Let’s get a few things straight right at the outset, before we dive in.
I love my family.
I love God.
I love and appreciate my church family.
But I have to tell you that for me, attending church with my family on Sunday morning has earned a place up there on my poo-list with Mondays, dinner, glitter, daylight savings time, and people who try to talk to me when I’m sleeping.
Let us first discuss the hellacious process of getting everyone ready for church, which in itself is enough to make me start raiding the communion wine. There is the issue of what to wear. Now, does God care what we wear to church? Really, no. Of course we know that the answer is “no”. However, I do think it is my duty as a parent to teach my kids to dress appropriately for the place and situation in which they happen to be in attendance. I fear that if I fail to do so, they will one day show up at a job interview wearing pajama pants and a stained t-shirt because nobody ever taught them that there is a time and a place for that sort of thing. Obviously, we save our pajama pants and stained t-shirts for when we go to Wal-Mart, but I digress. One kid doesn’t want to dress up, which is fine. We don’t insist on “dressy” clothes, but we do insist on no sweat pants. Unfortunately, for my 10-year old boy “no sweat pants” is the same as “dressy” by default. So a “certain someone” is inevitably in a foul mood from the moment the sun breaks the horizon Sunday morning. The girl doesn’t have as much of an issue with getting ready for church because she gets to wear a pretty dress and pretty shoes. It’s really the main reason she goes to church, aside from the candy our children’s ministry puts in the “busy bag” they hand out to the kids before the sermon. All that to say that by the time we navigate the “normal” morning mood swings, breakfast, clothing-related drama, getting everyone dressed and out the door on time, and have the “I don’t want to go to church– it’s boring” conversation, we usually arrive on the doorstep of our place of worship a little bit discontent, to put it mildly.
Then there is the issue of actually being at church with kids in tow. Kids are super talented in that they can ruin anything. Church is no exception to this rule. When they were babies and toddlers we would put them in the nursery, which sounds like it would be a good thing, right? Unfortunately, it turned out to be fraught with all kinds of worship-killing issues, such as separation anxiety, diaper blowouts beyond the scope of the nursery volunteers, feeding times, missed morning naps, and usually some kind of plague that they would acquire 36-48 hours after leaving. Between the Sundays we missed due to our own kids’ illnesses and the Sundays we had to take our turn volunteering in the nursery, it felt like we hardly ever got to attend the service. On the rare occasions we were all healthy, present, and able drop them both off in the nursery, Jeff and I would enter the sanctuary and sit there like abused prisoners of war who had just been set free out of a dark hole, blinking in the blinding light of freedom. Those 45 minutes without the children tugging at us were less about spiritual growth and more about
the free babysitting just taking a breather.
With the exception of those few times we were able to make use of the nursery when they were babies, I have not sat through a church service in over a decade without being interrupted every 4 minutes at a minimum. Over the course of a typical worship service, I break up at least 3 arguments, play a rendition of musical chairs in the pew, field at least 3 requests to go to the bathroom (despite the fact that they both went before we got there), respond to 2 additional requests to leave to get a drink of water, fish at least one child out from under the pews, answer approximately 15 random questions that have nothing to do with church or God or Jesus or worship or anything remotely connected to what I am trying to concentrate on, and THEN–then!!–9 times out of 10 one of the kids will fart (always silent/deadly), thereby crop-dusting all of the poor unsuspecting worshipers around us. It is exhausting. And stinky. And not at all conducive to spiritual growth of any kind.
We have tried many things over the years to try to foster our children’s love for God and their church community. They love God, but Sunday church is not a fan favorite. They don’t enjoy going, and because they don’t enjoy it, it is much less enjoyable for me. I’m not sure how to walk the fine line between prioritizing church as a family without tipping over into legalism. Or losing my sanity in the process.
This is not how I pictured it would be, of course. I always thought we would be the kind of family that would be really involved in our church. Not because I think that will win us any special favors in the eyes of God. I know we are loved whether we attend church regularly or lay on the couch in our jammies. But I also want my children to grow up immersed in a healthy faith community, where they will learn the importance of knowing others and being known, of giving and receiving, and where they can practice worship and service.
One of my good friends told me about her husband’s grandmother, who had 6 children. On Sunday mornings she would take the older kids to the early Mass and the younger kids to the later Mass. If the older kids misbehaved, she made them attend Mass a second time with the younger siblings. Say what?? This woman is my hero.
So if you see me smiling maniacally at church on Sunday morning or stage whispering to my kids in the pew, now you know that I’m just white-knuckling my way through until nap time. MY nap time, that is. Pray for me. Deliver me, Lord, from Sunday.