Skip to main content

So Simple a Child Can Grasp It

Brothers and Sisters, Aloha!

When I received the initial invitation to speak last October, I was shocked. I am a behind-the-scenes type of girl and my first thought was, “Oh, this must have been sent to the wrong person.” Shock soon gave way to panic and, like Jonah running away from Ninevah, I set the letter aside and pretended I hadn’t received it. Child psychologists call this “magical thinking,” or the belief that thinking something is so makes it so. This is childish behavior, not childlike behavior, which is an important distinction as we will see. A few weeks later I received a follow up call from Sister Faonelua and I did firmly commit to the calling of speaking with you today. I hope that you and I will find the experience to not be as daunting as three days in the belly of the whale!

As I was pondering over what to talk about, a phrase from President Uchdorf’s November 2015 conference address, "It Works Wonderfully", came to mind. “This beautiful Gospel is so simple a child can grasp it, yet so profound and complex that it will take a lifetime—even an eternity—of study and discovery to fully understand it.” Yes! It is so simple that a child can grasp it! And it is so simple that I have something to share with you!

In speaking to the Nephites, the Lord twice exhorted them to become like a little child:

37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.

38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. 3 Nephi 11:37-38 (emphasis added)

Clearly, it’s important to become as a little child. While the Apostle Paul tells us to put away childish things (1 Corinthians 12:11), the Savior teaches us to become as a little child. What, then, differentiates childlike from childish? The Guide to the Scriptures defines the “Children of Christ” as those who have accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture references in this section say that these are the humble, the believing and those who put off the natural man. In preaching to people of Gideon, Alma listed qualities that I associate with being childlike: “… be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.” (Alma 7:23)  

Childish behavior, on the other hand, sounds to me like what Paul described in 2 Timothy 3:2 – selfish, covetous, disobedient, unthankful. The opposite of childlike. 

What then must we be doing to acquire the characteristics and traits listed by Alma and the scriptures to become as a little child? I say let’s go to Primary! Better yet, let’s go to Sharing Time and learn the songs of Primary!

Many years ago, B.I.—Before Internet—I read about a hierarchy of remembering information. This book (which I haven’t been able to re-find) claimed that recalling information set to music was associated with the highest levels of retention. Information set as a story was second and other types of retention and recall—seeing, hearing, reading—fell far below. Have you ever woken up with a song stuck in your head? My grandson loves the “Hickory Dickory Dock” song from the Mother Goose Club and plays it constantly. I can’t tell you how many times that song pops into my head at random times. While I don’t have evidence to support the contention that remembering things set to music is most effective, I do believe that music is a strong factor in helping us remember things.  And I do believe that the songs of Primary, which are “so simple a child can grasp” can help all of us grasp and remember the beautiful principles of the Gospel.

Like many of you, I joined the Church after childhood and did not get to attend Primary. But as an adult and a parent, I have now learned many of the songs.  Those of you who have heard me sing may rest easy: I shall not be singing anything to you today. I will only recite lyrics; however, for those of you who may not have attended Primary or who need a refresher, both the music and lyrics for most of these songs may be found in the Children’s Songbook at LDS.ORG.

What are the most primary teachings of the Church? I think they are found in the Articles of Faith.

Let us then begin to review the basic truths of “this beautifully simple Gospel” with the first Article of Faith: 

 1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. (Articles of Faith 1:1)  

In the January 2016 Ensign, Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland reminds us of Joseph Smith’s teachings: ““It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God.” Furthermore, he added, “I want you all to know Him, and to be familiar with Him.” We must have “a correct idea of his … perfections, and attributes” and an admiration for “the excellency of [His] character.”” (Jeffery R. Holland, January 2016 Ensign, Knowing the Godhead.)

What do Primary songs teach us about the character of Heavenly Father? Primary teaches us that He lives and that He loves us! Listen to the lyrics from “I Know My Father Lives” (Children’s Songbook, p. 5).

