13 November 2011

For those with rambunctious children in church, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

My earliest memories of church revolve around two things.  I was four when the Lutheran Book of Worship was published, so I remember the old, worn red Service Book and Hymnal giving way to the new green book.  I think I learned to read going to worship with my family.  I know I learned to sing in church.  I remember standing and singing, first on the pew, then at my parents' side, holding the book and saying the creeds, the Lord's Prayer, the wonderful hymns.  Earth and All Stars!, Children of the Heavenly Father; Love Divine; All Loves Excelling; these are some of my happiest early memories.  That's the one thing I remember.  The other?  Being regularly dragged out of church by my parents for misbehaving.  Dreading Sunday mornings and getting dressed up, knowing at some point I would be in trouble.  Not wanting to go to church at all.
See this?  This is not my child.  Not even a little bit.

Today I'm living the flip side of the equation.  After putting up with three weeks of wrangling our daughters in church, catching snippets of readings and hymns between snacks and dolls, missing entire chunks of sermons while settling sharing fights, I dragged our oldest out of church and left her in the "cry" room by herself.  I'd had it.  On the way home, Beloved looked at me and said, "You know, when you were telling the girls to behave, you got some looks.  I know you're frustrated, and I'm not worried about anything, but you need be aware how it looks."  I looked back at the morning and realized I had been far more angry than I thought.  Anyone who saw it was probably right to give me a look - I'm not pretty when I'm angry.  So I spent the rest of the afternoon worried that people would think I'm abusing my kids - and wondering, what are we supposed to do? 

Our girls are normal kids.  Five minutes after worship was over, they were downstairs for Sunday School and happy as a clam.  On the way home, they talked about God and Jesus.  Ainsley believes Jesus lives in her heart.  Alanna can't let us go without hugs and "I love you."  But we struggle with worship.  Other parents can keep their kids in the sanctuary.  They quietly play and don't crawl all over the place.  Not ours.

It's a struggle for us, and we don't really know what to do about it.  I suppose, like my own parents, we could just hold on through these tough times and wait for them to grow out of it like my brothers and I did.  But I don't know if I want to wait that long - and I don't know if that would be the healthiest way to do it, anyway.  Somewhere in the midst of raising our kids, we need to tend our own faith, and spending an hour each week wrangling our kids in the back pew isn't going to cut it.

You know the saying that is commonly attributed to Scottish pastor John Watson, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."?  Well, let me borrow it and alter it just a little bit:  Be kind to frazzled parents in church, for they are fighting a great battle for their faith and the faith of their children.  You might think their kids are poorly disciplined.  You might think Dad's got a bit too much anger in his voice when he corrects them.  You might wonder why they need fourteen different books and seven bags of different kinds of cereal just to get through an hour in the pew.  You might wish they wouldn't crawl under the pews like that.  Did you ever stop to give thanks that they were there in the first place?  The easy alternative is a Sunday morning at home in front of the television - but parents of rambunctious church kids are making the hard choice for the sake of their kids.  Have a little bit of pity.  Remember, if it applies, when you were there with your own kids.  Be merciful - they will be thankful for your understanding.  After all, rambunctious kids in church can grow up to be passionate adults in church.  I should know: I'm one of them.


  1. It has always seemed to me that parents of rambunctious children are always more hard on themselves than are other people. Those children remind everyone of the not-so-pleasant alternative of being "dead for Christ."

    And as a priest, if any of my parishioners say anything negative about kids in church, I remind them very strongly of that alternative.

    In short -- relax. I have a hunch that "those looks" were more along the lines of, "He should just relax," and nothing to do with how badly your girls behave.

  2. Amen, Scott. There have been times where the number of children in our congregation is small. We now have a huge appreciation for the chatter, cooing, cereal, and other "distractions" from small Christians.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing after I've had too many of those Sundays lately! Brought tears to my eyes -- for the relief I feel, but also wondering how I've looked at church lately when I loose my patience.