Primary Strengthens Families


Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary General President
2011 Primary Auxiliary Training Meeting

Welcome to Primary!

We all share love for children, and today we look at each other with glances of hope:

  • Hope for each child’s future.
  • Hope for families.
  • Hope for the mothers and fathers.
  • Hope for ourselves as Primary leaders and teachers.

We cannot separate our serving in Primary from each child and from each family. During the 2011 worldwide leadership training broadcast, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “Strengthening the family is the object of the Church.” Our focus is the “salvation of the children of God and the strengthening of their families.” We are all in this glorious gospel of Jesus Christ together. To those who take the time to view it properly, this gospel of Jesus Christ is breathtaking. As families we say to each other, “Take my hand. Hold on tight. We will stay on the path together back to our Heavenly Father.”

How many of you grew up attending Primary? How many of you remember a Primary teacher or leader who had an influence on you? You are really loved.

Oh, I hope you know how much we love you. We are grateful for you. We pray for you. We love visiting your Primaries. We love to watch you welcome the children as they come in the door. You know each child’s name. We love to watch you interact with the teachers. In front of the children you praise and thank the teachers. We love to watch you sing and have fun with the children. You stand and participate. You testify of gospel truths. We see your preparation, your organization, and on top of all of this, you are ready at a moment’s notice to fill in for an absent teacher. It’s the life of a member of the Primary presidency, and we say thank you!

It is a gift to be able to teach the children. They are pure, and their minds are open. As Primary leaders, it is as if we are writing on blank pages. We are also protecting the faith that is innate in every child. In a Primary board meeting, Michael Wilcox put it this way: “Our job is to keep the world from taking out of a child what is already there.”

We stand with you. Today let us counsel together. As you leave, ask yourself these three questions:

  • What do I love about my calling?
  • What is the purpose of Primary?
  • With the new handbook, what will I plan to do differently?

It was one year ago this week that we were sustained as the Primary general presidency. Let me introduce the presidency to you. Sister Jean Stevens is the first counselor and the grandmother of 8 grandchildren. Sister Cheryl Esplin is the second counselor and grandmother to 20 grandchildren. I am Sister Rosemary Wixom, president and grandmother to 7 grandchildren. You wonder why I mentioned grandchildren? Not so you could know the number but so you could know our families are important to us. Every one of us in this room is part of a family. My first word of advice: Family is first. Take time to enjoy your family!

We have a round table in our Primary office, and every day we are together that is where we gather. This past year has been a life-changing year for each one of us. We have shed tears around that table. We have also laughed hard at that table, and we have knelt at the chairs and felt the blessing of revelation and the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. We seek direction from three sources: from the Lord, from our priesthood leaders, and from the Church handbook. We are following the Brethren’s request to “study deeply” the first three chapters of the Church handbook. We do it as part of our presidency meeting each week. We love Primary. We know our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are directing this work, and we are unified to follow Their will.

Often our Church callings come to us as a surprise. If you feel inadequate or if you question this calling in Primary, don’t feel guilty. Take it to the Lord. Ask Him, “Am I really to serve in Primary now?” And then listen. You will get an answer.

Let your calling be a part of your life. Look around you. Observe the families of the children you teach—the mothers and fathers, single parents, sometimes grandparents—and then let the question “How can we help strengthen families?” guide your efforts in Primary.

Now, let me ask you another question: How can we help children develop strong testimonies and draw nearer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?

About two weeks after we were called, I received a phone call from Elder Hales. Would I come and meet with him in his office? He asked me a question. What is the taproot that will anchor a child in the wind? A taproot is the main root of a tree that grows vertically deep into the ground.

So what is the taproot that will anchor a child in the winds of the world?

What do you see as the taproot that will anchor the children in your Primary?

Would you turn to Alma 24:14. Here the Anti-Nephi-Lehies rejoice in Christ and explain what was “made known” unto them for their salvation.

“And the great God has had mercy on us, and made these things known unto us that we might not perish; yea, and he has made these things known unto us beforehand, because he loveth our souls as well as he loveth our children; therefore, in his mercy he doth visit us by his angels, that the plan of salvation might be made known unto us as well as unto future generations” (italics added).