1. I know my Father lives and loves me too. The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true…

2. He sent me here to earth, by faith to live his plan. The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me that I can…

Did you hear that? The Spirit tells us that we have the ability to succeed. Sometimes we look at others who seem to be doing better than we are. We look at ourselves and think that we’re just not celestial material, that we’re just too imperfect to possibly reach exaltation. When you think that, to borrow another phrase from President Uchdorf, “Stop it!” Stop listening to that negative, discouraging self-talk and listen to the Sprit tell you that Heavenly Father sent us here to live His plan. And we can! (President Dieter F. Uchdorf, April 2012 Conference, The Merciful Obtain Mercy.)

The song “My Heavenly Father Loves Me” (Children’s Songbook, p. 228) reminds us that all things testify of God.

1. Whenever I hear the song of a bird Or look at the blue, blue sky, Whenever I feel the rain on my face Or the wind as it rushes by, Whenever I touch a velvet rose Or walk by our lilac tree, I'm glad that I live in this beautiful world Heav'nly Father created for me.

2. He gave me my eyes that I might see The color of butterfly wings. He gave me my ears that I might hear The magical sound of things. He gave me my life, my mind, my heart: I thank him rev'rently For all his creations, of which I'm a part. Yes, I know Heav'nly Father loves me.

Do you not rejoice when you see the beauty of the earth around you? The patchwork variety of greens in the mountains and crazy quilt of blues in the sea? Have you ever stroked the hilahila or sleeping grass plant and marveled at the way it curls up? Have you listened to the music of the waves at night? My heart gladdens whenever I see the radiance of a rainbow and I am also reminded of His covenant and that He will always keep His promises. I invite us all to look, to hear, to feel and to use all our senses to rediscover a childlike delight for and to rejoice in the beautiful world that Heavenly Father has created for us. I invite us all to pause from time to time, be still and breathe, and remember as we breathe who gave us our lives. I invite us to remember as we learn new things in our studies who gave us our mind. I invite us to look for connections to see that all things testify of God. And I invite us all to rejoice and give thanks as we do all these things.

Along with knowing who Heavenly Father is, Primary teaches us who we are in the beloved song, “I Am a Child of God.” Isn’t that a marvelous and gladsome thing to know? That we are children of the Almighty Creator of the heavens and the earth and that He loves us and cares about us individually! Yes, there are bumps and bruises, disappointments and sorrows in this earthly experience. But even though it rarely seems like it at the time we’re going through it, these mortal trials are truly just a small moment to us. Take a child’s perspective. Children don’t dwell on the scraped knees of yesterday. They fall down and then they jump back up. They may cry, ask for a Band-Aid and a hug. And maybe a cookie. But they don’t stop and wallow in the bad. They move on. They find the joy in the moment. Let us, too, rejoice in the moment and rejoice in being children of God!

What does Primary teach us about Jesus Christ? In the song “This is My Beloved Son” (Children’s Songbook, p. 76), we learn that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and we learn that the Savior accomplishes the Lord’s plan:

1. Jesus entered Jordan's waters When His work had just begun. God the Father spoke from heaven:  "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

2. Nephites gazing into heaven Saw their white-robed Savior come. And they heard the Father witness: "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

3. Joseph saw two glorious beings Shining brighter than the sun. God again presented Jesus: "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

4. As I read the scriptures daily--Words of Christ, the Holy One--In my heart I'll hear God tell me: "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

The last verse is especially important. Gaining a personal testimony of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, isn’t just for prophets, apostles and other Church leaders. It’s for you. It’s for me. As we study, pray and strive to obey, we can also receive a witness from the Father that Jesus Christ is His Beloved Son.

Primary teaches us of Heavenly Father’s Plan and the essential role of the Savior in His plan.  One of my favorite songs, “He Sent His Son” (Children’s Songbook, p. 34), beautifully expresses The Plan.

