by the greater crisis of children killing children.' (Deseret News, Jan. 20, 1994.) There then follows in this report a bizarre and tragic listing of offenses toward and by children."

President Hinckley quoted Matt. 18:6, in which the Savior said, "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."

In his address, President Monson said: "All of us - teachers, parents and, of course, priesthood leaders - take for our guide the inspiration of the Lord's statement when He declared: `And now verily I say unto you, and what I say unto one I say unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst, and I have not forsaken you.' " (D&C 61:36.)

President Monson reflected on his Primary days, when he was a boy in the Great Depression and many children wore galoshes because they had no shoes and were hungry because they had no food. "On every hand were empty purses, bare cupboards, shattered dreams and hopeless hearts," President Monson said.

"As a bright light of hope shining amidst the pervading gloom of despair was Primary each Wednesday afternoon." He spoke of a Primary teacher who loved the children in her class and taught them the gospel.

President Monson quoted President David O. McKay: " `Three influences in home life awaken reverence in children and contribute to its development in their souls. These are: gentle guidance, courtesy by parents to each other and to children, and prayer in which the children participate.' "

To illustrate the powerful influence of a child, he spoke of the role a little girl had in the conversion many years ago of one of his friends, Sharman Hummell. He said Brother Hummell, traveling from the East to California, met a little Latter-day Saint girl who sat beside him on a bus from Salt Lake City to Reno, Nev. When he asked her what Mormons believed, she recited and discussed each Article of Faith. President Monson said Brother Hummell said when he got to San Francisco, he telephoned the mission president, J. Leonard Love, who sent two missionaries to teach him. President Monson said Brother Hummell, his wife, and all their children became members of the Church, in part, because a Primary girl knew her Articles of Faith.

President Monson quoted Alma 32:23: "And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times which confound the wise and the learned."

"The love our Savior has for children knows no bounds," President Monson declared. "When we as parents, as priesthood leaders, as officers and teachers in the Primary, follow His example and heed His words, Feed my lambs,' boys and girls blossom before our very eyes and growin wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.' "

Speaking of what he described as "the holy nature of little children," Elder Ballard asked: "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, Behold your little ones.' (3 Ne. 17:23). Notice that He didn't say,Glance at them,' or Casually observe them' orOccasionally 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."

He quoted scriptures pertaining to the love and respect Jesus showed for children. (See Matt. 18:1-6, Mark 10:16.) He spoke of the necessity of teaching children of repentance, prayer and righteousness, and to serve one another and to love the Lord. "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.)"

Elder Ballard suggested three ways the Church can help bring peace and understanding to the children of God:

Bishops need to assert themselves as the father of the ward. "Parents are accountable for teaching their children and raising them in righteousness, but bishops are responsible for the spiritual and temporal welfare of every person, including children, who lives within their ward boundaries."

Leaders and teachers need to focus more attention on the children. "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."

Every individual child of God is equally important to Him. "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."

Pres. Grassli's message was about the relationships parents, teachers, leaders and friends can build with children so the children will listen and feel, hear and believe what they are taught.

"Think about the relationship we have with our Heavenly Father and the Savior," she said. "I have heard Dr. Lynn Scoresby observe, `When we make mistakes, the Savior doesn't say, "Go to your room." He says, "Come unto me.' "

"That can be our example for our relationships with the children we know. We want to return to our Heavenly Father. We want to go home. The mission of the Savior is to take us home."

She spoke of the driving force that compels a homing pigeon to expend terrific energy and overcome distance, time, storms, hunger and fatigue to return home. "How can we help our children feel that burning desire to return home to their Heavenly Father? How can we build the kind of relationship that is Come unto me,' instead ofGo to your room'?"

She suggested four ways to strengthen relationships with children in families and at Church:

Understand children. "We need to know what interests them, what worries them, and what they would do if they had their fondest dream come true. . . . We can let children be their own selves and not expect them to be reproductions of their parents."

Listen to children. "Sometimes we are so busy regulating children, that we don't take time to listen to them. If we would listen more, we would discover how to be successful with them."

Be kind to children. "Whenever I ask children what they like most about their best friend, a favorite teacher, neighbor, or relative, the child usually will say, She's so nice,' orBecause he's nice to me.' "

Share the gospel and testimonies with children. "A little girl wrote a letter to her Heavenly Father. This is what she wrote: `Dear God, I don't ever feel alone since I found out about you. Love, Nora.' (Children's Letters to God, The New Collection.) When I read those words, my heart nearly burst with the desire that all children might be blessed with the feelings of safety and love that come from knowing about God."

Holding up a copy of the booklet, "For the Strength of Youth," Sister Grassli said, "Because of the condition of today's world, I believe that our young children, as well as our youth, need to know the standards contained in this booklet. They need at a very young age to understand standards of Latter-day Saint behavior. Standards and values give a child security. They strengthen a child's identity as a child of God and kindle in the child's heart, hope - the beginning of a testimony."

Portions of a new Church video, "Teach the Child," were shown during the broadcast.

Music for the meeting was provided by a Primary chorus from the Provo Utah North Region, directed by Norma Pocock Ashton and accompanied on the Tabernacle organ by Bonnie Goodliffe. A special number was performed by a quartet comprised of Ralph V. and Louise Benson of Bountiful, Utah, their daughter, Natalie, 11, and Stuart Maxfield, 10-year-old son of Larry and Cory Maxfield of Salt Lake City.

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