I don’t dread bringing my kids to church, but I do view it as an adventure each week.
Who’s going to “whisper” the loudest during worship? How many times will that one kid “need” to go to the bathroom during the sermon? What will my toddler do this time?
Oh man, do I ever have stories of kids in church.
I grew up as the daughter of a church choir director, sitting in the choir loft each week. My siblings and I could tell church tales too. And for years and years, my husband was on church staff and worked during services, which left me on my own with two, then three, and eventually four kids in the pew on Sunday mornings. Those mornings always made me sweat.
There was the time that my two-year-old threw down her brand-new Bible and broke the binding, declaring (loudly) that it was too heavy.
There was the time I couldn’t find one of my kids… and eventually located him behind the front desk emptying the receptionist’s candy bowl as fast as he could.
Then there was the time my three-year-old hollered, “I want to goooo!” at an especially quiet moment in the middle of the service.
And many, many stories in between. I get sweaty just remembering the diaper blowouts mid-worship, the nursing in the pews, the hauling of toddlers and babies in car seats, and the diaper bags full of snacks and wipes. This picture was taken on my daughter’s baptism day and perfectly sums up how it felt to bring little ones to church during those early years.
My husband is no longer on church staff so he joins us once again in the pews, our kids are one step older now, and yet so far it’s still kind of stressful getting everyone to church. Whether it’s clothes that aren’t quite right, shoes that have gone missing, forgotten Bibles at home, zipping in late to Sunday School, monitoring the stand up/sit down parts of the liturgy, or shushing the toddler who does not wish to be confined to a row any longer. . . church can be a lot.
Thankfully, our church home welcomes the chaos of children, and it is so helpful to me as a mom when I remember that we’re welcome there, just as we are, in the fullness of who we are (because my kids are really good at being FULLY themselves). I fight with my inner monologue that prefers perfection, even though I know it’s but an illusion. So I breathe deeply. I find another toy or snack for the toddler. I encourage the bigger kids to stand at the proper times. I clap loudly when they play with the youth bell choir, grin broadly when they close each service by playing rhythm instruments along with the closing hymn, and give thanks the whole time that Jesus too welcomes us in all of our imperfection, loudness, questioning, and fidgeting.
He modeled it in so many ways but with kids, He was the best:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Matthew 18:2-5 NIV
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:13-14 NIV
Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He invited the children to His side.
He’d been talking to the grownups for days, outside, likely in the heat and sweltering sun. He and His disciples had traveled from Capernaum at the tippy top of the region of Galilee, down to the region of Judea. This was an approximately 118-mile journey. . . likely made on foot. This was no small trek and yet in the Scriptures, it’s reduced to a single sentence in Matthew 19: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan.”
When I am hot and sweaty, dirty and dusty, tired and hungry, the last thing I want to do is invite more children into my personal space. Listen, even when all of my basic needs are met and my baseline stress level is at a good place, I still don’t always want extra children over in my home or at my side.
And yet here is Jesus, who has been teaching and traveling and trekking many, many miles. . . and He reaches out for the kiddos. He has spent time answering difficult questions from difficult people, remaining calm and direct when the Pharisees tried to trip Him up, and giving answers not everyone was ready to hear. And in the context of all of that, He didn’t get stressed out by the presence of children. He welcomed them.
He’s been working hard, without a break, and then invites the kids to come up front.
When we invite children anywhere, we invite stickiness and crumbs. We invite sippy cups and loud whispering. We invite clapping during silence and heads thrown back to gaze at the ceiling. We invite questions and interruptions. We invite their parents and caring adults. We invite messes and challenges. We invite noisiness and clamor.
Kids only know one way to show up — just as they are. They bring their true selves to every situation and that’s exactly how Jesus invites us to approach Him.
So I’ll keep bringing my kids to church, making space for them just as they are — wiggles and yells and big feelings and all — even when it makes me sweat. I’ll breathe deep and remind myself that church makes space, and Jesus showed us how to do just that. May we do the same for one another.