Tag Archives: Children

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Hymn #307: In Our Lovely Deseret

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In our lovely Deseret,
Where the Saints of God have met,
There’s a multitude of children all around.
They are generous and brave;
They have precious souls to save;
They must listen and obey the gospel’s sound.

For a long time, I had a sharply negative association with this hymn. I thought of it as you might, as the brainwashing hymn. It has a cloyingly catchy tune, and the “hark! hark! hark!” chorus lends itself to easy mocking (we always pretended to be seals, clapping our hands and barking to the music), and the second verse feels a little too on the nose with its specifics about the Word of Wisdom. We’d sing it at the start of meetings for comedic value, certainly, but never more seriously than that. It was a joke, and nothing more.

That’s my daughter up there at the top of the post. Everything changes when you’re no longer singing about a “multitude of children,” but about your child.

It’s easy to see this as a brainwashing hymn telling children how they must live their lives, but I prefer to think of it as instructional. Children come into the world pure and innocent, not knowing how to do, well, anything. If you’ve ever spent time around a child of virtually any age, you’ll understand as I’ve come to over the last year just how little children actually know. I’ve spent the better part of a year teaching my daughter which things she puts in her mouth are food and which aren’t. You might be teaching a child when it’s appropriate to be loud and playful and when it’s better to be quiet and still. You might be helping a child learn to share, to ride a bike, to sing, or any of a number of things. And every time you come across something that this child can’t do, you may be astonished. “What do you mean you don’t know how to whistle?” you may catch yourself thinking. “Doesn’t everyone know how to whistle?”

Everyone knows how to whistle, or fly a kite, or throw a frisbee that first has been shown how to do those things. Those who have gone before are responsible to teach those who come after how to do things. Why should the gospel be any different? Children need to understand the gospel, the same as you and I do. An instructional hymn, particularly one with a catchy tune that is easy to learn, can aid in their understanding. The next time the child is tempted to be mean, the lyrics, “They should always be polite, and treat ev’rybody right, and in every place be affable and kind” may come into his or her head, causing an unkind thought or action to be forgotten. When laying down to sleep after a long day, the lyrics, “They must not forget to pray, night and morning ev’ry day, for the Lord to keep them safe from ev’ry ill” may present themselves as a reminder to offer a prayer of their own. And yes, when a child finds him or herself tempted with a cigarette or anything else similar, this tune and the words “tea and coffee and tobacco they despise” may come to mind.

We are responsible for teaching our children to love the Lord and to obey His law. We can do that by reading the scriptures with them, praying with them, having talks with them, and yes, we can do so through music. Primary songs like “I Am a Child of God” and “Families Can Be Together Forever” are just as didactic as this hymn is, and for good reason. We want these tunes stuck in their heads. We want them thinking about the Lord and His gospel constantly. We want these principles to never be far from their hearts.

And why is that? To put it simply, it is because “they have precious souls to save.” You can read that as the children needing to grow up strong in the gospel so they can go and rescue others. It’s true. We need to be strong in the faith so that we can help others along the path. But I think it’s just as appropriate to interpret that phrase as referring to the children’s own souls. Their souls are precious, and they need saving, just as ours do. They are our responsibility, and now that I’ve held one of those precious souls in my arms, I’m determined to use any means necessary to save it, including a song I was only too happy to dismiss as cloying and jingoistic.

Hark! Hark! Hark! ’tis children’s music–
Children’s voices, oh, how sweet,
When in innocence and love,
Like the angels up above,
They with happy hearts and cheerful faces meet.

 

Hymn #301: I Am a Child of God

This is one of the first hymns LDS children learn. The melody is simple, the words straightforward. It’s difficult to find anything to say about it because the message is so clear: I am a child of God and my goal in life is to learn and do all that is necessary to return to live with Him again. Every Latter-Day Saint believes this to some degree or another. This hymn is part of our core identity and explains why we do all the things we do.

However, this line has often troubled my mind: [He] has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.

I grew up in a home with kind and dear parents. They are some of the best people I know. But not every family looks like mine did, with parents and children who respect each other and live together in love.

Many children have only one parent, or none at all. Many parents are neglectful or abusive. So many families are broken in one way or another. For these people, singing about “parents kind and dear” might feel hollow and false. It might trigger painful memories or feelings of bitterness, loneliness, or worthlessness.

Whatever your background, please know that you are not alone. You have worth.

