What did I expect? Looking back three years and trying to recall the expectations of a 22-year-old new-to-the-job mom bringing her newborn to church for the first time, I honestly can’t recall what I thought it would be like, but I’m pretty sure that after a few Sundays I thought things would get easier. I thought that my squirmy newborn who wouldn’t be consoled with a pacifier or bottle, wouldn’t nurse discretely, and very rarely slept during worship would eventually “get better.” As a toddler, I reasoned, she wouldn’t need to eat as often, would become interested in the events unfolding before her, and, of course, she would obey me when I told her to sit quietly and listen. If you’ve sat within a few pews of the Young family at early service within the last few years, I don’t need to tell you that I was wrong. Very wrong.
Toddlers weren’t made to sit still, at least without the help of an electronic device or a five-point safety harness. At age two, three, and even four, it’s developmentally normal for a small child to squirm about, get distracted, break into random song, etc. I soon found that behaviors that I was able to accept as normal at home bothered me when I saw my toddler doing them in church. I had to constantly remind myself that she is still developing and learning. Even in the times when she desires to obey, it’s hard for her to control her little body and its urges.
In the months of transition from babyhood to toddlerhood—that tricky phase where your crawler or new walker just can’t sit still and wants to put everything in her mouth—I spent more time than I’d care to admit desperately scouring Christian mommy blogs and other highly reputable online resources for ideas on what to do with my squirmy, lovable, yet oh, so distracting little one. There was no silver bullet (if there was, I’d be shouting it from the roof tops) for getting through worship without incident. But, what I did learn is that I’m not alone. If you have a little one who can’t sit still, throws tantrums (yes, usually more than one) at nearly every service, and makes you feel like the worst parent ever, you’re not alone. I’ve been there. I am there still. In fact, there are moms and dads in churches nationwide who struggle with the same basic question: Is it even worth it to bring little children to church?
We wonder if they’re absorbing anything at all…. Certainly, as distracted parents, we’re retaining a lot less. Yet, there are promises in scripture that prod parents to faithfully bring our children to worship even when we don’t see the fruit of our frustrated labor.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” – Romans 10:17 ESV
“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Matthew 18:15-17 ESV
How can we ignore promises like these? Yet, we are human. It’s difficult, and often discouraging, to deal with the same behaviors week after week… to face distractions when we just want to worship… to be unable to stop questioning if others are judging us… to wonder why we can’t get our act together….
For parents like me, who struggle each week with real sin issues (both from my child and from myself), I don’t have easy solutions. I certainly wish I did! My child is only three, so I can’t even look back and knowingly say, “It gets better.” (Please, someone, tell me it gets better than age three!) What I can do is point you to a few resources at St. Luke that have really been a blessing to our family as we figure out what it looks like to faithfully bring our family to church in this season.
As the nursery coordinator at St. Luke, my goal is to have resources that are flexible to each family’s unique needs. We provide nursery care each Sunday for both early and late services and education hour when Sheepfold is in session. Drop your little one off for the whole service or just part of it—whatever works best for you for that specific Sunday. Accept grace when your child hits an age when sitting through an entire service isn’t realistic or when you need to focus on helping other children participate. There’s no manual for how to do this, just a lot a grace for however you choose to guide your children in their faith walk.
When you don’t want to check a child into the nursery or if you’re at a St. Luke event where nursery care isn’t offered, find a safe haven for playing, nursing, or diaper changing in the Parent Room. (This is the nursery room that opens up directly from the lobby hall across from the Sanctuary doors and “rainbow stairs.”) The Parent Room is a comfortable place to care for your child, and you may even run into a few others in the same place with their little ones. There is much comfort and peace in solidarity!
If you’re working hard to keep your kiddo entertained in service, pick up a busy bag by the sanctuary door. The nursery staff keeps these stocked with small toys/activities, coloring sheets, and crayons. As a parent, it’s a bit easier to get out the door knowing that I don’t have to do the work of packing and remembering an activity bag for my child.
When you’re in a season of faithfully “sticking it out”—keeping your child with you in church despite the wiggles, tantrums, and all those other developmentally normal behaviors—rest assured that you and your child are welcome, in fact your presence in worship is desired! Even after services when I was convinced that everyone had heard the outburst from our pew or seen me haul my toddler out for a timeout yet again, no one has suggested that I shouldn’t have had my daughter with me. (Really, most people who talk to me apparently don’t notice the Young family drama and think my three-year-old is a little angel.) At St. Luke, we love children. They’re part of our faith family, and their presence in service is a blessing to us as well as to them.
Know that no one journeys alone. As parents, we, as well as our children, all have good days and bad days, but as we faithfully come to God’s house, we can trust that His spoken Word continues to water that seed of faith planted in baptism. No matter what the outcome on a given Sunday, it is worth it!
The St. Luke nursery is always looking for volunteers to help care for children during worship services, education hour, and special events. If you love children and have a heart for serving the families with young children at St. Luke, please contact Rebekah Young about volunteering!