Editor’s note: Jodi Nisly Hertzler writes occasionally for Another Way. Jodi and her husband live near Harrisonburg, have three children and she works part-time as both a proofreader for MennoMedia and a tutor for Eastern Mennonite School.
One night, not so very long ago, I finished my nighttime reading to the kids, and in the peaceful half-light of the bedroom, said our nightly prayer and passed out kisses. As I slipped out, the following words slipped unguardedly out of my mouth: “Goodnight, my darlings. Sleep well. Tomorrow’s church.”
And the sleepy peace disintegrated.
“Church?!!? Mo-o-o-o-m! Why do we have to go to church?”
“Awwww. Do we have to?”
“Can’t we just stay home? Church is bo-o-o-o-ring!”
“I already know all the stories! I just want to stay home.”
And then one of them dropped the H-bomb: “I hate church!”
Wincing under this threefold assault and the crushing weight of the H-word (not a word deemed appropriate in our family, unless we’re discussing pickled beets or socks), I took a deep breath, summoned my Patient Mom Voice from somewhere deep within and said, “Yes, of course we’re going to church. That’s what we do. You know why. Goodnight!” (That last part might have gotten a little loud.)
And they do know why we go to church. We’ve had this conversation before, way too many times. I’ve reiterated our reasons ad nauseam, usually ending with the phrase, “Because it’s what we do!” and still the fruit of my womb seem to think that the topic is up for discussion.
Granted, we’ve skipped church before ... evidently, just often enough to provide an unrelenting sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, we’ll decide to sleep in and let them watch television all morning.
I’m honestly baffled that the kids feel that they can complain to me about church the way they do (and baffled that they dislike it so much — I know they don’t love sitting still, but it’s not that bad). When I was growing up, church was non-negotiable. It wasn’t that my parents laid down the law about it; I don’t even think we discussed it. It was just What We Did. I wouldn’t have dreamed of telling them that I didn’t like church, or asked why we had to go. We just went.
And that’s what we do now. We just go. Usually. But almost every Sunday, I hear complaints, and it grates on me. Especially because for so many years my children were the reason I myself (confession time) didn’t really enjoy church, and now I feel like I’ve put in my time, and they ought to let me get something out of it without having to fight for it.
Because face it: taking the under-four set to church is not fun. I have countless memories of entire services spent pacing with a fussy baby in the foyer, or in a nursery wondering why on earth I bothered coming if I was just going to sit in some little room watching kids crawl around on the floor.
We would arrive with an enormous bag of books, Cheerios, toys, crayons, and magnetic Scotty dogs — all of which would be deployed in a (usually futile) attempt to keep toddlers quiet for an hour. Which of course, required almost constant parental vigilance and I’d consider myself lucky to catch a fourth of what had been said that morning.
At least we’re past that stage. Finally, my worship isn’t interrupted by diaper changes or Cheerio spills. But I still can’t rest on my laurels because every week, these kids of mine whine and complain and ask why we have to go. If they’d paid attention last Sunday, they would have heard the answer.
Last Sunday, our sermon was about reaching past political and issue-oriented differences to remember that we’re part of a bigger kingdom. We sang about unity and about being part of God’s story. During sharing time, a good friend tearfully thanked the congregation for our support and help over the years and invited us over for dessert to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the successful removal of her (then infant) son’s liver cancer. More tears as a young couple (wrangling two active four-year-olds) announced that they were hoping to adopt a newborn this week.
Our pastor assured them that we’d pray for them but asked if there were other ways the church could help. The harried mother said things were still uncertain and they didn’t really know yet, but threw over her shoulder as they went back to their seats, “maybe just stop by sometime to wash the dishes.”
Everyone laughed, but you know what? It was the perfect thing to say. That’s why we go to church. It’s more than worship. It’s more than Bible study. It’s family. It’s community. It’s support and love and childcare and tears and breaking bread together and ... washing each other’s dishes.
For a free booklet, “Talking to Your Kids about God and Faith,” write to Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg, VA 22803 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or post a comment and “like” the Facebook page for “Another Way Newspaper Column.”