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I have always been intrigued by the scriptural call to become “as a little child”. As is the case with any symbolic scriptural passage, I think this can be interpreted in numerous ways, some more applicable to each of us than the others.
Jesus counseled us:
Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved. ( 3 Nephi 9:22, c.f. 3 Nephi 11:37)
Thus we see that our becoming like a little child is a corollary to our having repented. I think this is not hard to imagine. For those that have children, imagine having to reprimand your little child (not a teenager!) for their misbehavior. Within minutes, the child is once again happy, joyful, and full of energy, having “forgiven and forgotten”. They are quick to understand that even though you as their parent have scolded them, you still love them and want the best for them.
So it is with God, I believe. He reprimands us for sinful behavior, but he wants us to bounce back quickly from the experience. He doesn’t want us to mope and whine (as teenagers will do), endlessly complaining about how severe the punishment was, and throwing ourselves a pointless pity party. He wants us to move on, happy with life, understanding that He still loves us and wants the best for us.
This is further illustrated by the (famous and oft-memorized) scripture:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
Here, becoming as a (little) child is one of the conditions set forth in order to not become “an enemy to God”. Or in other words, to be on the “right hand of God” we must embrace the childlike characteristics delineated in the verse.
One of the most key characteristics in this verse, in my opinion, is that we must be “willing to submit to all things” that the Lord wants to impose on us. We must keep ever present in our minds and testimonies that “all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things” (2 Nephi 2:24). He, as our literal Father, knows what is best for us, his (little) children.
James M. Paramore, former member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, gave a BYU devotional in 1983 titled, like this post, “Become as a Little Child“. It’s an insightful talk on the subject, and I’d like to highlight a couple things from it.
It is obvious … that children don’t know everything. But … there are many things that they know instinctively that are great gifts, and if not understood and pursued energetically can limit the power, beauty, quality, and destiny of our lives.
As educated adults, we (myself definitely included) somtimes let our judgments, perceptions, and feelings become clouded by our (highly deficient) knowledge. As Paramore points out, children aren’t burdened by such acquired knowledge, and therefore they act upon and are driven by things they know “instinctively”. Children are innocent and pure, and it is to that exact state we should try to return through our life-changing repentance. Paramore highlights five things that children possess—qualities that we, too, should seek to acquire in our effort to become like them.
- Power of implicit faith
- Power of obedience
- Power of love
- Power of service
- Power of enthusiasm
Rather than describe each one, I recommend reading Paramore’s talk to see how he describes them. I think that these five are wide-ranging, but not comprehensive or exhaustive. However, it is a good starting ground for attemping to, line upon line, become more like a little child. Heaven knows I need all the help I can get.