Tag Archives: Children’s Songs

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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 #249: Called to Serve

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Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.

Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.

Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.

(Doctrine and Covenants 4:1-3)

When I read the opening verses of D&C 4, I am always drawn back to memories of my own missionary service. I remember the weeks in the Missionary Training Center, surrounded by thousands of missionaries all preparing to preach the Gospel and to enter a new culture, a new world. I remember teaching and loving the people of Spain, with all their endearing and maddening ways. I remember the missionaries I served with, Sunday meetings, training conferences, transfers, testifying, studying, praying, and working. I remember service projects, frustrations, long rainy days, rewarding lessons, and so many other things. It truly brings back a flood of memories.

And, I remember singing Called To Serve. If there’s an anthem for the church missionary effort, this is surely it. Missionaries around the world sing it in dozens of languages, all united by a desire and a call to serve Him, the Heavenly King of Glory. With an energetic tune and triumphant chorus, it invigorates us as we commit to “ever witness for His name.”

Far and wide, we tell the Father’s story. There are currently over 80,000 missionaries serving in 405 missions around the globe. They preach in over fifty languages, inviting all to learn of the Father’s plan of salvation and Christ’s Atonement. Ever since the church was organized, missionaries have been sent around the world to preach that truth and priesthood authority have been restored to the earth, inviting all to come and partake.

Far and wide, his love proclaim. The joyous news of the Gospel is not just that truth has been restored. It is that through the Gospel, we can live a better life. We can feel more joy, find more meaning, and share more love with our spiritual brothers and sisters all around us. Our Father loves all of his children, and he wants all of us to receive the blessings he is ready to give.

Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name.
Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name.
Forward, pressing forward, as a triumph song we sing.
God our strength will be; press forward ever,
Called to serve our King.

God our strength will be. The Book of Mormon teaches repeatedly that there is a special strength that comes from the Lord. Elder David A. Bednar spoke about this in his 2004 General Conference address. He said:

Can we sense the grace and strengthening power of Christ in the testimony of Ammon? “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12). Truly, brothers and sisters, in the strength of the Lord we can do and endure and overcome all things. (In the Strength of the Lord, October 2004)

The work of preaching the gospel is a glorious, happy work. It is work, have no doubt. It is hard work. Missionaries around the world will attest to that. But we do “glory in his name,” and a “triumph song” we do sing. We rejoice when someone finds their way to the understanding and joy that comes from the Gospel, when someone enters the waters of baptism and receives the Gift of the Holy Ghost. There is joy and happiness in this work.

Called to Serve, though, is not a song about missionaries. It is a song about missionary work. As we have been taught repeatedly, missionary work is not just for missionaries. It is not even mostly for missionaries. It is a work for every member of Christ’s living church. President David O. McKay urged “every member a missionary” in 1959. More recently, we’ve heard a lot about “Hastening the Work of Salvation,” encouraging all church members to join in this work, bringing the Gospel message to our Father’s children.

Indeed, let’s look at the second verse:

Called to know the richness of his blessing—
Sons and daughters, children of a King—
Glad of heart, his holy name confessing,
Praises unto him we bring.

Every member of his Church has cause to know the richness of his blessings. We are all children of a King. We don’t just sing Called to Serve in the MTC, or in missionary training meetings. We also sing it in our ordinary Sunday meetings in wards and branches around the world. The Gospel brings blessings of peace, understanding, joy, and purpose to all of us.

We are all called to serve him. Missionaries are called to do it full-time for a certain number of months and in a specific place, but we are all called to share the blessings we receive from our Father. However far and however wide we go, we are to tell the Father’s story. However far and wide we go, his love we are to proclaim. Whether that’s the school yard or the water cooler, Facebook or the grocery store, wherever we go we should be “standing as witnesses of God, at all times and in all things, and in all places.” (Mosiah 18:9)

“Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.” Onward, ever onward!

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.