Monday, August 2, 2010
Let the Little Children Come (Just Don't Put 'em on the Front Row)
According to the Bible, there was an episode in which the disciples tried to prevent a group of little children from reaching Jesus. The scriptures say that Jesus rebuked the disciples, telling them to "let the little children come to me and do not hinder them."
Yesterday, as I sat in church with my wife and kids, it occurred to me why Jesus wasn't afraid to let the little children approach him. It's because Jesus had the power to cast out demons and banish them to hell. I, unfortunately, do not. Thus, unlike the Lord, I find it rather challenging to maintain a spiritual focus, resist sin, and stay close to God while being climbed on, clinged to, cried to, and screamed at by "unhindered" little folk who, based on every biblical description I've ever read, show all the signs of being possessed by spirits bent on destroying a father's righteousness.
How else do you explain the fact that I can read my Bible, pray, and feel enthusiastic about trying to live as a disciple of Christ first thing in the morning, only to find myself mumbling curse words and losing my patience before the clock even strikes noon. Jesus maintained his sinlessness after forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. I can't even make it through one breakfast during summer vacation.
Church, itself, is always an interesting adventure. Take, for instance, yesterday's worship. We got to church shortly after the service had started. By the time we arrived, the only seats left were on the front row. Just a heads up to anyone who serves as an usher at their church. If you're looking for a way to totally disrupt your church service and mess with whoever is speaking from the pulpit, make sure you reserve the front row for couples with four kids under the age of seven. Few things "encourage" a public speaker more than the sight of a four-year-old picking his nose or the sound of a tiny voice screaming, "My toy! My toy! My toy!" as one tries to welcome the congregation or help people commune with God in prayer.
Then, there's always the fun the song leader has as he attempts to lead the singing of "Blessed Assurance" while cheerios fly from the front seats. If you look closely you can see the beads of sweat forming on the poor, insecure soul's forehead as he mistakes the flying cereal of a toddler for the cruel heckling of some dissatisfied parishioner.
Perhaps the most fun was yesterday's Communion. As the young man doing the Communion message stepped to the mic to share thoughts intended to focus our hearts and minds on the sacrifice of our Lord, I tried to separate and scold arguing siblings as subtly as possible. While a more spiritual man than I was reminding the church of Christ's grace and forgiveness, I was preaching Old Testament to my kids, assuring them of the wrath and judgment to come if they didn't quit arguing, complaining, and pulling on one another's hair.
To my children's credit, they pulled it together--at least as much as kids that age can. After all, let's face it, while Communion is important and very meaningful to an adult Christian, it's basically a confusing snack time to small children. As a parent, I do my best to explain that Communion is when we symbolically partake of the body and blood of Jesus. But kids often don't get it. Once, when my son, William, saw how small the crackers and servings of juice were, he looked at me disappointed and said, "Jesus must have been really small."
Eventually, the length and the structure of the Communion service was too much for my three youngest. Despite their best efforts, the "demons" began to return, so I exited with them as unnoticed as I could into the foyer before the "bread and wine" were actually served.
Once out of the room, my boys and their little sister began running crazy, my calls of "Calm down!" going unheeded as rambunctious little gremlins zigged and zagged in and out of tables set with food for the post-service potluck lunch . Envisioning the lasagnas and chocolate cakes that would soon be on the floor if I didn't do something, I chased down my little ones while four-letter words that weren't "Amen" raced through my sinful mind. (Hey, I'm just being honest.) Then, finally cornering my kids at one end of the room, I maneuvered back and forth like a soccer goalie at the World Cup, preventing anyone under four feet tall from scooting past me until Communion was over and it was finally time for Sunday School.
In short, Church is not a relaxing, meditative, or reflective time when you have small kids. In fact, at times, you're tempted to wonder if it's counter-productive. The effort and stress of getting four kids fed, teeth-brushed, dressed, and out the door, combined with the energy and anxiety involved in trying to keep them in check during the actual service, often means that, by the time the sermon starts and my kids are in class, my heart and mind are actually filled with ten times more sin than when I woke up that morning. At the very least, it's enough to make me wish we served real wine during the Lord's Supper.
Still, I think church is worth it. It allows my wife and I to fellowship with friends and other parents like ourselves. It provides a place where we can get much appreciated help raising our children to know about and love God. Most of all, it's a family--God's family. We don't go and participate because it's easy or convenient (it's not). We also don't participate because of what the church can do for us or our family (although we do benefit, we occasionally get hurt too). No, we go because it's a place where God wants us to give. Just like I desire my kids to want to be around one another and show kindness and love to each other, God wants his children to do the same. The purpose of church is to go and serve others, encourage others, and be available to others. In a crazy way, even our struggles as parents help serve the church. For all I know, some other young couple with kids witnessed the madness we were dealing with yesterday and thought, "You know what, if they can do it, then we can too."
So we'll keep going to church. I'll keep trying to be more spiritual. We'll do our best to hold it together during Communion. And--God willing--the ushers won't put us on the front row.