Recently ten of our area church congregations met together in a semi-annual conference. This is one long two-hour meeting, and it can be tough for little kids to sit through.
A few days later, I saw one young mother, a member of this expanded congregation, whom I had recognized as being at the meeting. I commented that it was good to see her there. She sighed and exclaimed, “I don’t know why I bother to go! My young girls don’t pay attention, and I don’t hear a word that is said while I try to keep them entertained!” She then added one more frustrated phrase: “It would just be easier to stay home from those meetings!”
Even though I knew that she was speaking in frustration, that added line pricked my heart. It was a dangerous thought to entertain, and yet an honest emotion that many members feel each time these meeting approach. Why bother?
I think the number one reason is explained by Jesus himself. Jesus called the little children unto him, and said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (see Luke 18:16).
Come unto me. Forbid them not. Jesus Himself didn’t find their youthful behavior annoying, distracting, or unwelcome. Rather, He admired their innocence. He welcomed their presence. Surely they understood more than many of the rude adults who approached Him in His ministry.
Unfortunately, on the spot I didn’t think of that reason. But I did think of this: “Train up a child in the way [s]he should go: and when [s]he is old, [s]he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). If this young mother gave in to the temptation in her mind, like many of her peers did, then she would still be training her children in the importance of attending the meeting – in the opposite way. When those girls grow older, they will have learned from the example of their parents that it is easier to stay home and skip that week of services. When they are old enough to listen and appreciate the messages, they won’t be in attendance to hear them.
So to that young mother, I say keep trying! The Lord recognizes your best efforts to raise His spirit daughters! Even though today you are chasing crayons that fall to the floor, in a few years you will be guiding the same young ladies through enemy-occupied territory of sin which this world will willingly offer to them.
They will know to choose the good, because you showed them in the small and simple things! (Alma 37:6)
See also the excellent talk “The Doctrinal Importance of Marriage and Children” by Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.