Jesus taught, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom heaven" (Matthew 18:3). What are the virtues inherent in little children?
In the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, King Benjamin counsels us to put "off the natural man" (Mosiah 3:19). He then details the qualities of a child we are to emulate: "submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love" (Mosiah 3:19).
For many believers, developing these childlike qualities is challenging in a world whose trademark is selfishness. Let’s examine each of the qualities mentioned by King Benjamin.
Webster’s defines submissive as "yielding to governance or authority." My little granddaughter submits to her parents, not because they coerce her submission, but because yielding to them is a natural outflow of their love, comfort and safety.
We yield to that which we love. The Savior warned, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24).
Divided loyalty divides our love. Those who are submissive to God center their love in him.
Meek is not weak. Godly meekness commands respect by example. The meek are not concerned with the chest-pound of first place. They lift those in their charge and are genuinely happy when others succeed. Besides, those who hoard the world’s blessings lose them, while the meek "inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).
Observe how quickly a child forgives and forgets. A forgiving heart is a central feature of humility. Consider how a humble person is free to forgive, while a prideful person is enslaved by grudges. The chains of an unforgiving heart bind our ability to love unconditionally.
"When pride has a hold of our hearts, we lose our independence of the world and deliver our freedoms to the bondage of men’s judgment," said President Ezra Taft Benson in the talk titled "Beware of Pride" (see Ensign, May 1986).
In the Guide to the Scriptures, patience is defined as "the ability to endure affliction, insult or injury without complaint or retaliation." While most would argue that patience is not a childlike virtue, young children are resilient. In that sense, they are spiritually patient.
The apostle Paul said that "tribulation worketh patience" (Romans 5:3).
A key barometer of our closeness to God is our response to tribulation. The question isn’t whether adversity will strike but when? Our response to adversity largely determines our spiritual growth toward Godly patience.
Full of love
If anything defines the Savior’s ministry, it is love. Jesus loved little children and often took them into his arms to minister to their needs.
When I picture love, I remember our firstborn son, his toddler face stained with spaghetti sauce and that toothless smile melting our hearts; never mind the pasta festooning his head or the meatballs plastered against the wall.
As an aging parent, I have learned to love more and criticize less. Your young children will soon leave your charge to find their way in the world.
Consider this counsel from Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "We listen in vain but with eager ears for children’s voices we once thought too shrill, too constant — even irritating. Yet that cacophony of children, which we once called noise, was actually sweet sound, a sound we yearn to hear again if we but could" (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "The Precious Promise," Liahona, April 2004).
Childlike virtues are not childish. For Christians, becoming "as a child" is the door to heaven.
Humility is not weakness, submissiveness is not surrender — at least not in the worldly sense. May we recognize that becoming childlike is the first teetering step in learning to walk the disciple’s road.
William Monahan graduated from BYU law school. An Air Force veteran and former Phoenix stake president, he teaches law and serves as a high councilor for the Queen Creek Chandler Heights Stake. He will begin service July 2012 as a mission president.