During my time here, I have been so blessed to work with you wonderful BYU-Idaho students. On my first day of classes of my first semester as a teacher here, my youngest son was born! This past summer (22 years later), that son was married in the Idaho Falls Temple. We welcome our new daughter-in-law and I’m so grateful and proud of all my children, their spouses and my 14 grandchildren. Seeing all our children and their spouses in the temple with me and my sweet wife was a piece of heaven!
They bring me so much joy!
In the temple, after speaking those beautiful words of sealing ordinance, the sealer said, “You have everything you need now.” I’ve pondered those words and it’s great to know that once we reach the sealing room, we are at that point where we have received all ordinances and entered into all the covenants necessary for salvation, but we must now live those covenants and do as Moroni said: “Become the sons [and daughters] of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him.” In the gospel we have or will have everything we need, but the journey of becoming is still in progress!
Now I humbly invite the Spirit to help us as we consider some special words recorded by Matthew and spoken by our Savior.
When the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child unto him and set him in the midst of them “and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
The Savior continued, “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
I hear two messages in these sacred verses important for all of us that have any association with children and especially for new parents and soon to be parents (that includes many of you). The first is we are asked to be converted and become as little children. The second message I hear is that we should treat and receive little children in Christ’s name! Let’s explore these two incredible teachings of the Savior!
When we hear “become as little children,” we probably think of some of the positive things we know about children. It’s reported that adults laugh 17 times a day and children laugh 300 times a day. We also know that they are innocent, humble, and say the cutest things. Sometimes we see that they tune in to the most important things of life, such as relationships and forgiveness. When we think of those things, we can see why Christ commanded us to be like little children.
With my experience with children, I could easily say, “If you’re going to become like little children, then we should throw tantrums, pout when we are seeking attention, and be egocentric most of the time!” No, I’m not describing your roommate or spouse, I’m talking about children.
Yes, these are true negative behaviors of children who are learning to deal with newly introduced emotions! We can also learn from children during these not-so-great moments of distress! I have discovered both by study and observation that these misbehaviors are a form of communication and often can tell us that there is a need not being met. We as mortals often miss those communications and respond in a counterproductive way. God, our perfect parent, on the other hand, responds with kindness but with clear expectations, perfectly.
Can we receive children in a more godly way in those bad moments? Can we become as little children, humble and willing to learn even on our bad days?
Let me illustrate these possibilities with a few examples from the child labs here on campus, in which I have spent many years learning with my students in their practicum classes. We had a preschooler who would get upset and turn tables over, hit the teachers, and intimidate the other children. This little boy frequently became the topic of our post lab discussions as we addressed our frustrations and possible solutions.
In the observation booth one day, the mother of this very child showed up. As we visited, the mom explained that her son was adopted at age two and they had little knowledge about him before being adopted. She also explained some of the struggles at home.
As his situation was shared with the preschool teaching team, our love for him increased. As we considered his life and the challenges he had, we began each day to spend time with him, giving him positive attention during the moments when he was on task, and giving choices to help him feel more in control. We met some needs and filled his cup, so to speak. Over time, he responded positively to the teachers and other children. Our team and the parents were all excited to see him become happier and to experience preschool positively.
Most children are a joy and show pleasant behaviors most of the time, but I have seen almost all children I know misbehave too. They might push, bite, pout, run away, be anxious, melt down emotionally, and even act defiantly. However, when we respond in a kind, loving, and peaceful way to a child, and our intentions are to help them meet their needs, the child often becomes teachable and starts to develop in a positive way.
It is fitting that our dear prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, has pled with us in our April conference to become peacemakers, and a few weeks ago he pled with us to think celestial. He said, “In situations that are highly charged and filled with contention, I invite you to remember Jesus Christ.” He also told us that “we can literally change the world—one person and one interaction at a time.” It is true with our fellowmen, and it is true with our children. So, remember Jesus Christ when you are dealing with a child in stressful situations!
Let me share another experience from the child labs here on campus to illustrate the power of a celestial thinker or a peacemaker when dealing with children! But also, how children become teachable, as we should when being as little children. Free play in the preschool went well this particular semester, but as the teachers tried to direct the preschool children, many of the children created chaos. They would avoid the teachers’ expectations and miss or disrupt the gathering experience.
I decided to go in and give them a hand. I thought to myself, “The children should respond to a male teacher with a white shirt and a tie, right?” I walked into the room and the first little girl that I verbally prompted to go to gathering time and with a gentle nudge on the shoulder, did a shoulder roll and away she went. The white shirt and the tie had no impact.
I thought, “Let’s see, what have I been telling my students? Oh yeah, focus on the relationship, with kindness set limits, and help the child make good choices.” That’s what I’ve been telling them!
Desperately trying to know how in this situation to do that (I felt like a student), I noticed she had pink polka-dotted jeans. I have four daughters, so I know a little bit about polka-dots! So, I asked her about her polka-dotted jeans. She pointed out immediately her pink cowboy boots, but she wanted to take them off. In my mind I said, “Oh no, we’re never going to get to go to gathering time.”
Then she started taking her socks off. My impulse was “I must stop her,” but I waited and listened. As things unfolded, she took both her socks and boots off because there was sand in them. So, we cleaned out her socks and boots and put them back on. I then invited her to go to gathering time with something to hold and she went right over and sat down and participated. Her needs were met, someone cared more about her than their own agenda, and she followed the simple routine of the day.
