By Amanda Markel
I spent most of the Divine Service the Second Sunday after Pentecost sweating bullets, on the edge of the pew with worry. What was the cause of my distress? Well, you see, my three-year-old is as repeater. Anything she hears that she understands, is interested in, or finds funny, she repeats. Loudly. It’s something we’re working on, especially in church, but in the meantime, the Old Testament reading was about the fall into sin. And if you’re familiar with that reading from Genesis 3, you know that the word naked comes up more than once. My preschooler, like many children her age, thinks the word “naked,” as well as the concept, is hilarious. So there I sat, worrying that she was going to start talking about being naked during the Bible readings or the sermon.
We managed to escape that service unscathed, and there was no chanting of the word naked. But on the way home, as I was chastising myself for wasting so much of the service worrying, which I shouldn’t have been doing, I remembered something I myself wrote over a year ago:
Chickadee was being her normal toddler self in church this morning, while our pastor was preaching on the Gospel text of John 4 about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. She was coloring on the bulletin, climbing on the pew (and falling off of it), and turning pages in the hymnal. Basically, doing anything other than paying attention to the sermon.
Or so I thought.
Suddenly, she looked up and (embarrassingly) shouted, “Drink water!”
She was listening.
She heard our pastor preaching about the Living Water that only Jesus gives, heard him and
repeated it. Now, I’m not saying she understood what he was saying. (Because I can’t fully understand how the Holy Spirit works, however, I’m also not willing to say she didn’t understand on some level.) But she was listening, in her own toddler way.
That’s why we bring children, even very young children, as young as possible, to church, instead of leaving them at home or in the nursery, or giving up on church ourselves until they’re older. Because they are hearing, even when it looks like they’re not, and we know, because the Bible tells us, that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
That’s why we’re there every Sunday, even when it’s hard and our children do embarrassing things and it seems like they’re never going to get anything out of the service. Because they are getting the very most important thing out of the service. They are hearing, and their faith is growing.
That’s why our children need to be in church!
I still believe everything I wrote back then, even though I lost focus for a bit last Sunday, and worried more my daughter doing something embarrassing than the fact that she was listening in church. Even these embarrassing (or just potentially embarrassing), moments should give us as parents hope, because they are moments that show that are children are hearing, even when we might not think they are.
So, I’ll continue to work with her on appropriate behavior in church, continue to remind her to whisper if she must say something. But in the meantime, when I think there’s something she might want to repeat from the Scripture reading or the sermon, when one of those childlike slip-ups is inevitable, I’m going to try hard not to worry, get frustrated or upset, or be embarrassed, but instead gladly thank God for the very vocal reminder that the Holy Spirit is working, even in the heart of a three-year-old, and helping her faith grow through what she hears in church!