Try, Try, Try…

I have always been intrigued thinking about the childhood and youth of Jesus Christ. There is so little we know about it, yet so much we learn from the little that is written. The whole of the Old Testament is filled with prophecies of His birth, His atoning sacrifice and resurrection, as well as His second coming. The four gospels of the New Testament cover quite well the circumstances surrounding His miraculous conception and humble beginnings in Bethlehem, and the three years of His mortal ministry concluding with Gethsemane, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. What we know about the Lord’s childhood, His life as a small boy and youth in Nazareth after returning from Egypt with Mary and Joseph, is covered in a few verses from the Gospel According to Luke.

I have always loved to sing. One of the earliest songs I remember learning, and certainly my childhood favorite, was “Jesus Once Was a Little Child,” written by James R. Murray (1841–1905) and set to music by Joseph Ballantyne (1868–1944). As a small boy I would sing it with all the vigor of my heart in Sunday school. Always hoping to be called upon, I would pick that song to sing whenever given the opportunity to choose. I have always cherished a little handmade prize that I received for singing that song best one Sunday morning.

Jesus once was a little child,
A little child like me;
And He was pure and meek and mild,
As a little child should be.

So, little children,
Let’s you and I
Try to be like Him,
Try, try, try.

He played as little children play
The pleasant games of youth;
But He never got vexed if the game went wrong,
And He always spoke the truth.

So, little children,
Let’s you and I
Try to be like Him,
Try, try, try.

“Jesus Once Was a Little Child” by Daniel Malcolm, performed for the children June 27, 2020, accompanied by Cathie Duersch

Yes, I tried with all my heart to be like Him, and from what we know about His upbringing, it is very conceivable for us all to strive for the same.

“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40).

From most artistic renditions, music, stories and films, I think that the most common view of Jesus as a boy to manhood was one of pious obedience and tolerance. While I do believe that the Son of God and Mary was righteous and strictly obedient, perfect in His behaviors, and that He was extraordinary as a child and youth by any measure, He otherwise lived a normal life of challenges and opportunity, balancing His needs for growth and progression.

Extraordinary would be the way He was perceived by the elders in the temple when at age 12 He spent days teaching them. After a Passover visit to Jerusalem Mary and Joseph “found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers” (Luke 2:46-47).

“Boy Jesus in the Temple (Christ in the Temple)” by Heinrich Hofmann

Yes, being about His father’s business (Luke 2:49) was of primary focus to the Lord Jesus Christ, even in His youth. Nevertheless, as a child Jesus lived as a child, and had to be cared for and learn as a child, just as do we.

As Jesus grew and became a man He became able to take care of Himself and did not need guardians. He was immortal. He needed no protection. That was not the case when Jesus was born. Aside from being the Son of God, Jesus came into this world just like the rest of us. He needed a mother and father to care for Him and watch over Him at this most vulnerable stage, and at least many years into childhood.

In contrast, Adam and Eve came into this world as adults, and therefore if Heavenly Father wished, His Son would not have had to go through this stage of vulnerability. Yet God in His wisdom had Jesus experience life in all its vulnerabilities and perils just as we do.

And even as God sent angels to instruct the baby’s stepfather Joseph in things to protect Jesus, He too sends His Spirit, and even the Light of Christ, to help our earthly parents preserve us until we are able to care for ourselves. I have always felt the comforting spirit of this truth.

So, Jesus grew just as we do, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). In that process, Mary and Joseph had to learn to let go just like all parents do. For perfect balance we like Jesus become educated through experience and study, and grow in physical stature through hard work and exercise. We become spiritual by keeping God’s commandments and following in the Lord’s path. We take part in the brotherhood of man by reaching out beyond ourselves and being friend to our neighbors. This is increasing “in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” We strive to be like Him when we live lives of balance, not focusing on one thing only. We must participate in the entire spectrum of educational opportunity, hard work and physical activity, the spiritual growth that comes from following God and trying to be like His Son, and the brotherly love that is born of reaching out with open hand to neighbors.

“Childhood of Jesus Christ” by Del Parson

This is what we know of the boy Jesus, and how He grew to be the loving, compassionate and ever vigilant and true older brother that He is to us all. While in this life we will never rise to the extraordinary potential that was innate to the Son of God, we can follow Him, and try to be like Him. If it were not possible He would not ask us so to do, so to be.

Let us do as Jesus did, and increase always, every day, “in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” This is what we wish for our little ones, it is what our Heavenly Father wishes for His, all of us. May we ever try, try, try. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Daniel Malcolm is an entrepreneur, journalist, photographer, husband to Monica and father of twelve. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.