I’m expecting an announcement in my church bulletin this week. It will read something very diplomatically put along the lines of, “We gently remind you that there are no planned activities for children are our Sunday evening services and you may wish to consider leaving your children at home”. It will be my children that provoked this announcement. And it would most likely be warranted.
Each week, I kiss them goodbye as they finish their dinner and head out. For time. And space. With God. Just me. It’s a privilege to be allowed this time, and I love it. The evening service at Ivy Church in this season is named ‘Presence’ and that’s what it’s about. The presence of God. I go, giving Him permission to do whatever He wants. I leave ready for whatever the week throws at me. Filled up so I can pour it back out. If this is a new idea for you and you want to know more, get in touch. We can have a cuppa and a chat.
This week saw a change in plans. Half term holiday. Kids who slept in late, who napped in the car as we made our way down the motorway on a 5 hr journey from Glasgow back to Manchester. Kids who missed church this morning and knew it. Who asked me when they could go to church… could they go to night-time church? A husband who’d been holed up studying in a silent house whilst we were away, needing time with his small ones and needing church too. So… lets all go? Why not?
Firstly, Boy (aged nearly 6) decided he MUST take his brand new guitar, given to him by his grandfather as an early birthday present this morning. Given the major ructions provoked when I told him he couldn’t take it out to brunch earlier in the day, I decided I should probably let him. Not an entirely inappropriate choice of item in a church where music is more than encouraged. We later discovered that the case for said guitar is VERY rustly… and that he enjoyed putting the case on and taking it off again in those quiet contemplative, ‘presence’-type moments between songs just a wee bit too much.
Of course, if Boy was taking a guitar, Girl (aged 3) must also take an instrument. For she must do everything he does. She chose a drum. Obviously. Because such is her nature. Loud. Brash. Unmistakably herself. She placed it on the floor by her feet. I nervously eyed it, wondering when she’d choose to let loose. But her voice was her instrument of choice. And not her singing voice. Her demanding voice, her whining voice, her accusatory-he-touched-my-food voice… her “I NEED A WEE!!!!” voice. Her voice and our house keys. Initially an endearing instrument, they later became slightly irritating.
And then there was the food. We have beautiful volunteers who serve a selection of snacks immediately prior to the service. I’m no fool. I had grabbed a plate and loaded that baby high with pineapple, grapes, tomatoes, raspberries. I had squirrelled it away for that moment when they would need shushing. However, not being a fool, I have also managed to raise two non-fools and they had immediately spotted and scoffed the lot. And then spent those quiet contemplative moments shouting for more.
So there were multiple toilet trips, several trips out the door to replenish the fruit supply, another for a cup of water, lots of hissed ‘sshhhhhh’ and whispered ‘do-you-want-to-go-home-right-nows’ and desperate digs in the bag for pencils, glitter pens and paper. All the while paranoid, mortified thoughts. What will people think? That I’m forcing my poor, tired children out past their bedtime for my own benefit? Selfish mother. That I can’t control them. That they’ve not been disciplined adequately. Bad mother. That I’m an idiot for thinking this was a good idea. Delusional mother. That we should have left before now, quit while you’re ahead and leave everyone in peace, Riches family. At times I wanted to disappear, for the ground to swallow me up, for us not to be there anymore…
Firstly, because I go to a church full of pretty nice people. Understanding people. But even if I didn’t, even if I was being silently (or otherwise) judged for my parenting choices, it wouldn’t matter.
Because their spiritual heritage is my responsibility. To teach them to come before God with their church family is my job.
Because praying isn’t just what we do before bed and sometimes before meals, and when we’re scared or ill. Tonight they heard the leader of our church talk about God saying he would grant us ANYTHING in prayer and they were encouraged to ask him for that anything… their own anything. They learned that praying isn’t just something that the four of us do in various combinations depending on who’s with them and when. They prayed with their grown-up friends and they saw their parents pray with people they’d never met before.
Because in the car we discussed what church actually is, prompted by the fact that this service was in a location other than the one they are used to calling ‘church’… Is it a building, or is it the people?
Because church isn’t just about them dancing to a couple of songs and then heading out to the (extremely well organised and high quality) kids work. It isn’t just about them. And sometimes they do need to learn to be quiet and listen to what the grown up is saying.
Because I should have encouraged her to beat her drum; to channel her passion and enthusiasm into a joyful noise. Because sometimes I love Him so much, I want to spread glitter glue everywhere.
But mostly because a nearly-6-year-old stood in the congregation with his very own guitar round his neck and strummed along and felt that he was contributing to the praises rising to Heaven. Because a rebellious 3-year-old finally let me pick her up, dance and sing with her and wrapped her arms around me so tight that I was able to whisper in her ear that this cuddle is how much Daddy God loves her, that he holds her just like this.
Because I never want them to think I’m embarrassed by them. Ever.
And because it’s not about me and my insecurities about my parenting. It’s actually not about me at all. And if they help me take myself a little less seriously by interrupting my serious post-service discussions about my Important Church Tasks with shouts of joy that they have identified Kenya on a map… that’s probably all to the good.
And what can we learn from them? Could we take it that far? They are noisy. They are clumsy. They are honest. They make mistakes and are not bothered about picking up and trying again. They know their own voices and they are not afraid to make requests. They believe their needs are important and worth a response. When I tell them that they are a Prince and Princess of the Most High King, they giggle with glee and walk tall without questioning this identity.
This is not to say that they will be joining me every week. Oh no. And it’s not an argument for children to be flooding into our evening services. I totally get the need for distraction-free worship. I need it too. But perhaps next week I will notice their sticky pineapple fingerprints on the chairs and their glitter glue marks on the floor and be reminded of the lessons they have left behind as they traipse merrily off to bed, guitar and drum in hand.