Could it be that knowledge of the plan of salvation—the fulness of the gospel—is a taproot for children in the wind?

We want every child to know they are children of God and He loves them; that Heavenly Father has a plan, the plan of salvation, and it includes families; and that through our Savior, Jesus Christ, we can stay on the path back to Heavenly Father.

For a child to know where they came from, why they are here, and where they are going gives them an anchor in life. They have purpose here on earth.

When we visit Primaries, we like to talk with the children about the plan of salvation. We ask them, “Where did you live before you came to earth?” They answer, “With Heavenly Father.” We talk about the premortal existence and how we shouted for joy to come to this earth. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, leads the way. Then we explain that this earth life is like walking a path. We are trying to stay on the straight and narrow path back to our Heavenly Father.

When we ask, “What do we do to stay on the path?” the children respond, “Read the scriptures, pray, have family home evening, keep the commandments, go on a mission, get married in the temple!” They know what will keep them on the straight and narrow path. Then we ask, “Do you want to walk the path alone?” “Oh, no!” they respond. “Who do you want to go with you?” “My family! My family!” they always answer.

Then we say, “We must lock arms. Hold on and walk the path together. We all want to return to our Heavenly Father and be together with our families.”

Everything we teach, sing, and do in Primary helps children stay on that path. This fulfills the purpose of Primary. What is the purpose of Primary? To help each child feel Heavenly Father’s love, learn the gospel of Jesus Christ, feel the Holy Ghost, and prepare to make and keep sacred covenants.

  • We want the children to feel Heavenly Father’s love, so we talk about the love they feel in their homes and let them feel love in Primary.
  • We want them to learn and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, so we not only ask them to bring their scriptures, we take them to the scriptures in Primary and we teach the doctrine that is provided for us in the outline for sharing time and the manuals. We engage the children in participation. We ask questions, and the children see the doctrine, hear it, write it, draw it, and say it. The Faith in God program instills a pattern for living the gospel.
  • We want each child to feel and recognize the Holy Ghost, so we invite the Spirit through prayer, stories, scriptures, music, and testimonies. Then we say, “I can feel the Holy Ghost right now. I feel it when you sing.”
  • We want them to prepare to make and keep sacred covenants, so we talk about baptism and the temple. We talk about eternal families. We prepare them by referring to “My Gospel Standards” in sharing time. How we dress, how we talk, and what we read and watch prepare us for making the covenants of baptism and the temple. Now is the time to prepare the children for these covenants. We ask ourselves, “What am I teaching today that they will remember at age 19?”

It is the small and simple things we do that often make the biggest difference. Look at what learning the Articles of Faith did for one young boy, Matt Richardson.

“Like many others, I rode the bus to junior high school. Each day I would walk to the bus stop and wait with my friends and other students for the bus to arrive. One particular morning, as I rounded the corner to get to the bus stop, I saw a group of my peers huddled together in a group talking. One of them noticed me walking towards them and said loud enough for me to hear as he pointed his finger at me, ‘Here he comes!’ As I drew closer to the group, I heard someone say, ‘Oh, he’ll show you, just you wait and see.’

“I nervously greeted everyone and asked what was going on. The group parted and there standing in the middle was a young man with a confident smirk on his face. Ronnie was fond of teasing and taunting the kids who were Latter-day Saints, and it looked as if he was at it again. One of my friends quickly explained. ‘Ronnie said that we Mormons are nothing but a bunch of sheep.’ Ronnie stood unmoved—smirking with assured bravado. My friend continued, ‘He said that we didn’t know the first thing about our church and that we just follow our parents around like a bunch of sheep!’ Ronnie began bleating like a sheep. ‘So,’ another person said loudly in an attempt to drown out Ronnie’s obnoxious imitation of a sheep, ‘we told Ronnie that we weren’t sheep at all and that we actually know quite a lot about the what the Church teaches.’ She continued, ‘So Ronnie told us to tell him what the Church believes, and we said, “Just you wait until Matt Richardson gets here. He will tell you all about the Church.” ’ I could feel my stomach drop as I heard the story unfold. Immediately my friends rallied together saying, ‘So go ahead and tell Ronnie about the Church. Show him we aren’t sheep!’ Ronnie stood smirking and added, ‘Go ahead, Mormon, tell me what your church believes in,’ and then he started bleating again.

