I have discovered that people assume women my age–in my fifties–don’t want to serve in Primary anymore, so their names are seldom even offered up to God. As a result, when I move, I simply alert the leaders that a Primary teacher is on her way to their ward. It doesn’t always work, since God sometimes has other plans and knows I will serve where He sends me, but it seems that most of the time, God is willing to humor me for my odd need for puppets and flannel boards, or even for a senior Primary class discussion. I was a miniature adult as a child; I’m making up for it now.
I’ve seen miracles in Primary. I have watched preschoolers gain their first testimonies and then go home and convert their parents. I’ve had my faith bolstered by theirs when mine is having a hard day.
Sometimes people will tell me that I need to go to Gospel Doctrine in order to learn the scriptures better. I enjoy that class, but honestly, I learn what really matters about the scriptures in Primary. The children ask the really hard questions:
“If Jesus knew He could bring Lazarus back to life, then why did He cry?” (three-year-old)
“Why did Satan only try to tempt Jesus three times and then give up? We’re not as important as Jesus, but he never gives up tempting us.” (five-year-old).
“Did Alma cry when his son left the Church?” (four-year-old).
“When Nephi had to leave his home, did he have to leave people he loved?” (four-year-old).
“Everyone in this picture [of Jesus’ trial] looks mad. Where are the people who love Jesus? No one should have to be all alone when they are scared” (four-year-old).
Have you ever taught a class in which your students burst into tears because Nephi is dead? I have. Have you had them, while acting out the story of the ten lepers, demand the other nine lepers go back and thank Jesus so He won’t be sad? I have.
After a group of ten-year-olds and I searched the Book of Mormon to discover what sacrifices Moroni had to make to get the book to us, one girl noted, “He gave up so much for the Book of Mormon–everyone he loved died, people were trying to kill him, and he was the only good person left in his part of the world–that it seems disrespectful not to read that book every day.” Those words haunt me any day I’m tempted not to read my scriptures.
A nine-year-old informed me her family had left the church and so she couldn’t come anymore. “I’m the only one who still has a testimony, but I will keep my testimony forever and when I grow up, I’ll be back. They can make me not go to church, but nobody can take away my testimony.” On the days I feel full of excuses, she’s the person I remember.
A ten-year-old boy who had been abandoned by his parents–literally left on a sidewalk–without even his teddy bear when he was very young found personal comfort in knowing the early Church members often had to flee their homes with nothing. He reminds me daily that the scriptures and Church history can guide me through my own trials.
While there are certainly good things to be learned in adult classes, Primary focuses on the saving doctrines, the ones that really matter in the eternal scheme of things. Studying those lessons each week, and reading the suggested materials for teachers, I am reminded that while it’s interesting to debate how the Book of Mormon was translated or why women don’t have the priesthood, those aren’t really the issues that will bring us back to Heavenly Father. The issues that really matter are the ones found in the Primary manual.
I know the people in the scriptures are real, but somehow my little students know it better than I do. It’s why they cry when Nephi dies or when Alma the Younger leaves the Church and makes his father sad. It’s why they run up and attack the bad guys in the picture of Jesus’ trial. They have faith that leaves me in awe. If I tell them that when our class is really reverent, Jesus Christ Himself might be present, they insist on setting out a chair for Him.
A preschooler who asked his non-LDS father if they could please have family prayer, family scripture study, and family home evening, was told they could–but he would have to say each prayer, bring the scriptures without reminder, and completely plan and carry out every part of Family Home Evening except treats on his own. His faith was so strong, he did just that, reteaching his Primary lesson each week using materials I gave him when he asked for my help. His parents thought he’d lose interest, but a year later, when I moved away, he was still doing it.
There is a reason Jesus asked us to become like little children. Even though my own children are grown, I have the privilege of witnessing the extraordinary faith of God’s Primary children every week–and they are changing my life.
It’s why I’ll never get too old to teach Primary.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.