How could the Father tell the world of love and tenderness? He sent his Son, a newborn babe, with peace and holiness. How could the Father show the world the pathway we should go? He sent his Son to walk with men on earth, that we may know. How could the Father tell the world of sacrifice, of death? He sent his Son to die for us and rise with living breath. What does the Father ask of us? What do the scriptures say? Have faith, have hope, live like his Son, help others on their way. What does he ask? Live like his Son. 

What does Primary teach us about the Holy Ghost? Primary teaches us about the role of the Holy Ghost and how He communicates with us in the song “The Holy Ghost” (Children’s Songbook, p. 105).

1. When Christ was on the earth, He promised he would send The Holy Ghost to comfort us, Our true, eternal friend. The Holy Spirit whispers With a still small voice. He testifies of God and Christ And makes our hearts rejoice.

2. And when we are confirmed By sacred priesthood pow'r, The Holy Ghost is giv'n to us To guide us ev'ry hour. Oh, may I always listen To that still small voice. And with his light I'll do what's right Each time I make a choice.

C. S. Lewis, a British novelist perhaps best known for The Chronicles of Narnia, wrote an autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy in which he tells of his conversion to Christianity from atheism. The title phrase, “surprised by joy’” always makes me think of the Holy Ghost. How often have you felt the spirit give you a hug or whisper encouragement or felt a flood of joy for seemingly no reason at all? May we all unplug from our electronics and retreat from the din of daily life from time to time so that we can feel and hear the still small voice in our lives and be surprised by the joy he brings.

The First Article of Faith has given us a correct knowledge of the Godhead, foundation of our faith. The Fourth Article of Faith teaches us more about what we need to do:  “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Articles of Faith 1:4)

What does it mean to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? It’s more than a belief, although belief is the beginning. We don’t merely believe in the historical Jesus who walked the earth 2,000 years ago. Faith is an action word, not a passive word. We must actively follow the living Savior’s admonition in 3 Nephi 27:27 “…Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”

One of my favorite songs, “I’m Trying to Be like Jesus” (Children’s Songbook, p. 78), teaches us how we can be even as He is.

1. I’m trying to be like Jesus; I'm following in his ways. I'm trying to love as he did, in all that I do and say. At times I am tempted to make a wrong choice, But I try to listen as the still small voice whispers, "Love one another as Jesus loves you. Try to show kindness in all that you do. Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought, For these are the things Jesus taught."

2. I'm trying to love my neighbor; I'm learning to serve my friends. I watch for the day of gladness when Jesus will come again. I try to remember the lessons he taught. Then the Holy Spirit enters into my thoughts, saying: “Love one another as Jesus loves you. Try to show kindness in all that you do. Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought, For these are the things Jesus taught."

As we try to be like Jesus, our faith grows and the more our faith grows, the more we are able to be like Jesus. So wonderfully simple!

The second principal of the Gospel is repentance. The Gospel Topic, “Repentance” found on clarifies that, “Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, our Father in Heaven has provided the only way for us to be forgiven of our sins. Jesus Christ suffered the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven if we sincerely repent. As we repent and rely on His saving grace, we will be cleansed from sin.” Please do not mistake my next words that I am making light of our need to repent, or saying that it is an effortless thing of no consequence. Repentance is “essential to our temporal and eternal happiness.” (Gospel Topics, Repentance, LDS.ORG)  But, it’s not a difficult principle to grasp. While not necessarily easy, the steps are simple. They’re right in your hand: 1) Recognize that you are doing something wrong or not doing something right; 2) Regret your actions or inactions. This regret is a godly sorrow that you have offended God and others, not a worldly sorrow or embarrassment at having have been caught; 3) Report to Lord in your prayers, and to an ecclesiastical authority if necessary; 4) Restore to the best of your ability—if you’ve injured someone or something, do all that you can to make it right; 5) Resolve to sin no more.  And if you slip up, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat these steps with all sincerity of heart. Like a child learning to walk, you might not get it right the first time. Please remember, you don’t have to do it all alone. You don’t have to be perfect before you ask for help. Like an earthly parent teaching a toddler to walk, your Heavenly Father is there, waiting to help you, just a prayer away.