Although our earthly parents might not always be what we wish they were, our Heavenly Parents are perfect. They love us. Always. Whether we are loveable or not. They want what is best for us, and even when our present circumstances are not ideal, they are constantly watching over us. Chastening us when we are rebellious. Blessing us when we obey. Gently encouraging us when all hope seems lost.

Because They love us, our Heavenly Mother and Father send people to lighten our loads and lead us by their examples. Neighbors, teachers, friends, coworkers…so many people can act as a “parent” when needed. I know I am grateful for the influence of non-traditional parent-figures in my own life.

No matter how broken your “real” family is, undoubtedly there is someone out there who will love you like family. If you don’t know who it might be, pray. Ask your loving Parents to help you find a person who can lead, guide, and walk beside you. Let them help you learn and do what you must in order to “live with Him someday.”

Because you, my friend, are a child of God. He has sent you here and you can live with Him once more. He loves you. I hope you know that.

Hymn #96: Dearest Children, God Is Near You

I don’t believe in using scare tactics on children. They always seem to backfire. Either you wind up with a nervous kiddo who is paranoid about the tiniest things, or one who no longer believes anything you say because they proved you wrong by not wetting the bed after playing with the campfire.

I have heard people use God or Jesus to scare children into behaving, saying things like, “Jesus saw what you did and he is not happy about it.” This becomes problematic in the same way as any other scare tactic: either the kid winds up terrified of God’s disapproval or he stops believing because of a lack of immediate Heavenly consequences.

When we sing this hymn, though, it’s hardly, “You better watch out, you better not cry”…or else! The first verse nicely illustrates this point:

Dearest children, God is near you,
Watching o’er you day and night,
And delights to own and bless you,
If you strive to do what’s right.
He will bless you, He will bless you,
If you put your trust in him.

Not a threat or warning to be seen. Yes, God is near us and watching all the time, but not to punish. Three times we are told He will bless us, and that He delights to do so. What’s more, He delights to own us. His pleasure in recognizing us as His children speaks of His unconditional love for us.

In his Sermon on the Mount, the Savior reminds us how much concern our Father has for our well-being:

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30)

He watches us “day and night” because He wants to take care of us. He sets His angels to “keep a faithful record of the good and bad [we] say” so He will know how best to attend our needs.

In all that watching He is bound to see us make mistakes. Fortunately for us He also “delights to teach us”, as the third verse says. We have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost to encourage us to keep the commandments, to prick our conscience when we rebel, to comfort us as we repent, and to rejoice with us when we do what is right. This kind of guidance is, to me, far more helpful than constant fear of chastisement.

Our Father in Heaven is ever-vigilant for He is, like any loving parent, protective and proud of His children. What does He ask in return? That we try our best. That we trust Him. That we heed the Spirit’s promptings. That we cherish virtue. Above all, that we prove faithful to Him.

And even if we aren’t, He will be faithful. Whatever we do, God is near us.

Hymn #304: Teach Me to Walk in the Light

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This is one of the few hymns included in both the LDS hymnal and the Children’s Songbook. Its melody is simple, its message sweet. Its words are straightforward enough for a small child to understand, and it is from a child’s perspective that we begin to sing.

Teach me to walk in the light of his love;
Teach me to pray to my Father above;
Teach me to know of the things that are right;
Teach me, teach me to walk in the light.

The second verse is a response to the first, as someone–we’ll talk about who in a moment–agrees to do what the child has asked. The perspective has shifted, though, so that we are no longer the child but the teacher. Together, we reply, we will study God’s word, learn what He would have us do, because we hope to eventually live with Him again.

Based on the fact the this song is listed under the topics of “Home” and “Motherhood” in the hymn book, I think we often assume that the dialogue is between a parent and child. The only parent named, however, is our Heavenly Father. This leaves the hymn open to include many “children” and their teachers. A young woman and her youth adviser. An investigator and a missionary. An aging patriarch and his home teacher. The possibilities really are endless.

Ours is a gospel of learning.  The Lord instructs:

“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 109:7)

And so we do. We attend Sabbath services to teach and be taught by one another. We read the same books of scripture over and over, seeking new insights and personal revelation. We strive constantly to gain a better understanding of the gospel and what is expected of us so that we can return “home to his presence to live in his sight.”

Frequently we find ourselves in a position where we can mentor others, but even the prophets seek regular instruction in the House of the Lord.

And so we pray to our Father and thank him “for loving guidance to show us the way.” We’re all learning together so we can walk gladly in the light.