By Holly Scheer
Mothers of babies and toddlers who take them faithfully to church and still deal with crying (theirs, and yours), and feeling harried, please know that church is so important for them, and for you. Attending a traditional, liturgical church is a lasting gift to both your children and yourselves, both in this life and in the next. If you’re struggling with feeling overwhelmed, or that it might be best to come back when they’re bigger, please know that church is the best place for you and them now!
It’s been a few years since I’ve had to take any of my own kids out of the service for crying or wiggling. They range in age from my oldest who is a teenager, to my youngest who will start kindergarten in the fall. I remember the days of shushing a crying baby while rapidly walking out when it was clear that it wasn’t going to be a quick cry, though, or taking out a toddler who just was not in the mood to sit quietly and respect that people were there to hear Jesus, not their shrieks. I’m a pastor’s wife, so I was always alone in the pew with my four, and that meant sometimes taking out one, or sometimes taking out a string of children while my pride smarted a little (or a lot).
This isn’t really about musings on how to help kids sit through church, although we have some very helpful articles from a wise mother available on that as a three part series. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Rather, I’d like to talk about something related but different that has sunk in most fully now that I’m no longer deep in the valley of sleep deprivation, diapers, and running after tiny people who have no sense of self preservation. Instead, this comes after attending a service where I had the opportunity to step out of church not with my own child, but a friend’s baby. Standing in the narthex, listening to the service through the speakers while I walked and bounced that restless and tired little dear, reminded me of something that every mother who attends the liturgy regularly knows.
I was reminded that the familiarity and repetition of the liturgy isn’t just some teaching tool useful for small children, too little to read. It’s also a wonderful blessing for mothers with hands too busy to hold a hymnal through a whole service. I wasn’t the only woman that service in the narthex, and all of us out there easily knew the responses and prayers, and the refrains of the familiar hymns.
For all of the people who so strongly, who so vocally push innovation and constant change in the parish, they’re forgetting this. Repeating things isn’t boring and lame, and it isn’t pushing the young people out. Instead, it’s helpful and needful for young families, because they’re the ones with small people who learn the prayers and songs and responses by hearing them week in and week out. They’re a relief for the mother who is bouncing a baby in one hand and holding onto a toddler who would love to run with her other hand, leaving her with no hands free to hold a bulletin.
Holding onto the historic order of the church and our services connects us to our past, and it bridges us to our future. It’s the songs we learn as tiny people and the ones that we’ll sing when we’re old and our memories start to fade.
Mothers, these days are so hard, and they’re long. You’re not alone in church, you’re with your family. And just like a family, sometimes some members are on the cranky side. Some are grieving. Some are forever patient. But all of us need to be in church, growing together, hearing about Jesus. Keep bringing those little ones to church, even if you have to pace the narthex sometimes, singing along while you wait for the crying to quiet or the toddler to stop mimicking the sounds of a bird of prey.
Someday, really soon, you’ll be in my position, offering to hold someone else’s baby, and remembering when it was your little one who was restless.