I don’t know why I even bother. Trying to corral five children in church by one’s self is not for the faint of heart. And truth be told, by the time I’m halfway through the service I’m usually mad at one or more of said children. I generally hear about half of the sermon, if I’m lucky. I usually have to take out the baby and/or toddler at some point. And to what end? Is it even worth it? Do they even get anything out of the service? Do I? Like I said, I often wonder why I even bother. And yesterday was no exception until something amazing happened.
My 2 1/2-year old was fidgeting and whining as usual, and I held her in my arms during the confession and absolution because otherwise she would crawl under the pews or try to open the windows. But of course, she didn’t want to be in my arms and was flailing around trying to get away. Sigh. It was going to be a long service. During the Introit I tried to distract her by whispering into her ear until the Gloria Patri came to the rescue and the organ covered up her whining. But as I sang the words I realized that she was singing them too. Unprompted. And then she sang the Kyrie with us as well. By the time we got to the Gloria in Excelsis she’d had enough of that and started up her whining again, pleading to go sit with the church secretary. But it was enough. Enough to give me assurance that I wasn’t doing this for nothing. She actually was getting something out of the services, despite all outward appearances. We don’t sing the liturgy at home with our kids. They hear the Gloria Patri and Kyrie in church once a week, and that’s it. And half the time I’m pretty sure she isn’t paying attention anyhow. Yet today she sang it with the rest of the congregation. Incredible. Who says the Holy Spirit can’t work in the hearts of young children?
Look, I know it’s tough to bring young kids to church. Trust me. I really do know. I even wrote an article about a year ago called Getting Kids to Behave in Church for the blog Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife, so it’s definitely an issue I’ve been dealing with for a while. Kids can be loud, distracting, annoying, and just plain bad in church. They can embarrass you. You can embarrass yourself dealing with their shenanigans. But it’s not a pointless pursuit. Kids soak up repetition like a sponge. The liturgy set to music is a perfect thing for them to memorize. The Lord’s Prayer and the Creeds are easily memorized when kids hear them over and over again in church. Even my 2 1/2-year old can pray those with us. Maybe not word for word, but pretty darn close. Years ago, my dad (a pastor) was teaching confirmation class and told them they had to memorize the entire Apostles’ Creed for the following week. They started complaining that it was too long, so my dad brought in my kindergarten brother, who rattled it off in front of them perfectly. One of the students said, “Yeah, well, that’s because he’s in church every week.” Bingo. That’s exactly right.
Parents, please don’t give up. Don’t fall for the lie that kids don’t get anything out of church. Oh, they may not be able to tell you what the sermon was about or even what the readings were about for any given week. But they’ll surprise you. After my grandmother’s funeral some years back, the Gospel reading the following Sunday was the raising of Lazarus, with Jesus’ promise, “I am the resurrection and the life.” My three-year old looked up at me and said in wonder, “Mommy, that’s for great-grandma!” I didn’t even know he had been listening. Do you see how powerfully God’s Word works in the hearts of children? And that’s why I bother, week after week, month after month, year after year. Every church service provides another opportunity for God to strengthen their faith as they are surrounded by fellow believers in His house. Eventually my kids will be able to sit through and participate in an entire service on their own. But for now, I’ll take my 2 1/2-year old singing the Gloria Patri and Kyrie with us, thanks be to God.