I work in our church in the organization that teaches the children, called “Primary.” My role is to travel around to the nine different wards (congregations) in our “stake” unit and assist the Primary leaders as they try to accomplish their goals in teaching children the gospel of Jesus Christ. Last November when we held a training for these leaders, I gave this talk. I felt very strongly, as I preparing for it over the course of a couple of months, and as I was writing it, that my Heavenly Father was inspiring me. Not just in regards to something He wanted me to say to others, but with things He wanted me to learn for myself. With that feeling of inspiration in mind, I would like to share it.
Over the last year and a half, my husband and I have made some firm decisions about the way our family eats at home. We decided to have less of the food that is just enjoyable and satisfying in the moment, but nutritionally empty or even damaging long term (junk food), and more of the food that is going to help us feel good now and in the long term.
We do believe that it is okay to add in food to our diets, every once in a while, that is not ideal – celebratory food or holiday food, or even junk food. But we quickly came to realize that we don’t need to provide that less-than-ideal food for our kids, because they have plenty of opportunities to get it outside of our house –you have probably noticed this with your own kids – they get a piece of candy from their teacher for good behavior, cupcakes for a classmate’s birthday, pizza parties at the end of a soccer season. Then there are holidays like Halloween and Christmas, …the list is endless. There are plenty of chances for junk food without us providing it.
With all of these occasions for eating just plain ol’ bad food, we knew that we needed to give them ten times the opportunities at home to eat just plain GOOD food. Ideal food. The food that is the very very best for them. I have to tell you that were are far far away from giving them ideal food in our home for every single meal, but every time I am able to, I know our health is better for it, and the more good food we eat, the more we all crave it and appreciate it, and want more of it.
So what is more important than their physical nourishment? Their spiritual nourishment. What if we applied those same principles to the children in our home and in our Primary?
We know that they are going to get a lot of spiritual junk food outside of church and our homes. What is that spiritual junk food? Something that might taste good and satisfying in the moment but does nothing for them long term. Something that feeds them in the moment but ultimately leaves them starving. They are surrounded these empty calories – movies, video games, music….technology has made every type of spiritual junk food available each at every moment of the day. Not only are our children fed a lot of empty calories, many of them will be exposed to other things go far beyond that, things that are soul damaging – pornography, violence, cruelty. In our last General Conference, Elder Quentin A. Cook spoke about the poisonous culture we are surrounding by and he told this story,
“President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and I were recently in an Amazon jungle village and observed satellite dishes even on some of the small, simply built huts. We rejoiced at the wonderful information available in this remote area. We also recognized there is virtually no place on earth that cannot be impacted by salacious, immoral, and titillating images. This is one reason why pornography has become such a plague in our day.”
We can’t always help what our children ingest while they are out in the world, and we certainly have no control over what all of our Primary children are fed. But when they walk into our home or our Primary room, we do have control – and that is what is so incredibly exciting about Primary. We have the IDEAL spiritual food. We have the spiritual food that is the very very best for them. We have the gospel of Jesus Christ. We know that it is fulfilling not just now, in the moment, but for every day, and for eternity. Each and every week, when our kids walk into Primary, we get to nourish their souls….just fill them up to the brim with the word of God. They can taste how beautiful and satisfying the gospel is for themselves and begin crave it more than the junk food that surrounds them once they leave the building.
I love that idea. I love that ideal – of what Primary could really really be about. It is a beautiful picture that I have painted, right? But when it comes down to being practical….how in the world do you accomplish that? I don’t have all those answers for you and I am not even going attempt to get specific for how you can accomplish that in your ward or branch because there are no right answers for all of you – you all have different needs and challenges. But, I would like to give some broader ideas that will help you find your own answers.
#1. Before you can nourish the Primary kids, you need to nourish yourself. We hear this over and over and over again. Read your scriptures, say your prayers. We teach it to our kids. But do we truly truly make it a priority in our lives? And I am not just talking about two verses right before your head drops on the pillow. That is a start, for sure, but I am talking about studying, and conversations with our Heavenly Father. Are you feeding yourself spiritual junk food? I am sure many of you will remember Sister Ann Dibb’s talk from General Conference last October – I Know It. I Live it. I Love it. She addressed spiritual nourishment and said, “In today’s world, there are a multitude of activities, subjects, and interests vying for every minute of our attention. With so many distractions, do we have the strength, discipline, and commitment to remain focused on what matters most? Are we as well versed in gospel truths as we are in our studies, careers, hobbies, sports, or our texts and tweets? Do we actively seek to find answers to our questions by feasting on the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets? Do we seek the confirmation of the Spirit?”
