For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, 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
We don’t talk a lot about submission as Latter-day Saints, and I’m kind of glad for that, because it just makes me uncomfortable. We talk about humility all the time, which I suppose gets at the same idea, but is a little different. I guess I’d have to say that for all the attention I’ve given to pride and humility, I haven’t much considered submission at all. I suppose I’m not really sure what it means or why it’s a saving virtue. Recently, though, I think Jacob has been teaching me all about it.
Last week Jacob went to the pediatrician for his two month checkup and was immunized. He was relatively well-behaved– he was hungry, so he was a little fussy while being weighed, but then I fed him and he was all smiles again. People picked him up, prodded him, rolled him on his back and on his tummy, and generally wiggled him around in ways he wasn’t accustomed to. He was calm while the doctor flashed lights in his eyes and up his nose and in his ears. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but as long as he could see me, he seemed willing to go along with the program.
Right before we left, the nurse came in with the needles. Jacob was lying on the exam table in his diaper. He shivered a little bit, but was all smiles and coos and giggles while the nice lady talked to him and patted his cheeks. I reached over and held his teeny hand. Then, BLAM BLAM BLAM, the nurse stuck him with the needles and his little world fell apart. His first cry was one of obvious pain: “OUCH!” The second cry was one of confusion: “What is going on?” The third, one of betrayal: “Why do you keep hurting me?” He was red all over, shaking with rage, screaming at the top of his lungs. His baby tears came out thick and fast, leaving wrinkly drops on the paper on the exam table. It all happened in a matter of moments. Less than a minute after the first poke, he was back in my arms, quiet, cuddling (somewhat grumpily). I cried the whole way home, but once he was in my arms again, he was done with tears. He accepted the medicine I gave him and the day cuddling in bed afterwards. He still trusted me, even though I had let him get hurt (though better a pinch now than German measles later.).
That sort of behavior is typical of my son, and probably of any baby. There are many experiences he finds unsettling –bath time, going outside when it’s cold, getting dressed– and some he finds uncomfortable– shots, being treated for cradle cap, being swaddled. As long as I’m there, though, or his father is there, he goes along with it pretty calmly. “Well, ok,” his face says as I put him in the sink to bathe him, “I’m not sure about this, but you’re still holding me, so it must be ok.”
So I guess that’s what submission is– trusting that someone else knows better than you, that you can trust him or her in spite of misgivings, that you can let that person be in charge of your life if they want to. I don’t think I have it in me to submit to anyone less than the Lord of All Creation, and even that is difficult. It is so easy to say, “No, this is my life. I want it to go my way.” While we are definitely responsible for our own choices, I think we do ourselves a lot of harm when we refuse the comfort of receiving the Lord’s guidance. When the crap hits the fan, as it always does eventually, I need to turn to the Lord and say, “Ok. You were right. Here’s what I think. You tell me what I ought to do now.”
The Savior was the perfect example of this, as usual. He was a perfect Son, not unlike my baby in behavior, when He said, “Father, if thou be willing, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” The fact that He knew what was coming makes his submissiveness that much more laudable.
When we talk about Christmas this time of year, if we mention the Savior (and what was the last primetime Christmas special that did?), we talk about Him as a baby. We characterize Him as silent and solemn, and maybe this is right. But when I think of the Christchild, I ought to remember that Bethlehem is just a step from Calvary, and the mildness we see in Him as a baby became sincere submission in Him as a man.
There is a children’s song we sing in my church. It’s not a Christmas song, but it could be. “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.” (“Jesus Once Was a Little Child,” The Children’s Songbook, 55).