When I was growing up, my family was at church every time the doors were open. For twenty-nine years of my life, unless I was deathly ill, I never missed a service. My attendance became closely linked, in my mind, with my good standing with God. Yes, I was a true follower of Jesus. And I knew the Bible said we are not to neglect to meet together with other believers (Hebrews 10:25). But somehow, I wrong-headedly assumed that because I outwardly was attending church, God was more pleased with me or loved me more because of it and that, if I were to stop attending, I would somehow be forfeiting my immortal soul. I was not consciously aware of these thoughts/feelings at the time, but they were there, just bubbling at the surface.
And then there were two babies. Two adorable, cooey, wonderful babies. My husband and I moved to Illinois when the oldest was two and the youngest a ripe old age of five months. We had just been hired as pastor and family of a little church that had NO NURSERY. Every time my husband stood behind the pulpit (for real, every stinking time), one of those little angelic faces would decide to reclaim the attention of the entire congregation. I would have to duck out the back door as delicately as possible. Now, if you’ve ever had the sheer pleasure of maneuvering the monstrosity of a baby carrier past a teeny row of seats in church before (one-handed, mind you, because the other is holding fast to said fuss head of a child) you will know that there is no way to do this quickly or easily. Suddenly, it feels like a spotlight has been beamed on your little crowd, all eyes glued to your direction until finally, mercifully, you manage to slip out the back door.
Though most people attending told me they didn’t even hear the kids or that the sound of their young voices was beautiful, there was one lady that told me about how their little ones were perfect angels growing up. She would lay a blanket on the floor at her feet, and the little dears wouldn’t make a peep. Why couldn’t I control mine? Funny how one negative voice can so quickly drown out a sea of positives.
Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, we would repeat this charade. No longer was I actually attending a worship service. Things had become more like a marathon to get tiny people more beautifully dressed than they normally were just for me to sit alone in a small room and sulk. And cry. And take it out on my kids. I fussed at them for not behaving. I refused to read books to them. Or play. Or pretty much pay any attention to them out of spite. It wasn’t just embarrassment or frustration that drove me to behave so badly, though. It was the fear and resulting shame that I had displeased God by not listening to my husband’s sermons.
And one day, by the grace of God (and some wisdom from my mother), I realized that I was totally in the wrong about the whole ordeal. Who on earth would expect a two year old and a five month old to sit still through an hour or more of a service in total silence? They were babies! Sweet, adorable, beautiful babies. And my job right then, at that moment in time, was to be their mother. It was not my fault there was no nursery. It was not their fault for being babies. God was not angry with me for taking care of them and meeting their needs. I was to merely do the best I could, given the situation.
What a breath of fresh air! It was like scales fell from my eyes. I finally saw clearly how wrong-headed I had been. I scooped up my babies and apologized to them and to God for the horrible attitude I had had toward them and for shaming them for “bad” behavior. I refused from that day on to ever be embarrassed of them again. I let mean-hearted comments towards me and mine roll off and listened to the encouraging ones. I loved the mess out of those babies.
During those long years of solitude among babies, I read my Bible and prayed alone. I had theological discussions with my husband. I learned to lean on God’s grace for my salvation like I never had before. And I learned to let go of some serious flaws in my thinking that God knew needed to be chipped away. What I once saw as a horribly embarrassing, frustrating time in life, I now see as God’s goodness towards me.
We now attend a church where kind, servant-hearted people love on my babies and let me attend worship services as well. But if you find yourself in a situation similar to my own, for whatever reason (no nursery, don’t trust the nursery that’s there, have a child you are training and disciplining, have a special needs child you are afraid to leave in someone else’s care or appropriate care for him isn’t offered, or you believe in family integrated worship, etc), know that you are not alone. God has made you Mommy or Daddy over your little one for this particular moment in time. Worship services may not be relaxing for you like they are for the elderly gentleman behind you. They may be severely frustrating or in spurts of attendance like my experience. but God’s grace is sufficient. Just do the best job you can. Love those babies. Be kind. Trust God. And breathe.