The song “Help Me Dear Father” (Children’s Songbook, p. 99) reassures us that help is near to hand.

1. Help me, dear Father, to freely forgive All who may seem unkind to me.  Help me each day, Father, I pray; Help me live nearer, nearer to thee.

2. Help me, dear Father, to truly repent, Making things right, and changing my ways. Help me each day, Father, I pray; Help me live nearer, nearer to thee.

President Spencer W. Kimball’s slogan was “Do it.” (Donald L. Hallstrom, October 2007 Conference, Do It Now)This slogan is particularly applicable to repentance.  Do it. Do it now. The longer you wait, the harder it is. I want to share a story I call the allegory of the stove. I am a terrible cook. I grew eating over-cooked, fairly bland meals. We seasoned food only with salt, pepper and onions. Garlic was considered an exotic spice. My husband, on the other hand, is an excellent cook, well acquainted with garlic and other exotic spices. Early on in our marriage he took over the cooking duties in self-defense while I assumed the kitchen clean-up tasks, which I am good at. This went fairly well until after baby number five joined our family. At that point caring for children, working full-time and trying to keep house became too much for me. Something had to give, and even though we had other little hands to help (and hinder), housework was the thing I let go. Every once in a while, though, I’d have a fit of energy and try to do a deep clean. While scrubbing away at some stubborn, burnt-on food on the stove one day, it occurred to me that scrubbing at this stain was a lot like sin and repentance. Had I taken care of the spill immediately, I would not have had to work so hard to remove it. And, as is true with sin, despite my best and sincere efforts, I could not completely remove the stain by myself. I had need of a Savior to redeem that which was beyond my ability to do. So, don’t delay. Don’t let your sin get “baked on.” Clean it up now. 

The third principal of the Gospel is baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. In Mosiah 18:8-9, Alma discusses the change of heart and commitments we make at baptism. Some of the words he used include “willing to bear one another’s burdens … mourn with those that mourn … [and] comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”

The lyrics of one of my favorite songs, “I’ll Walk With You” were written by Carol Lynn Pearson (Children’s Songbook, p. 140), and beautifully illustrate how we can bear one another’s burdens.

If you don't walk as most people do, Some people walk away from you, But I won't! …  If you don't talk as most people do, Some people talk and laugh at you, But I won't! … I'll walk with you. I'll talk with you. That's how I'll show my love for you. Jesus walked away from none. He gave his love to ev'ryone. So I will! I will! Jesus blessed all he could see, Then turned and said, "Come, follow me." And I will! I will! … I'll walk with you. I'll talk with you. That's how I'll show my love for you.

The fourth principal of the Gospel is the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. We already learned a little about the Holy Ghost in the First Article of Faith, and the song “Listen, Listen” (Children’s Songbook, p. 107) reminds us what to do.

1) Listen to the still small voice! Listen! Listen! (2) when you have to make a choice. He will guide you always.

In addition to assistance from the Holy Ghost, God has given us more tools help us on our journey back to Him: scriptures and prayer.

Have you ever heard children sing the song “Scripture Power?” (Music for Children) They sing the chorus with incredible gusto. Sing this to yourself when you are tempted to skip reading your scriptures, and I guarantee it will put you in the “mood” to study your scriptures.

1. Because I want to be like the Savior, and I can, I’m reading His instructions, I’m following His plan. Because I want the power His word will give to me, I’m changing how I live, I’m changing what I’ll be. Scripture power keeps me safe from sin. Scripture power is the power to win. Scripture power! Ev’ryday I need The power that I get each time I read.

