Tis the season for grandmas and grandpas to visit as many Primary sacrament meeting presentations as is humanly possible. I try to get them on the calendar in September, so at least I know what kind of Sabbath choreography will be needed. I love love love attending! I love the simple, foundational gospel messages that are sung and spoken out of the mouths of these babes, but even more, I love this yearly event because it is always an opportunity to receive a personal message in addition to what is being directly taught—a message beside the message.
The Message Beside the Message: Lessons Learned from the Primary Program
At age 20 I was called to be the Primary chorister. It was my first grown-up calling in the Church. That was more that 40 years ago, but I still distinctly remember attending the rehearsal the Sunday before and thinking, “Are you kidding me? This is going to be a disaster!” But it wasn’t. It was wonderful. I couldn’t have been more shocked. Years down the road, having participated in countless Church choir performances, roadshows, youth standard nights, and Church Christmas programs, I am now well acquainted with what I call, “The Mormon Miracle.” But that first Primary program long ago was my first experience with the miracle. The message beside the message was that if I show up and do my best, God will do the rest.
Then there is the message I receive just looking at the teachers sitting on the stand with their little batches of young gospel scholars. They are the unsung heros of the ward. They seem to stand in for our Heavenly Father himself. They sit with arms folded, desperately hoping the eight wigglers in their charge will follow suit. The men sing the little songs in their best falsetto voices, trying to encourage while trying to blend in. The sisters gently seek to persuade the shy ones who want to run back into the audience and into their parents’ arms to stay on the stand just a few more minutes. The message beside the message is that God loves me like that. He loves to sit with me. He loves me with his time, His example, and His patience.
Mama Bird Dasha and I recently had a great laugh remembering that her first calling after getting married was as the Primary chorister. She was terrified, and I couldn’t really understand why. One day after Church and two hours of Primary music, she walked into the house, and full of frustration, she looked at me and said, “Mom, what is this ‘popcorn’ thing?” Until that moment I had not realized that for her, our little Russian transplant, there wasn’t anything familiar about this challenge. When she was growing up there were almost no Primary songs officially translated into Russian. Every note and every word to every song she taught was new to her. It was a very long year for Dasha, but she did it. I was so proud of her as I watched the program and realized what a challenge it had been. The message beside the message was that God calls us, and then He helps us rise to the occasion.
Several years ago two of my grandchildren, a brother-sister team, were asked to sing a duet as part of the program. They practiced and practiced, but in the actual performance they somehow got off track. Sister started singing without Brother. Instead of just jumping in, Brother started at the beginning. He didn’t care that they were completely out of sync. He wanted to sing the whole song he had worked so hard to learn. She finished, then he finished. They both smiled and took their seats. The message beside the message was that I’m not always going to be in sync with everyone else either, and that even though that’s not always pretty, the most important thing is to learn my part and do it.
There was one program I missed this year, but Mama Bird Kendra posted the following about her little fellow on Facebook, “This boy did SO good in his first Primary program today! He only played with his mouth for half of it, picked his nose twice and ran off the stage to say hi to us three times!! He was quiet and sang! And he rocked his part that he wrote himself… ‘I can show Wuv for my Heavenly Father by folding my arms, closing my eyes, and not talking during a prayer!’ ” The message beside the message was that, like Kendra, my Heavenly Father is excited by any and all progress I make.
The last message beside the message was brought to me two weeks ago by my son James. Apparently his five-year-old little man was struggling in the reverence department, and he and his daddy were out in the hall having a chat. It was the day the Primary takes over the chapel and practices the program for the upcoming week.
This was their conversation. “Daddy, I don’t want to go to Primary.”
“Son, you gotta go to Primary today. They’re practicing for the program. You gotta go so you’ll know what to do next week.”
“Daddy, don’t worry. It’ll be OK. I’ll just follow the Spirit of the Lord.”
And it was OK. And it is OK. When I get all crazy inside with other people’s worries, I want to remember this message beside the message. “ It’ll be OK. I’ll just follow the Spirit of the Lord.”
So, enjoy the little talks and the wonderful songs, but watch for the messages beside the message. The Primary program is more than meets the eye!