Even when children are struggling, we can take lessons from them. Part of becoming like little children means when we are struggling emotionally, physically, or spiritually we can choose to feel Christ’s grace and love and become teachable. Also, I learned with a little stretching on our part, we can remember Christ and receive a child’s struggles and tantrums with kindness and then watch that little soul become teachable. When I was struggling to know how to help children in stressful situations, I remember learning from a dear colleague who gently prompted a resistant preschooler three or four times over a short period of time. Finally, the child realized that the expectation was not going away, and he responded positively! Because of the kindness she showed, the relationship was maintained, integrity of the child was respected, and the child acted with his own agency. Since that day, I’ve taught my students to be gentle and persistent, so children know our actions are in their best interest. Children need limits, they need expectations, but they also need to be loved and respected.
The proclamation on the family states:
Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to . . . rear their children in love and righteousness, …to teach them to love and serve …, observe the commandments of God, …. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are … maintained [through] … forgiveness, respect, love, [and] compassion.
Living these words of Christ provided through the family proclamation are how to receive a child in Christ’s name. I believe we receive children in the name of Christ when we treat and help them in the way the Savior would.
For some of us, we may not have parents, family members, or even friends that respond with the love we need, but we always have a Savior that responds and Father in Heaven that is ready to receive us with love, even on your worst day.
No matter what experience you have had or the lack of control of the past, we can strive to build a family that is more like our heavenly parents. God our Father parents us perfectly, but we as developing spirits often parent our children imperfectly—because we are learning as we go. We will have to ask for forgiveness and seek the spirit to refine us as we parent our children. As offspring, we will have to forgive our parents when they fall short. But remember, as our dear prophet has counseled us, we can change the world one interaction at a time.
Like all the children in any setting, they must learn to live in a world of expectations. We as children of God must see that God has expectations for us and He “chastens those he loves,” but He wants us to become and not just conform. When we are corrected or chastised, we must remain teachable, or God will not be able to mold us! Our broken hearts and contrite spirits are essential to being sanctified by God’s Holy Spirit. God loves us so much He has high expectations, but at the same time He has mercy that is so immense that we cannot comprehend it.
A lifelong struggle in parenting, teaching, or leading is finding the balance between expectations and compassion, justice and mercy, or standards and love! Years ago, I asked a question in a faculty meeting about how to balance justice and mercy in a college course. Kim B. Clark, president of BYU-Idaho at that time, explained this.
He told us to have high expectations and high love as we work with our students in our courses. Any other variation such as high love and low expectations or low love and high expectations will likely not help a student learn nor reach his or her full potential.
These principles have helped me to understand the teaching, learning, and developing process, but the struggle has not changed over the past 22 years! I am still trying to find the Goldilocks Zone, because every student and every child I work with is different.
In parallel, God our Heavenly Parent sends His teachers to His children using prophets who have the same wrestle. Did you walk away from general conference a few weeks ago feeling God’s love but also being prompted to do more or even to change? In a very profound way these chosen servants teach us that God loves us and “Jesus Christ has done everything that is essential for our journey through mortality.” Our dear Savior has already paid the “full price” for us, but we continue to need to repent, live the commandments, overcome weaknesses and trials so we transform and become.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “For most of us, the changes are more gradual and occur over time. Being born again, unlike our physical birth, is more a process than an event. And engaging in that process is the central purpose of mortality.”
I believe, when we enter into God’s rest, we have faith that our perfect Father and perfect Savior have taken care of everything and then we turn to Them with our weaknesses as calves in Their stalls and They stretch and sanctify us day by day, nudge by nudge!
Listen to Paul’s words here:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons [and daughters or little children] of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
Can you feel the high love? Abba? Can you feel the high expectations? Suffer with him?
We must rely on Christ as Moroni wrote: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; . . . and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; . . . that ye become holy, without spot.”
His grace is sufficient. We cannot save ourselves, but Christ can make us holy!
Many of you are embarking on parenthood, many others will soon be. Others will have a deep and rich association with children in other capacities. I challenge you to receive these little ones in the name of Jesus Christ by treating them and loving them in a Christlike way. Help your children feel Christ’s love by the way you treat them.
I also challenge you to have faith that you have been atoned for, yes you! I invite you to be as a little child and hear Christ’s voice, live His expectations, doctrines, and commandments to the best of your ability. Little by little become what God intended you to become. Struggle! Because He loves you and you love Him as a little child! And then God will receive you in Jesus Christ’s name!
My testimony is strengthened as I have seen people in many walks of life hearing Christ’s voice. I am strengthened by us, our BYU-Idaho family, and others who are living His doctrines and commandments to the best of our ability. We are being taught as little children and are receiving others in Christ’s name. I see many being peacemakers and ministering to others. We are all striving to have faith in Christ and to repent and be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. I testify that I see with my experiences that Jesus Christ’s Church has been restored, and that the keys of the kingdom of God are working in the lives of His Saints. I see the gathering happening in you students by your silent testimonies of obedience and integrity. And why? Because Jesus Christ is our King of kings, he is our Lord of lords and I testify He is gathering you and I if we can but abide in Him, He will abide in us and make us His. I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Moroni 7:48.
 Matthew 18:1–4.
 Matthew 18:5–6.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Peacemakers Makers Needed,” Liahona, May 2023, 98.
 “The Family: The Proclamation to the World,” Gospel Library.
 See Nelson, “Peacemakers Makers Needed.”
 Hebrews 12:5–7.
 See 2 Nephi 26: 24–25.
 Dallin H. Oaks, “What Has Our Savior Done for Us?,” Liahona, May 2021, 75.
 Galatians 3:13.
 See Brad Wilcox, “His Grace is Sufficient,” Ensign or Liahona, Sept. 2013, 43.
 See Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, Oct. 2000, 32.
 D. Todd Christopherson, “Born Again,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 78.
 See 3 Nephi 25:2.
 Romans 8:14–17.
 Moroni 10:32–33.