“As all eyes fell upon me, awaiting my response, and bleating filled my ears, I could hardly think. It was as if my mind had been erased. I quickly said a sincere prayer pleading for Heavenly Father to save me from this awful predicament. To my surprise—and to my great relief—the bus immediately arrived and students scrambled to get on. I felt relieved as I climbed up the bus steps and walked to my usual seat in the back of the bus. ‘Saved by the bus,’ I thought gratefully. It wasn’t long after I sat down that bleating started up again. It grew more frequent and louder as Ronnie turned around to face me and said, ‘Come on, Mormon, tell me one thing that your church believes.’ He then started bleating again. It was hard to concentrate with the loud ‘baaa, baaa’ filling the air while at the same time my friends were rallying to offer words of encouragement. ‘Come on, Matt,’ they would say, ‘tell him about the Church. Show him that we aren’t sheep.’

“ ‘Well,’ I paused, trying to gather my thoughts. ‘We believe … we believe,’ I stammered as my mind raced to think of something, anything, to say. ‘We believe …’ I said again very slowly, hoping something would happen. ‘Can’t think of anything?’ Ronnie taunted. ‘Just what I thought; you are a sheep!’

“And then it happened. It came to me in a flash. I sat upright, looked at Ronnie, and said, ‘We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.’ Ronnie couldn’t hide the surprised and stunned look on his face. He quickly recovered and shot back, ‘That doesn’t count. Everyone believes in God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.’ Back to his normal self, he sneered, ‘Tell me something else, you sheep.’

“My friends quickly looked back at me, obviously wondering what would happen next. I calmly stated, ‘We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.’ Hardly taking a breath, I launched into the third article of faith, followed by the fourth, fifth, and sixth. My friends enthusiastically joined in unison at the beginning of each new article of faith, saying, ‘We believe’ only to leave me to finish the rest alone. I recited all thirteen articles of faith. When I was finished, there wasn’t a sheep-like sound to be heard.

“While I am unsure of the impact this event had on Ronnie or any other person, I know for a fact that one person on that bus was forever changed. That person was me! I left that bus realizing that I knew much more about the gospel and the Church than I thought I did. I also realized that I had a much stronger testimony of the gospel than I expected. I left that bus deeply grateful for my Primary experience and especially for the opportunity to memorize all thirteen Articles of Faith. It prepared me for an unexpected moment when it would really matter the most.”

Now we ask, does the Faith in God program, which includes learning the Articles of Faith, help keep a child on that path? Yes.

The scriptures teach us:

“All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (3 Nephi 22:13).

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Our resources are numerous. One of our greatest resources is the Church handbook. It is a treasure when we do as President Monson has asked us and “read, understand, and follow.”

What are your concerns in Primary? Let me guess. Could just a few be: How can we help a child feel reverence and respect? How do we deal with behavioral needs? Or how can we help a teacher feel more commitment? Think how applying these gospel leadership principles could help: really preparing spiritually; counseling with each other, your priesthood leader, or the parents; ministering; or teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. These valuable principles are discussed in chapter 3 of the Church handbook. This is the Savior’s way of leading.

Let’s look at the handbook. You’ve had a chance to implement the principles of this new Church handbook. Even these gospel leadership principles we just referred to. Have you seen any change? Has it made any difference?

Think of your ward council. How has your role in the ward council changed?

In what ways are you better meeting the needs of individuals and strengthening families in your ward?

President Packer said, “The handbooks now provide for simplification and flexibility.” And then he said, “Let me underline that: for simplification and flexibility.” In what ways are you making that happen?

Elder Holland said: “We need help. We need miracles. Every family, every marriage, every child, every neighborhood.” And I might add, “every Primary.” He also said, “This is the work of salvation. … That’s our task.”

We are all on this path, and we must hold on to each other with a “perfect brightness of hope” (2 Nephi 31:20). Enjoy your calling in Primary! Our Savior, Jesus Christ, lives. He marked the path, and He leads the way. Our responsibility is to become a “true follower,” a faithful disciple, and to help others do the same. That is the purpose behind every calling in the Church. May you feel of the Lord’s love in this precious opportunity to bless the children and help strengthen their families.