2. I’ll find the sword of truth in each scripture that I learn. I’ll take the shield of faith from these pages that I turn. I’ll wear each vital part of the armor of the Lord, And fight my daily battles, and win a great reward. Scripture power keeps me safe from sin. Scripture power is the power to win. Scripture power! Ev’ryday I need The power that I get each time I read.

The second tool is prayer. Here is a story about a child’s prayer. 

Many years ago Saturdays were very hectic when we had four of our children playing soccer and going to many different fields. Usually my husband and I would divide and conquer, each taking some of the children. One particular morning was more chaotic than the usual flurry of getting kids up and dressed, soccer snacks prepared and everyone out the door on time for their respective games. One child came to me and said she couldn’t find her shoes. Instead of responding like one of those kind mothers you read about in the children’s magazine, The Friend, I snapped at her that she’d best find those shoes or she wouldn’t be playing. This sweet child went to her room and, believing God and His promises that He hears and answers prayers, she knelt in prayer, asking her Heavenly Father where her missing shoes could be found. He blessed her and told her where to look—in a place none of us would have thought of! How simple the faith of a child! The Lord said “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you;” (Matthew 7:7) He also said, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10) When we ask in faith, we receive. It may not be the answer we want and it may not be as quickly as we would prefer, but we will always receive. 

I have a second story about prayer to share. This time it is of an adult who sometimes forgets to become like a little child. Yes, that adult is me. One day a few months ago I was the last person to leave the house and when I got to the door, I discovered that I did not have my keys. Now I am admittedly old and often forgetful, and I am very particular about keeping my keys in one place. But this morning, no keys. I retraced my steps through the house, while sending up what Cynthia Compton called “little sparrow prayers” in her devotional of November 18, 2008. Sparrow prayers are the quick prayers in your heart: gratitude for rainbows, a prayer for the hurt when an ambulance goes past, and asking for help in finding your keys. As I was frantically looking in the spots I’d already checked, I received the impression to look in the trash. I dismissed that impression and even told the Lord that while I knew I was old and losing it, I was positive I hadn’t thrown them in the trash. I even looked in the refrigerator, but no keys. I continued looking and sending up my sparrow prayers and the impression to look in the trash persisted. I finally heeded the prompting and looked in the trash. No, the keys were not there. What was there was an empty packet of cat treats, which reminded me that I had given the cat a treat a few minutes previously. When I returned to the place where we feed the cat, lo and behold, there were my keys. Now I know the Lord could have told me that in the first place. And I’m sure He had a wry chuckle while He waited for silly daughter to stop scrambling around before finally heeding His prompting. But, mostly I think the experience was to remind me of two lessons: 1) It was a reminder that I can’t do everything by myself; and 2) when we ask the Lord for assistance, we need to be prepared to follow His prompting without questioning it. 

In conclusion, I believe a good reason to seek Gospel truths in the simple songs of children is that they do get stuck in your head. If you’re going to have something stuck in your head, why not make it something uplifting? The song “Hum Your Favorite Hymn” (Children’s Songbook, p. 152) sums it up best: 

1. If on occasion you have found Your language is in question, Or ugly thoughts come to your mind, Then here's a good suggestion.  Just hum your favorite hymn, Sing out with vigor and vim, And you will find it clears your mind. Hum your favorite hymn.

2. Before you say an angry word, Remember you'll regret it, For once it's said the harm is done, And some folks won't forget it.  Just hum your favorite hymn, Sing out with vigor and vim, And you will find it clears your mind. Hum your favorite hymn.

Your mind can only entertain one thought at a time. So, make it a good one!

Brothers and Sisters, this Gospel is indeed “…so simple a child can grasp it, yet so profound and complex that it will take a lifetime—even an eternity—of study and discovery to fully understand it.” (President Dieter F. Uchdorf, November 2015 Conference, It Works Wonderfully.)The simple truth is that God the Father lives and He loves us. Jesus Christ is His Son and He is the only way home to the Father. May we all revisit Primary Sharing Time and fill our minds and hearts with the Gospel truths found in the simple songs the children sing. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.