I have been thinking much - perhaps because of my calling in the Primary, perhaps because my thoughts have drifted as of late to my unborn children - about how to protect children from the wiles of the world as it grows more and more sinister, especially from the clutches of that dreaded plague, pornography.
As I have read the end of 2 Nephi and the beginning chapters of Jacob in the Book of Mormon, my mind has been directed to their emphasis on the Savior. Nephi writes (or chisels, more like), "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Chirst, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins."
Again, Jacob writes/chisels: "we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts...For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us."
As we have been teaching the six and seven year olds in our Primary class, my mind has pondered these scriptures: how can I help the children develop testimonies of Christ? How can they begin to understand the atonement, a complicated concept, at their tender age?
As I have dwelt on this, I have become convinced that the greatest gift we - my husband and I - can give them, and one that will help them later guard against the wiles of the world - are experiences where they can develop a testimony of their Savior, Jesus Christ.
Yet, I asked, how is this done?
As background, there has been a methodical process we have followed in teaching them line upon line gospel principles to build up to the culminating doctrine of Christ: asking, gratitude, putting those two things together in faithful prayers, what the Spirit feels like, and how to navigate the scriptures. We have also gotten them reading the Book of Mormon with a reward system. (If there is enough good feedback (or even a little) in response to this blog, I can post the structure of what we have taught, but putting it all here would be complicated).
Yet gaining a testimony of and developing a relationship with Jesus Christ is actually more complicated than developing a relationship with Heavenly Father, to whom we pray and receive answers, and understanding--and feeling--the Holy Spirit.
As I have prayerfully thought about how to help them gain testimonies of Jesus Christ, I have wondered how children who cannot sin and therefore are not in need the atonement (in my faith, we believe children are not in need of repentance till they are accountable, which age we specify as 8, when they can chose to be baptized) can develop a testimony of that atonement.
I realized in my musings, however, that the atonement is about more than repentance. I learned on my mission that we need the Savior's atonement anytime we fall short of the example Jesus Christ set, and that the atonement can change our natures such to become better. Could I help the children identify how they could become better, and then ask Heavenly Father in prayer that Christ change them in that way?
It was worth a try.
To prepare them for this experiment, two lessons ago, we taught about the #1 role of the Spirit (which they now know how to recognize) being to testify of Jesus Christ.
Then last lesson, I taught from Amulek's teachings (which story they are reading right now at home) that no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. I focused on how we need to be perfect to be in God's presence. Then, I had them close their eyes and imagine themselves as perfect children - what they would be like in heaven.
Next, I had them open their eyes and describe how the child they imagined was different from how they were right now. They said they would be more obedient to their parents, not hit their siblings, be better and more diligent at school, and so the list went on. They were getting, I thought.
I then shifted to my experiences with things that were not perfect about me--being controlling, for example. I was frustrated that I was that way, and asked continually for months in prayer that I be changed by the atonement. One day, after figuring out exactly what I was afraid of happening, I found that my heart felt different. I had been changed. I didn't understand how or why, but I knew that the Savior had changed me.
I then explained to the children that the Savior could change them, too. He could take the things that they had identified were not perfect about themselves, and change them. Their assignment then was to think about the thing that they would most want to change about themselves, and report back when we met again (would be a while because we were traveling and because General Conference, this weekend, interrupted our normal weekly lessons).
Crazy and winding and complicated as this all seemed to be, my husband commented that he thought they got it - they believed that Christ could change them, and they were going to think about something they wanted Him to change. Perfect.
In the next lesson, I will have them report in with their one thing. The follow-on assignment will be to have them add to their weekly "prayer lists" this thing that they will ask to have Christ change. We will follow up over the course of several weeks, and pray ourselves that our little experiment will work - that they will find themselves changed and begin their testimony of Jesus Christ's atonement. During those intervening weeks, we will focus on trying to explain the atonement and challenge them to begin underlining in red verses in their Book of Mormon readings that discuss Jesus Christ, but I think having them experience it will be so much more meaningful, powerful, and easier to understand.
Here's hoping our little experiment will work!