Ok, look: I’m going to start with this. I’m going to say that I’m speaking for all of us here; all of us with little kids; all of us who have little kids and who want to go to church. I’m speaking for all of us and I’m sorry if you feel differently than this:
Going to church with babies is a total drag.
Beyond the inconvenience of timing, beyond the rush and rumble between the family waking up and the opening prayers, beyond the very idea of getting your entire family fed, dressed and into the church on time, there are the actual useless and distracted hours of church itself. And can I just admit my anxiety here in confessing how difficult I find church to be? I feel like other parents with kids under the age of 6 are reading this and wondering why I can’t do anything right in my life. I’m sure their kids never poop their diapers right before walking out the door or spit up on their dad’s shirt right as he sits down, or decide it’s a good day to take that morning nap they’ve skipped all week. I’m sure there are children who do not decide that the sabbath is probably the best day to get wild-eyed and throw out schedules, rub yogurt in their hair or breastfeed all morning long. Those children must exist somewhere, and to their parents I say: stop reading. Go sip your still-hot coffee and pat your angels on their well-groomed heads.
To the rest of us I say:
Why are we still going to church at all?
What is the point?
A few weeks ago I was paged to our church nursery to pick up my screaming son, who is thick into separation anxiety. He lunged into my arms and I headed towards the nursing mother’s room to settle him down. We turned a corner and ran into my husband Sam, who was walking back from the bathroom with Clara. There we were. All four of us. Missing the entire Sunday morning service, two tired parents wandering the halls with our two tired, tearful children. We shook our heads, gave up our pretenses and went home early.
I could probably count on two hands how many times I went to church last year. Between traveling, illness, Sam’s work schedule, and just general baby shenanigans, there were entire months I didn’t attend at all. Last winter, Sammy was born weighing 4 1/2 pounds. We didn’t leave our house for 6 weeks, and even then the last place I wanted to take him was a germ-filled church nursery. So, we stayed home. January through April, until flu season finally slinked off. The first time we pulled into the church parking lot last spring, 19 month old Clara peeked out her window and said, “Costco, Mama?”
I used to be involved in church. For goodness sake, I used to work for our church. I directed summer and winter camps, I taught classes, I ran the midweek kids program, I helped plan conferences and I attended staff meetings. I loved church. But now? These days? Father forgive me, but:
Church with babies is a waste of time.
So the question begs to be asked:
Why go at all?
Does your church have a separate congregation that meets in the lobby, the hallways, the nursing room and the bathrooms every week? Is that congregation a small group of exhausted parents who are bouncing a baby on their chest, absentmindedly picking up cheerios off the carpet, and clearly not listening to one word of the sermon? I joined that church two and half years ago and have been wondering what I’m doing there ever since. Why are we here? What good is all this? Our kids are grumpy, we are distracted, no one is rested enough to worship or fellowship or do any other important churchy activities: WHY ARE WE HERE?
Oh, and if you’re not here? If you’re at home because it’s nap time or someone has the flu or someone was teething all night or you just cannot fathom showering and leaving the house for a morning of listless hall-wandering: maybe you are asking these same questions. Maybe you’re wondering how you can be a part of the church from your living room, how God could possibly bless you or use you in this tired and distracted state.
Parenthood, or at least these early years, has stripped away many of my certainties. What once seemed a given, things like a full night of sleep or clothes that fit right, or church on a Sunday morning; those absolutes become slips of memory. And sometimes I feel like I’m in the arctic, floating out here on my own lonely iceberg, unaware and uninterested in the movements of God’s people because I simply do not have the time or energy to join the flow of life.
But you know what I’m learning? What I’m seeing now, as I journey further into parenting?
I need to pray for a new dream. I need to pray for a new vision of how to be a part of God’s kingdom, a new way to serve, a new way to practice being a Christian in the midst of raising very young children. I need to examine my new self, the one that is now also mother, see who she is and what makes her heart race. I need new eyes for myself and my heartfelt, often meager offerings.
Moms and Dads. I know church is hard these days. I see you. I hear you. I’m out here in the lobby with you, or on my couch in my pajamas having church with my kids and the sermon streaming on my laptop;
I see you.
And you know what? It’s ok. It’s ok to think that church drags on when you’re dragging babies in with you. It just means that it’s time for us to let go of a few things.
Oh, that we would cast off that burden of disappointment! Disappointment in yourself. Disappointment in the church. If it seems like no one understands how hard this is or how much work you’re doing just to show up on a Sunday morning: you guys? LOOK OVER HERE. I’m right here, friends. I see you! Truth be told, you have some syrup on your elbow, but I see you. And you are doing pretty great.
And I have our answer! Right here on my couch next to my sleeping daughter who will probably make me miss church this week with her stomach bug.
Remember, this is our question: Why should we go to church when it’s so damn hard? When we feel so hectic and scattered? I haven’t sat through an entire sermon in over two years; how can that be helpful to anyone?
Here is our answer:
We need each other. Whether we can admit it or not, we crave connection. We need family, we need friends, we need each other. So you try anyways. You recognize this season for what it is, you open yourself up to new people and spaces and trials and error, and you reorient your approach to living in a faith community.
Wandering the hallway with another parent? Smile and say hello. Exchange phone numbers and have a coffee date at your house another day. See that dad trying to hustle his kids through the lobby? Smile, ask him if he needs help, ask your older kids to carry his diaper bag out to his car. Home with sick kids instead of at church? Text an encouraging word to a friend and pray for her as you do. You can borrow this one, I pray it for myself daily.
“Oh Lord, show me new ways to love! When I wake up limping instead of running, may I hold this time lightly, mindfully considering it part of my life and not the whole rest of forever. May this weariness blossom into opportunity rather than develop into a toxic pattern. May I specialize in small acts of faith, which seem to be all I have energy for, and please will You grow tall my seeds of kindness. Amen.”
It’s time to reconsider our place. It’s time to rethink church.
One of my favorite authors, Richard Foster, says it this way.
“Always remember that we enter the story not as passive observers, but as active participants.”
Gone are the days when you could slip into your seat as the worship music started and passively receive what the Church had to offer. Cool. That’s good. It’s time to move on from that anyways.
Gone are the days when I could commit to helping with every project that arose; my time isn’t mine anymore. I have to be more careful with my minutes and my energy. COOL. That’s good. It’s time for more intentional living anyways.
The point is this. God is in us. God is with us. We carry the light. We ARE the church. Church in the halls. Church in the nursing room. Church in the fussing baby, church in the tired pacing, church in the way we love our kids and each other’s kids. We are the ministers to one another. Let’s get creative, let’s stop longing for our comfortable seats in the sanctuary, let’s toss out the old way of life and be the church.
And here, in this word from Richard Foster:
“To worship is to experience Reality,
to touch life.”
THAT’S IT. My holiest act of worship this week might be returning a phone call or delivering dinner to a friend, praying for my neighbors or standing next to them on Sunday, singing in worship. Experiencing reality. Maybe it’s patiently holding my baby in those long afternoon hours. To touch life. Maybe it’s praying over my sleeping kids, warm in their beds, praying with a thankfulness that comes from knowing that the mechanisms which beat their hearts are a miracle, a miracle right here under this very roof. Thank you, I say.
This simple, quiet worship is my new reality. God’s Reality. In my new life. My new life with you, church hall-wanderers. Our new tired, beautiful life together.
See you on Sunday.
(Unless my kids are sick. Then I’ll probably see you in the vitamin aisle at Costco.)