One Hour. 60 minutes. 3,600 seconds. It doesn’t seem like a long period of time, but come Sunday morning, it is the longest hour of my week.
Every week we pull up to church and I have the highest hopes. Today is going to be the day we spend more time in church than outside. Today will be the day my children won’t be the worst behaved in the congregation. Today is the day people won’t give us those side-eyed glances and move away from us. Today will be the day we leave with smiles and laughs, not tears and frustrations. Maybe today we let another family be that family for a change.
I get it. My children are two toddler boys who are very active. I can’t and don’t expect them to quietly sit still for the entire service. That would just be setting myself up for failure. They’re going to move. They’re going to make noise. They’re going to need a break here and there. These are normal expectations. This is not our normal experience at church.
We arrive early to claim our seats. The seats in the very last row, all the way at the end closest to the exit. The seats around us are usually the last to fill up. Members and regular visitors know better than to sit within a certain distance of us, otherwise known as ‘the splash zone’.
I’ve brought a bag full of everything and anything that may promise to keep my children occupied and quiet – books, stickers, crayons, favorite toys, treats, snacks, juice. If my husband and I are lucky, my bag of tricks will buy us enough time to get us through the first song.
Then what? Chaos.
My two-year-old is successfully army crawling underneath the poor soul who unassumingly chose to sit in front of us. As I drag my son back to our seats, I notice the graham cracker crumb handprint left on the bottom of one of his pant legs. I think we definitely made an impression on this visitor.
My three-year-old is decorating our neighbor’s arm with stickers. One of two things will result. Either the man will grow impatient, giving up and move to a different seat or he’ll be too polite to say anything waiting for my son to run out of stickers. Little does he know, we have enough stickers to last the entire hour, but thankfully my son’s attention would never last that long.
Back to my two-year-old who now has decided to share his toys with members sitting nearby. By share, I mean throw as hard as his little toddler arm will allow. A dinosaur for the lovely woman wearing the flower dress, a race car for the man with the suit and tie, and lastly a plastic hippo for one lucky choir member. I must admit, he has good distance.
Up until this point, I haven’t been able to follow along or hear one word of the service. I couldn’t tell you what any of the lessons are. Even if I did have a free hand to refer to my program, it has been colored on, covered in stickers and torn to shreds at this point.
Various times throughout the service, when our kids are becoming exceptionally distracting, we leave. We stretch our legs and burn off some energy, before convincing them to go back inside. When we step out. It’s not a question of when we will return, but if. There have been a few times, I’ve taken our kids outside for a break early in the service and remained there until the end. It’s just one big guessing game of how this hour plays out.
Coming later in the service, communion usually takes place at my children’s worst. They’re tired, bored, restless and just want to leave. I’m right there with them, but we are so close. My husband and I each take a kid who both are trying desperately to wiggle loose from our grips. As we stand in line, this wrestling match is accompanied with screams and cries to be let free.
The climax is me restraining my child’s arms in hopes of preventing him from snatching what to him appears to be juice and crackers from our pastor’s hands. I’m sweating from battling with a toddler who is stronger than I’d like to admit and red from embarrassment of our performance in front of the entire congregation. The walk of shame back to our seats consists of glares, stares and sometimes expressions of pity.
Lastly, the collection plate is passed around. Not until an usher returns my son’s contribution, do I realize he snuck in one of his small toy planes as an offering.
The torture soon ends as the service concludes and even though tradition would request us to wait our turn before leaving, we do everyone a favor and excuse ourselves to escape as quickly as possible to the car.
Once we make it there, I finally let out a sigh of relief. It’s over. Only six more days until we are back to repeat this torturous experience all over again.
Prior to having children, I looked forward to this hour of worship helping me to refuel and recharge for the upcoming week. Fast forward to today and I’m embarrassed to admit how I almost dread this hour. I sometimes would rather stay home to save us the embarrassment and to avoid going through it all.
It would be easier to stay home and just say forget it. We all could sleep in and take our time getting up and ready. We could go do something fun and exciting as a family. No stress. No fighting. No whining. That would be easy, but easy isn’t my job.
My job is to teach and expose my children about our faith. My job is to provide a positive influence upon my children giving them a deeper sense of belonging, meaning and purpose. My job is not just to talk but to lead by example and show them the significance of coming together to worship as a community. My job is to empower the importance of their presence at church – even if their presence is somewhat loud and sometimes disruptive.
As I crawl and run after my children during that hour leaving me exhausted and tired, I remember that this is my job and it’s not supposed to be easy.