I spend a lot of time on this mission with Navy wives and their young children. Not since my daughters were small have I been around children this much. I’m having a blast being grandma to lots of precious grandkids, from infants to teenagers. The short ones run up to me with arms outstretched for a hug. One young imp, when she sees me in the grocery store from her shopping cart perch, and much to the embarrassment of her mom, hollers “DRAPER!” loud enough for all the customers to hear. The teenagers think I’m cool because I scuba dive and don’t look like a typical grandma. The babies mold into me when I hold them. When children come with their parents to dinner at our apartment they line up to get whipped cream squirted directly into their mouth or turn the handle of the pasta maker. Elder Draper is having just as much fun as I am, playing games with the pre-schoolers and joking around with the older kids.
|Making pasta for Family Nightwith the Ellis family|
I get to observe a variety of parenting styles under a variety of conditions. And I’ve observed a few constants: a love for their children and a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of patience.
When their children misbehave, as is the nature of all children from time to time, their parents lovingly, firmly, and patiently discipline them. The child eventually gets back on track, enjoys a warm embrace from mom or dad and all is well – for a while, at least.
Young children cannot understand the complicated workings of the parental mind. They can’t understand the reasons behind all the rules they must obey. They don’t comprehend their mangled body after getting hit by a car (“Hold my hand when we cross the street”) or the intense pain and blistering of a burn (“Don’t touch the stove”) or the long-term consequences of malnutrition (“Eat your food”). But their parents understand. They love their children and want to see them grow up healthy, mature, responsible, caring adults. All children know is that they must obey their parents or incur a bit of discipline. What a child does understand is a parent’s love. He learns from tender discipline and wants to please.
They aren’t aware of it but these Navy parents have taught me a lot about the character of God, our Heavenly Parent.
|Maria and Kassy|
Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you (Doctrine and Covenants 78:17).
Neither Maria, nor any of the moms and dads we’ve met on this mission, would ever say to their child “I’m SO DONE WITH YOU. I’ve had it! You’ve thrown one too many temper tantrums, spilled one too many glasses of milk, hit your brother one too many times. That’s it! We’re through. I’m not dealing with you anymore!” Instead, they discipline, love, teach, and forgive countless times a day, everyday. They do this because of the massive love they have for their children, and they recognize the inherent limited comprehension of a child that age. They know their child cannot understand all that a parent knows. The child is just a little child who still has many years and experiences to go until they acquire an adult’s understanding.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“the Mormons”) we believe we are all children of a benevolent God, a Heavenly Father, a glorified and perfected Man, the Creator of the universe and all that is in it. Despite all our intellectual acumen, our maturity compared with God’s is as a three-year old’s to her mortal parents. He no more would say to us, “I’m SO DONE WITH YOU!” than Maria would to her daughter.
What is remarkable to me is that God’s patience never seems to run out. In just a relatively few short years our kids are grown and gone from our homes, and then we no longer have to deal with the daily love-discipline-forgiveness cycle. But not so with God. Throughout all the years of human history He never seems to tire of His role as Eternal Parent disciplining, forgiving, and then blessing His children. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t. I imagine God must sometimes get exasperated with us, but he never ever tells us He’s through with us. He may weep at our disobedience (Moses 7:32-33, Pearl of Great Price), but as the perfect parent He continues to patiently teach, discipline, love, and forgive when His children get back on track.
O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart. (3 Nephi 10:6, Book of Mormon)
No wonder Christ taught that we should be as little children: meek, humble, willing to submit to and depend on their parents, eager to please, quick to love. These are the attributes that bring joy to the parent of any child, including our Heavenly one.
Because we are “little children and…cannot bear all things now; [we] must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:40). He gives us basic rules to follow, sees the big picture, knows our potential, and has a massive love for each of us that I can only begin to appreciate as I watch these young Navy parents with their children. At some point, perhaps far into our future and after this mortal existence, we will continue beyond the lessons of mortality and grow up enough to have the maturity and knowledge of our Heavenly Father. If we learn well what He so painstakingly teaches us then we can expect to grow into the sons and daughters we were meant to be.
We are His greatest creation and His number one priority: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39, PG). And like Kassy, and all the other young Navy children I play grandmother to, who will grow up to be responsible adults and parents like their moms and dads, as God’s three-year olds we also have the potential to one day become like our Heavenly Parent.