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Years ago I hosted a daily TV talk show in Los Angeles, and interviewed a handwriting expert. She took one look at my apparently third-grade scrawling and said, “Well, you’re either very childish or very childlike.”

“It’s childlike!” I insisted. And, okay, I said it in a sort of childish way. But truthfully, my childhood memories are vivid– from having colic to every single-digit age going up the ladder. Just last week one of my sons was laughing on the phone with me and said, “Your brain is like a cartoon.” Well, what do you expect? I was raised on a diet of Looney Tunes, Jetsons, and sugar sandwiches.

Children are naturally creative, and when I lecture on creativity I try to get people to connect again with that wondrous time when anything’s possible. Earlier this month we invited a father and daughter visiting from Europe to watch General Conference with us. One night I invited some local families over so there would be children for her to play with, and in no time they were off in a corner telling stories, racing around the yard, and exchanging emails so they could keep in touch.

This is exactly what we need to do as adults: We need to play together. We get caught up in stiff formalities and the strange notion that we must learn everything about someone before we can simply enjoy them. This “grownupness” keeps us from bonding with those who are vastly different than us– we have the mistaken notion that we must have loads and loads in common before we can allow that person into our inner circle.

How opposite of the Savior’s teachings, and how opposite of the counsel we are being given right now, today, from living prophets who embrace the importance of interfaith connections. I’m so grateful I was encouraged to become friends with people of other nationalities and faiths as a child, because I’ve kept that mindset all my life, and it helps me love my interfaith calling even more.

When Christ appeared to the Nephites in the Americas (3 Ne. 11), notice what he taught after God the Father introduced him. He testified of his atonement, bestowed the power to baptize, then told them to cease having disputations about doctrine, in fact to stop contention altogether. He enumerated the components of the gospel and said of repentance that we must “become as a little child.” He repeated this twice (verses 37 and 38)! He said this before the Beatitudes, before the commandments, even before teaching them how to pray.

So what does it mean to become as a little child? King Benjamin described this as being “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)

In an address at BYU, Elder James M. Paramor said, “children are endowed with a great power to believe… have implicit faith… are intrinsically obedient… love with a perfect love, which has no bounds…serve anxiously…and have a zest for life, an eagerness to live it to the fullest.”

So becoming childlike means being stripped of pride, teachable, humble, and believing. It implies a completely honest, open heart, hiding nothing. When we repent, we restore innocence of thought and intentions. It means a sincere willingness to obey and follow the commandments in a pure and genuine way, not filtering them through our own wants and desires first. And I have to believe that it also means setting aside the judgments we so often make of one another, and just loving everyone we meet.

Becoming childlike in this way should not be difficult—we’ve already done it when we were young. We just need to recapture what we once had, and that means peeling away the useless layers we’ve added that actually hold us back:

  1. Start seeing others as that little child, as well. When you look at someone imagine their younger self, a little kid with a heart full of dreams and hopes. Sure, we all get damaged and hurt as we grow up in mortality, but try to see beyond that, and realize their behavior is because of what someone else did to them. Underneath they are God’s child and he loves them. He wants us to do the same. (This has the side benefit of loving your own inner child as well).
  2. Stop being a perfectionist. Rejoice in the journey instead of stressing about the future outcome. Let go of those voices that demand more than you can give. If you’ve been trapped in this rut, deliberately do something that’s adequate but not stellar. Notice how the world didn’t come crashing down; life went on and people still love you. Also, consider the admonition we’ve been given to be meek. And if meekness means slow to anger, how can that fit with the perfectionism that creates anger at oneself when we fall short?
  3. Allow yourself to enjoy moments with others when expectations are absent, everyone is dropping their guard for a moment, and you do not have to maintain an authoritative image. Let yourself laugh until you’re weak in the knees. Laughter is one of the most healing things you can engage in. Unpack an old toy and play with it. I’m serious—who cares what others think? You’re opening parts of your brain you never should have closed, and remembering how it feels to be creative again.

Recently my grown daughter jotted some items on a grocery list that I keep on the fridge. Can you tell which item I added? (And then notice how she kept on going with the sensible stuff!)

  1. Make new friends. Keep the old ones, of course. But expand your social circle. I believe this is the core of missionary work—not looking for numbers or having a secret agenda to get them into the church—but simply being a great friend to someone not of our faith. Have no intention to change them; simply become buddies. Children do this constantly unless taught otherwise. They were right all along.
  2. Pray from the depths of your heart. Share your deepest feelings, the little things that made your heart sing today, the trials that make you cry. Be your real, authentic self, the person you always were. And let’s face it, God knows and loves this little you. When we humble ourselves we come closer to him, we repent, we receive revelation, we feel forgiven. Of everyone you know, God is the last one you’ll fool, so why even try? Just be you.

In his superb address, As a Child, in April Conference of 2006, President Henry B. Eyring gave stirring counsel: “From King Benjamin we learn what we can do to take us to that safe place. But remember: the things we do are the means, not the end we seek. What we do allows the Atonement of Jesus Christ to change us into what we must be. Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us to repentance and to keeping His commandments. We obey and we resist temptation by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost. In time our natures will change. We will become as a little child, obedient to God and more loving. That change, if we do all we must to keep it, will qualify us to enjoy the gifts which come through the Holy Ghost. Then we will be safe on the only sure rock.”

Becoming as a child is not just a nice idea; it’s how we qualify for holy gifts. It’s essential to becoming more obedient and loving, and can help us enact the atonement in our lives. What a glorious command.

Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.