The Mormon Anthem

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I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.

I am a child of God,
And so my needs are great;
Help me to understand his words
Before it grows too late.

I am a child of God.
Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will,
I’ll live with him once more.

I am a child of God.
His promises are sure;
Celestial glory shall be mine
If I can but endure.

Chorus
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.

The song I am a Child of God is one of the quintessential hymns in mormon childhood.  A solid mormon upbringing will include this song as a childhood anthem, and my home was no different.  I sang it for comfort in dark, scary places. I sang it to remind myself that I was extra special.  I hummed it, summoning courage in my bed at night.  I sang it with gusto with the rest of my young classmates in church, proud of the touched expressions on our mother’s faces.

But then, things changed for me. I sang it with tears dripping off the end of my nose and into my clasped hands as a teenager kneeling at my bedside, begging to be more faithful and desperate to believe.  In my search for comfort, my mother’s love, the thought of her soft hands squeezing mine would ease me back into bed and under the covers.  But the words tortured my young heart, as a glowing piece of my childhood suddenly felt  threatening.

 I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.

My parents were kind and dear.  The first verse was a way of establishing the expectation that the rest of God’s plans must be accomplished because of their kindness.  And dearness.  It played on my fierce, child-loyalty.  It made me feel as if my struggle to believe in God was a rejection of my parents.  Maybe it was.

 I am a child of God,
And so my needs are great;
Help me to understand his words
Before it grows too late.

“Help me to understand his words, before it grows too late.” Too late for me, a girl who sensed innocent, blind, parent-lead faith dripping through my cupped hands like water I was trying to carry in my palms. I felt desperate to comply…to understand.  The pressure was real, unrelenting.

 I am a child of God.

His promises are sure;

Celestial glory shall be mine

If I can but endure.

“Celestial glory shall be mine, if I can but endure…”  This one.  Am I worthy of glory?  Do I want to endure my life? To endure…to suffer patiently, to tolerate with out wielding.  It made me feel bleak, and as a teenager, bored.  Life can be more than enduring.  The idea that I could fully enjoy my life and each moment and not fear what would happen when I was dead was a unfurling in my rebellion.

 Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.

Teach me all that I must do…to live with him someday.  This one broke my heart.  I was the teacher’s pet, after all.  If there are things I must do, I wanted to be valedictorian.  And I wanted acceptance, praise.  A feeling that doing the things that I must do would make me special.  To live with him someday made me envision a thick, heavy door.  And would he open it for me?  The thought that Heavenly Father would possibly not let me in, if I did not perform the things I must do, filled me up with leaden fear, and a sense of failure.

And the song, which used to bring me peace, felt corrupted, dangerous.  I clamped down on it tightly, storing it away.

A few months ago, I was kneeling at the bedside of my youngest daughter.  She was three, and golden, and trouble.  I was stroking her soft platinum hair and kissing the tears from her round cheeks and wet eyelashes, a sore toe causing her newest despair.  I sang her “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and  then, quite unexpectedly, “I am a Child of God,” a song dug out of the tombs of my now locked up mormon vault.  I felt my love for her crack open my chest, and white, warm, mama love encased my little girl.

I switched to humming the tune after the first line, perhaps unconsciously avoiding the words that carry such weight, and let the song soothe my baby.   I found the place that long ago had soothed me before it hurt. The wounds are healing, the anger dissipating… slowly, ever so slowly.  In the year we have been here in Connecticut, as I write about my life, I am noticing, finally, my ability to accept the beauty under the damage, find the gold thread woven into the cocoon I felt caught in. The song fills me with hope and safety and warmth of childhood.  The feeling that I belong to something.  I am allowed to toss out the words that dish out dogma I don’t hold true…and just sing the song, allowing the spirit of connection be as simple as I need it to be.

The connection that makes me, and Stella, and God, one and the same.

And then she slept.

4 thoughts on “The Mormon Anthem

  1. This is a great post. I often sing many of the hymns learned in the church. I worked for an LDS radio station so it’s pretty frequent that I’ll go humming along to various verses around the office. The music is one aspect that kept me going back. I enjoyed the music. The music can still be of great quality even if the meaning is not to taste. Also, much of the hymns we were exposed to are traditional pieces arranged prior to the formation of the LDS faith.

    • Thanks Christal…the songs can bring up so much memories! I love a lot of the hymns still as well. But I am a lyric gal and it’s tough to work through the meanings of some. Thanks for visiting!

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