We need to be more deliberate with what we feed ourselves. Start by cutting out some of those empty calories – things that are an easy break for your mind but don’t really do much for your spirit. But then after you have cut those calories, don’t stop there - replace them with the word of God. Scriptures, hymns, general conference talks, the Ensign, the Mormon Channel….there are so many available resources that we can just gorge on.
What will happen when you dedicate yourself to your own spiritual nourishment? Our Heavenly Father has promised he will bless us – this kind of dedication will take your time, but it will give you more time in return. It will take focus, but it will give you more focus – better focus. If you tell your Heavenly Father, “I am going to be as spiritually fit as possible so that I can be a better tool for YOU. I want you to be able to use me to bless others, so I am going make sure I am prepared to do that”…..He WILL use you. He will accomplish his work through you –work that is more glorious than any work you could do alone. He will answer your questions about how to best bless your primary children. He will let you know what you should be focusing on in sharing time. He will help you figure out how to bring more reverence. The more spiritually nourished you are, the better tool you are for him.
Which brings me to my next point:
#2 Remember that we are not the true teacher, the Holy Ghost is.
Elder Craig Christiansen told a story during general conference that illustrated this point perfectly. He talked about taking his children to the Bountiful Temple open house.
“We labored diligently to prepare our children to enter the temple, praying earnestly that they would have a spiritual experience so that the temple would become a focal point in their lives.
As we reverently walked through the temple, I found myself admiring the magnificent architecture, the elegant finishes, the light shining through towering windows, and many of the inspiring paintings. Every aspect of this sacred building was truly exquisite.
Stepping into the celestial room, I suddenly realized that our youngest son, six-year-old Ben, was clinging to my leg. He appeared anxious—perhaps even a little troubled.
“What’s wrong, Son?” I whispered.
“Daddy,” he replied, “what’s happening here? I’ve never felt this way before.”
Recognizing that this was likely the first time our young son had felt the influence of the Holy Ghost in such a powerful way, I knelt down on the floor next to him. While other visitors stepped around us, Ben and I spent several minutes, side by side, learning about the Holy Ghost together. I was amazed at the ease with which we were able to discuss his sacred feelings. As we talked, it became clear that what was most inspiring to Ben was not what he saw but what he felt—not the physical beauty around us but the still, small voice of the Spirit of God within his heart.”
When we have talked as a stake presidency about what we want most for the children in Primary, we always circle back to two things. First, we want to provide them with opportunities to feel the Holy Ghost. Second, we want them to learn to recognize when the Holy Ghost is speaking to them. These two things are what convert them for life to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This principle helps us so much in determining how to go about teaching Primary. Just like the story, we need to do what we can to invite the Spirit. We can prepare stellar sharing time lessons and engaging singing activities, but they should all serve to teach about the Savior and to invite the Holy Ghost. Just as Elder Christensen’s son didn’t walk away from the temple just remembering the architecture, we don’t want our kids walking away from Primary just remembering our cute bunting.
When we talk about every child learning this year’s theme, we mean that we really want them to learn it. We want them to learn it in their mind and their heart. We don’t want them to just be able to repeat it back to us. We want each of them to know for themselves that they are truly a Child of God. This knowledge will help them make good choices outside of Primary. This knowledge will affect them for the rest of their lives.
My last point:
#3 These are God’s children and This is His work.
Elder Holland gave a very powerful talk during General Conference. He talked about what the Savior taught his disciples when the Savior returned as a resurrected being. Elder Holland elaborated on what is in the scriptures. He talked about what the Savior said to Peter when Peter answered for a third time that he loved the Savior. This is what Elder Holland said,
“To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.”
Listening to this talk, I was sure that a lot of people thought of missionary work, but I immediately thought about our Primary children. Every week, we are feeding His sheep. Sharing time is not a feeble message. Teaching the Sunbeams and 11 year olds is not hapless or hopeless. Primary is not a throwaway calling. It is the work of the Almighty God.
What an incredible work it is we have been called to do! I hope we can inspire all of our leaders about how important and awesome this work of feeding His sheep is. I hope we can pray for specific actions we can take to accomplish His work, and for specific answers to the problems we each face. I know that as we feed them the best spiritual food available – the word of God- they will learn to love and savor it. The Holy Ghost will help them recognize the truth they hear, and they will want to feast on His words. The spiritual junk food that the world offers them will lose its appeal.
I know that these are His precious children and I know He will guide each of us as we spiritually feed His Sheep.
I testify these things in the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ.