“Whatever you do, don’t drop it!”
Such was my silent prayer two weeks ago when my husband and I braved a new world: keeping our son with us during an entire worship service. With the flip of a toddler wrist, a Walmart gift card – the only “toy” I could locate in my purse – held the potential to fly over the balcony and inspire a heart attack in an elderly member below. Would Jesus forgive us?
The fact is, we didn’t plan ahead. On Sundays, our goal is quite simple: make it to church with two children clothed and fed (Mom and Dad being such is a bonus!). For a few months, our son had joined us for 30 melodic minutes of praise before the inevitable wiggles ensued. But, as his behavior improved each week, we gained confidence and perhaps grew overly ambitious.
How difficult could it be to keep a toddler occupied AND quiet for just a little longer?
Truthfully, I didn’t always love church. In fact, I remember as a child feigning illness on several occasions to avoid the requirements of Sunday morning: suffocating pantyhose and stories I didn’t understand. But – until my middle school years, at least – my parents were committed to growing my faith. And it worked.
As we sat in the balcony pew with our overly active son, I became acutely aware of the humility and perseverance taking little ones to church commands.
First, there is the noise. Will my child talk? What will they say? Inside voice or shout?
Then, there is behavior. Will my child sit, and for how long? Will I have to offer discipline? Will others judge me for how I respond?
Finally, there is distraction. Will my child impede another believer’s worship? Will I be able to focus on the sermon? And, most importantly, will my child gain anything from the experience?
These are the questions that Christian parents ponder at length. And, quite frankly, these considerations prevent many families from attending church.
Two years ago, we proudly took our son – not yet a year old – to the megachurch that we used to attend in California. Because our visit would be brief, we opted to keep our little guy with us during the service. Unfortunately, his presence was most unwelcome to one believer seated in front of us.
“Excuse me, could you please remove your son? He’s preventing me from worshipping!”
My husband and I stared at one another…stunned. Did that really just happen? In truth, if we had not grown up in church, we may have abandoned the endeavor forever after such a hostile encounter.
Despite the challenges we have faced in prioritizing church for our children, the love that flows from our brothers and sisters in Christ inspires us to persevere. Nursery workers even know our little ones by name.
Just yesterday, when our son began his “I need to move” dance in the sanctuary, I took a moment to look beyond our seats. Several families with small children – harboring no judgment – smiled knowingly. It takes a village.
And perhaps the greatest miracle of all is the work that is being done in us – the parents who believe there is a greater purpose in our struggles. For we, too, are learning what it means to endure for just a little longer.
And one day, when the bright lights are extinguished, we pray that our children will sing the songs we shared all those years ago – when time and little hands wouldn’t stay still.