I sat in the third row on the right. The ancient pews created a wooden box around my three babies. I positioned myself at the open end. At least they were contained. On the other side of the divider, an older couple smiled indulgently. Behind us, my friend Allison performed similar maneuvers to manage the chaos of her three boys. Occasionally the sounds of army men fighting, “pew, pew, pew” floated over the wooden back that separated us. Baby Stephanie, crawled over the stained maroon cushion looking for a smiling face and open arms. Allie, sucked her thumb with one hand and rubbed her ear with another. It was 10:30a on Sunday morning and I was exhausted.
When the music began, their noise and hustle were drowned out by the piano and drums. I worshipped with one eye on the two fighting at my feet, as the other eye looked out for the one in someone’s arms two rows over. I revealed church toys, mediated fights, and wiped runny noses as I swayed to the music and joined in communal prayers. My favorite time of the week began just as we sung the final amen in the doxology. The children were released downstairs. As they rushed forward, happy to learn Bible stories from flannel graphs and crafts, I gathered the mess and settled in. Each week, I looked forward expectantly to the few dozen minutes when I would get to sit quietly, learn and grow, and be myself.
After the sermon, when the cherubs had been released from children’s church and the nursery bedlam ensued. Our children swirled around us in a current, running up and down the aisles, and jumping the backs of the pews. Their little bodies, red faces, and laughter mingle in my memories. The adults ignored, scolded, and endured the noise and confusion as a rite of passage. When they made their way to the drums, it was time to pack up and head out.
On one particularly raucous Sunday afternoon, I reached out in frustration to grasp hold of a body running by. I sat him on the front pew next to me and demanded that he stop and sit still. Pastor Alex put his giant hand on my shoulder and looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. “You know,” he said. “God is telling them to run and play and you’re telling them to sit still and be quiet.” He mused, “Who do you think they are going to listen to?”
It has been a long time since I’ve marshalled toddlers and babies to church on Sunday mornings. Keith and I now look on indulgently, occasionally adding to the mischief of the young families around us. I had forgotten how physical and constant is the work of little ones in church.
Last Sunday, I picked up Teddy on my way to church. He happily explored and discovered the sights and sounds of a lively church on Sunday morning. He climbed stairs, explored pews, and high fived and fist bumped all who greeted him. There were pencils to swing, books to open, and kids to discover. Although I was flying solo, I had friends ready to help corral him and help me navigate the nursery routine.
By the time the children were released to go downstairs, I was exhausted. He rolled cars down the long heating vent adding additional percussion to the worship team. He found the vertical blinds hanging on the window and played them as though they were an instrument. We stood and swayed to the music as I held his body horizontally and he kicked to try and get down. The baby pencils I remember in the backs of the pews have been replaced by full size Ticonderoga #2s that quickly became weapons. Thankfully, the Coleman kids gathered him in to their circle and helped us through.
It is no small thing to get little ones to church. It takes hard work and dedication to make the commitment to showing up weekly with babies in tow. I knew that first hand a couple decades ago, and I know it again this week. My friend Teri beamed as she fist-bumped Teddy and reminded me of the privilege and joy to get to bring my grandson to church. We get another chance to introduce the simple rhythms and solid bedrock of our faith to another generation. These littles will be shaped not only by their culture, their immediate family, but also by the One that has re-created our lives.
It is not my responsibility to raise him, but it remains my joy to get to be a part of his shaping. I feel sweet relief, recognizing that it isn’t all up to me… realizing, in fact, it never was. As I enjoyed my grandson’s discovery and exploration on Sunday morning, Pastor Alex’s words rang in my heart. Instead of allowing my heart to be flooded by the noise and worry about what others might think of me, I simply had the chance to enjoy the boy. He was a bundle of energy as he explored the new spaces, he rushed from one thing to another as though he didn’t want to miss a thing. It’s okay if he runs and plays, God is whispering go ahead… Who am I to try and stop him?