Maybe I read too much, or not enough. Or, maybe I think too much. Or, you know, not enough. I’m not sure.

I’m seeing much out there these days about the challenge of church (however you define that) to meet the needs of people, mainly young families. Most of the stuff I’m seeing is talking about church as a local body of believers who gather together for worship on Sunday mornings. Traditional, corporate church, I suppose. Sermons and Sunday School.

And the stuff I’m reading is about how hard it is for families with young children to participate in these settings. Kids fuss, make messes, clap, cry, squeal, misbehave. Parents struggle with the dilemma of keeping them in the assembly or taking them out. Or even, staying home till the kids are older and more cooperative.

Carter sleeping through church at camp

Carter sleeping through church at camp

I get it. I really do. I remember it, clearly.

I remember the time I was asked to bring toy cars instead of toy dinosaurs for my boys to play with, as the dinosaurs bothered an older woman who sat behind us.

I remember the Sundays upon Sundays when my husband was at work and I spent my time wrestling with a toddler and a baby and who knows what the sermon was about.

I remember leaving early, in tears.

I remember bringing hot dogs and potato chips to potluck.

I remember chasing a defiant two-year-old through the empty pews at the front of the church, in full, humiliating view of the watching worshippers on the back pews.

I remember being asked not to bring Cheerios into the sanctuary, and to take my dirty diapers home with me, and to please come and get my crying child from his toddler class.

I remember sitting in the cry room, zombie-mom, while my toddler systematically emptied the toy box and my baby nursed, and how disconnected I felt from whatever I thought church was supposed to be. I remember getting up, and leaving the mess, and walking out the door of the building, strains of Leaning on the Everlasting Arms growing faint behind me.

It’s a ridiculous time, this time of raising small children. Ridiculous and challenging and exhausting, and church can seem like an insurmountable Sunday morning mountain to climb, week after week.

Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, faces all aglow … not.

So, what is a church to do?

Here’s the thing. Here’s the hard reality. There’s not much a church can do. I mean, there are children’s programs and the cry room and all …

But, just like in the grocery store, or on a plane, or at your house, if your child is upset or loud or fussing, there’s probably little I can do to help you.

I can shoot you sympathetic eyes. I can offer to take your baby. I can smile at you as you take the screaming toddler to the back of the sanctuary, and I can put my hand on your shoulder as I walk by you on my way to the bathroom as you are walking the halls with your kid who can’t sit still.

I just don’t know what else I can do, except to say, I understand. I love you. I love your baby. I love that you are trying. I love that your children are making noise, and mess, and being cute, and talking in the quiet, and shouting Amen at the end of  every prayer.

Bring all the toy dinosaurs you want. And fishy crackers or Cheerios or apple slices. And those toys that ding, they’re okay, too, if that’s what it takes. And if you are in and out of the room a hundred times, it’s fine.

And know that church, like anything, is challenging for all of us. Trying to be family. It’s hard. As a mom of teens, or a single person, or a young adult, or a widow, or the pastor’s wife. There are mountains to climb, whether you are wearing a baby sling on the journey, or riding a skateboard, or using a walker.

I don’t know what to tell you, except to hang in there. Like parenting in general, parenting at church is a day-by-day, messy, mistake-making, grace-requiring, hand-holding journey.

And when we fail you, and we will, know that it’s hard for all of us at times. And we’re all doing the best we can.

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