How many parents have cringed as their child asked to be read a fairy tale for what seemed like the 20th time? What is it with kids, wanting to hear the same exact thing, over and over?
Here’s what it is. In his insightful book, “The Uses of Enchantment—The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales” Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim explains how vital this repetition is. Because a child’s brain can’t analyze inner feelings the way adults can, fairy tales allow the child to imagine himself in all the roles from a safe distance, make sense of the world, and help him cope with the problems he experiences.
He writes, “Only on repeated hearing of a fairy tale, and when given ample time and opportunity to linger over it, is a child able to profit fully… in regard to understanding himself and his experience in the world.” Here is where kids find their own solutions, the courage to struggle, and a belief that moral choices are best. Bettelheim believes a life without fairy tales can block the development of character, and realization of one’s true identity.
If, like me, you had no idea fairy tales were so powerful, imagine what Dr. Bettelheim might say about the power of reading scriptures again and again. Isaiah certainly understood this, by helping listeners in the town square memorize important lessons. Telling things three times is part of this. Chiasmus is part of this. Repetition locks in truths we may have glossed over, words that only ring out the fourth or fifth time we confront them.
Another example of our emotional need for repetition is in holidays and traditions. They reaffirm what we know, and tell us that at least something in this wild world is stable and dependable. Through them we can count on sameness and security.
Have you ever gathered with family to tell cherished stories? You may have heard them dozens of times, but you don’t mind it. In fact, each telling braces up your identity, your place in the world, your relationships.
How about our hymns? We don’t balk at singing the same songs, do we? We love them. And, as we look at the text we find meaning and inspiration. We delve deeper into our worship of God. We even draw upon these hymns at times of discouragement, to bring us faith and hope again. We grow spiritually as both the words and the melodies find place in our hearts.
Taking the Sacrament is repetitious. But oh, the power to renew our covenants! Both the bread and the water are rich with symbolism, heavenly reminders of what our Lord did for us, and how we can show our appreciation.
Moroni’s four repeated messages to Joseph Smith were integral to the Restoration. In a BYU devotional, Elder David A. Bednar said, “Repetition is a vehicle through which the Holy Ghost can enlighten our minds, influence our hearts, and enlarge our understanding.”
So often repetition and symbolism intertwine. Look at the symbolism in the parables of Jesus, in Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, in baptism, in ancient sacrifice.
Our temples are beautiful examples of learning and growing through symbols and repetition. The most widely used physical symbol on the exterior of the buildings themselves is the circle within a square, often on the tops of towers and on doors. The square represents God’s creation and the four corners of the earth. The circle represents perfection, eternity, and the dome of Heaven, or the Celestial Sphere. When they combine, we are reminded that the temple is where earth and heaven meet. We are reminded that man is made from the dust of the Earth, but has divine potential.
Inside the temple we encounter more repetition, more beautiful symbols. Each one can unlock insights and wisdom we never considered before. The blessing of this opportunity is beyond description.
From childhood tales to the glorious, ethereal moments we experience in the temple, repetition is vital. I, for one, have gained new appreciation for this and plan to bask in its refining power, and soak it in to appreciate every lesson it can bring.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.