By Vanessa Rasanen
That Sunday was pretty much like any other, except my husband actually had the day off work and was able to join us for church. I don’t know if having him there with us caused me to drop my guard or what, but shortly after the Lord’s Supper had concluded and our pastors were returning the chalice and such to the altar, I looked up to see our almost three year old little girl smiling at me from the other side of the chancel railing.
Somehow she had slipped away from me and her Godmother while my husband was out in the narthex disciplining the five year old… and we hadn’t noticed! It was then our seven year old who went up to retrieve her.
Whether it’s the toddler initiating a game of tag mid-service or the older kids fighting over who-knows-what even though they know they’re supposed to be following along, I’m acutely aware that my parenting is on full display for our congregation. And I realize that to most of the folks I’m falling far short in those duties — because when others say “pick your battles” they don’t intend for me to let the mid-pew battles slide.
Basically I don’t discipline enough. I don’t keep a short enough leash. I don’t make them mind. I let them get away with too much. My kids are running amok, and I appear to, at best, be oblivious to their disruptive behavior or, at worst, just not care that their actions are annoying everyone. I appear to have given up.
In short I’m failing. Nearly every Sunday.
And I don’t disagree. I know I’m dropping the ball. Most Sundays I’m solo with all four kids, because my husband has two jobs that require weekend work at least twice a month, usually three times. And it is hard! First, it just plain sucks to not have our spiritual head with us to receive the Word and Sacrament especially knowing he regrets not being able to be there (not all vocations are M-F 9-5, after all). Second, I only have two arms… I’m missing my second pair when he’s working or flying or training.
But it’s not just that it’s hard to contain four little balls of energy in a small area for over an hour while insisting they whisper and stop using the pew bibles and hymnals to build forts for the stuffed animals and hot wheels they found in the diaper bag. If only!
The reason I appear to have given up parenting in the pew is I — to some extent — have given up.
By 8am I’ve already been up for three hours trying to shower before the kids get up, make breakfast for everyone (and hope I get a bite, too, even if it’s just whatever they didn’t finish), get everyone dressed and changed and semi-presentable (even though that usually means foregoing, yet again, taking a hairbrush to the girls’ hair — yes, that’s a nice to have, not an essential), and then get everyone in the car on time. Not a ton to do, but each task has likely resulted in arguments, time-outs, yelling, fighting, and nagging.
I’ve tried to read the readings for the day to them, but in my exhausted state I can’t remember which Sunday after Trinity it is… and the kids are bickering instead of listening to me, anyway. (God’s Word still hits their ears even if a frustrated and frazzled mom barks it at them over their squabbling, right? Maybe? Please? I’m trying!!!) I’ve then told the kids to get shoes on ten times, and yet they’re still running around having a sword fight — at least in socks. I’ve told the oldest to get in the van and get his youngest sister buckled, and yet he’s wandering around (still without shoes) asking if he can wear a hat to church. I’ve changed the baby, and yet he’s just had a poo explosion right before I get him in his car seat. I’ve left half-eaten food on the table, because I’ve run out of time to properly clean it up, and gah I left the diapers in the house!
By the time we get to the Divine Service, I’m spent. I’m tapped out. I’m exhausted.
But I’m there.
I made it to church. With all my kids (though one is probably trying to slide down the banister while another is running around the narthex saying hi to everyone). And while I may look like I’m ignoring their not-quite-whispered conversations and that I’m not caring that my daughter’s meandering from our pew to our friends’ pews is distracting, my anxious and tired mind is in fact plagued with everything I should be doing. I should be making my kids fold their hands and participate in the liturgy. I should be showing them how to follow along in the hymnal. I should be encouraging them to pay attention instead of playing.
And I’m worried. Worried they aren’t getting anything out of being there. Worried they are bothering everyone. Worried others think ill of my husband for not being there though he’d prefer to be. Worried we are failing our children by not being more like that family or this family or whoever.
But again, we are there.
Every week. Every Sunday. Even though it’s hard and I’m sure some folks wish we wouldn’t bother so they could actually hear the Word and the sermon — we are there. There to confess our sins (and there are many!) and to hear absolution from Christ spoken by our pastor. There to receive God’s precious gifts and to kneel with our brothers and sisters in Christ at that railing to receive His Body and Blood — even if the two littles are actually sitting on the railing with the three year old excitedly waving hi to her favorite elder, another is trying to stick her head through the railing, and the other is telling her to stop.
We may be distracting and I may be failing, but by the grace of God we are in that pew right where we all belong.