In one of our most beloved passages of scripture, Christ visits the Nephites and takes the time to gather all the children around him to teach them, pray for them, and bless them one by one. The more I’ve studied this beautiful story, the more I’ve realized that this is not just an uplifting, feel-good story. It is a powerful teaching moment from the Savior that shows how He hopes we will treat His beloved little ones. Here are three things I have learned about parenting from Christ’s example with the Nephite children:
1) Behold Your Little Ones
“Behold your little ones” is a famous and beautiful phrase—a commandment straight from Christ about our children. But what does that phrase actually mean? Elder Ballard said, “Notice that He didn’t say ‘glance at them’ or ‘casually observe them’ or ‘occasionally 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” (Elder M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, April 1994). As parents, we need to see, or behold, our children as Christ does—appreciating their inherent worth—in order to love our children as Christ does.
Sometimes seeing our children as Christ does is easier said than done. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day difficulties of parenting spirited, grumpy, or stubborn children. I can only assume that when the parents brought their children to Jesus, not ALL the kids sat like perfect little angels the whole time He prayed, taught, and blessed them. But the love that Christ felt for each child is palpable through these verses of scripture. He didn’t say, “Behold your little ones, except those two hitting each other over there.” Christ could not only see those children’s amazing potential but he loved those children as they were right then, at whatever point of development. Sister Menlove, the 10th general Primary president, said, “Understanding who these children are and their potential in God’s kingdom can help us have a greater desire to meet the challenges more patiently—more lovingly” (Sister Coleen K. Menlove, Ensign, Oct. 2002). Children will be difficult and cause challenges, since that is part of learning and growing up, but if we can see them as Christ does, we will be more inclined to treat them as He does.
The scriptures take this vision of our children one step further, however, “Behold your little ones. And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes toward heaven” (3 Nephi 17:23–24). Like the Nephites, we too must look towards heaven for guidance on how to see our children. The Holy Ghost can help us see and feel in a more Christlike way: “It will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:5). Remembering to look to heaven may include being spiritually in tune, seeking out divine guidance, and being humble enough to set aside our own ideas. This spiritual direction can give us lenses to see our children more patiently, more forgivingly, and more appreciatively.
Another aspect of beholding is dedicating our full attention. Obviously we can’t focus solely on our children. We have other responsibilities in life, too. But some daily, devoted time without distractions is vital in developing meaningful Christlike relationships with our children. In verse 21, Christ gathered the children “one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.” Christ gave each child totally focused, individual time—and there were probably hundreds of children!
My sister is a wonderful example to me of beholding. Through certain periods of the day, she gives her children her full attention, listening to them, learning about them, and not getting distracted with her phone, the TV, or with tidying. She blesses her children with times of real connection. To me, this is beholding.
2) Provide Spiritual Opportunities
A large portion of the time Christ spent with the Nephite children was in prayer or giving blessings. How much time in our day includes spiritual activities? Do our children hear our fervent prayers for them, participate in family prayer and gospel discussion, or receive priesthood blessings? We must not underestimate children’s capabilities to understand spiritual things. Sister Grassli, the eighth general Primary president, spoke about the Nephite children when she said, “They heard that prayer; they saw that event, and they were affected by it. Children can understand and should witness marvelous events—events like priesthood blessings, special ward and family fasts, the testimonies and prayers of their parents and leaders, and gospel discussions with people they love” (Sister Michaelene P. Grassli, Ensign, Oct. 1992).
Childhood blessings from my dad were moments when I clearly remember feeling God’s love and His knowledge of me, perhaps more than any other times in my early years. Recognizing the Spirit can be hard to figure out as a child (or at any time of life), but I knew I felt peaceful and happy during blessings and could pinpoint that as the Spirit. This helped me to recognize other times when the Spirit was with me, because I could match the feelings. I truly believed that blessings were the Lord speaking to me, and as a child in particular, it was nice to hear actual words of guidance and reassurance. I could feel a connection with my Heavenly Father, and I knew he was there for me.
Trials and spiritual attacks are hitting our children earlier than ever, in and out of the home. Help children know that the priesthood is available to help them from an early age—and for more than just sickness. Prayers—family and personal—can also help and protect our children. Jesus taught the Nephites, “Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed” (3 Nephi 18:21). Our children need to know that those blessings are available whenever we choose to ask for them.
3) Encircle the Little Ones About with Love
In verse 24, angels descended from heaven “and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.” Talk about a powerful moment! I have to wonder whether Heavenly Father gives special spiritual protection and comfort to his beloved little ones now, too. How often are our children surrounded by loving angels?
On a more personal level, I wonder how I am providing my children with a similar experience to those of the Nephite children. How can I help them feel encircled about with love and with the fire of the Holy Ghost? Elder Ballard said, “Clearly, those of us who have been entrusted with precious children have been given a sacred, noble stewardship, for we are the ones God has appointed to encircle today’s children with love and the fire of faith and an understanding of who they are” (Elder M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, April 1994).
An important part of our children feeling encircled about by angels and fire is helping them feel and recognize the Holy Ghost. We help them identify feelings they are having, we can help create an atmosphere in our homes where the Holy Ghost can be present, and we can teach them about the many roles the Holy Ghost can have so that they can recognize him in all aspects of their lives. Our children must know that, like Christ, we love them always and unconditionally. I want my children to know that whatever happens out there in the world, they are always wrapped in my encircling love.
Christ, as always, is our perfect exemplar. He knows our children and can help us behold them as He does. He taught by example the importance of filling our family lives with uplifting moments and connections with Heavenly Father. And he can teach us to become angels for our own children so they can experience the same powerful moments of love and spirituality as the Nephite children when “[the angels] came down and encircled those little ones about and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them” (3 Nephi 17:24).
Lead image from Getty Images.
Take some time to connect with your children and teach them about God’s love for them with Catherine Christensen’s book, Blessing the Nephite Children, available at Deseret Book stores and on deseretbook.com.