It seems fitting during this penitential season to talk a bit about taking our children to worship. There are no greater instruments of joy and humility in my life than our five charming and curious children. More often than not over our 7 years of child rearing and church going, have I sat in the pew, translating references in the liturgy to “the flesh,” to, “the mortification of the flesh.” Oh, the embarrassment! Oh, the travails!
(You mean your family doesn’t look just like this in church?)
Our parish has a beautiful statement on our website about this:
“Children are lovingly invited to our services to participate in the rhythms of the liturgy. In practice, this means that the sounds of children – ranging from laughter to cries – are viewed not as distractions, but reminders that we as a church are all called to be as little children. We do not consider our children future members in training, but rather full members in the present: embraced, accepted, and joyfully welcomed into our corporate worship. This also means that we seek to create a Christian culture that engages and envelopes our families – a culture that radiates outward from the Table that we share on Sunday.”
Some Sundays the cries and fighting seem to outweigh the reverent and prayerful moments, and I wish that I could go back to my seven-year-ago overly-earnest and serious self, and tell her a few things:
- Relax. There are different stages in a child’s development, some more delightful than others, and there are necessarily challenges in teaching a two year old to be quiet and still. At times you will have to rely on the forbearance of the congregation while you train your little one in proper church behavior. We have been fortunate that our congregation is so positive and welcoming to children, in all their varieties of behavior!
- Obviously, there are times when removal from service is necessary, and this should not be felt to be a failure. Simply take The Screamer out, and instruct them in what proper behavior is. Even two year olds understand when they have not met expectations.
- The yoke may feel heavy, but the long-term burden really is light. The joy that comes from being able to attend worship with a child who fully participates!
All of this seems to imply that it takes years to see the benefits of attending worship as a family. Even from our children’s earliest ages though, we have seen the influence of the liturgy on their little psyches. Our oldest son, even as a one year old, would turn anything tall and long (usually the dust mop!) into a cross and process through the house. The liturgy is, simply, in him.
So my encouragement to my younger self would be, keep your eye on the prize. One humiliating Sunday does not predict future failure. As one practical article on keeping kids in Mass puts it, “When parents say they aren’t ‘getting anything out of Mass’ when they bring small children they are missing the point. What you get out of Mass when you have small children is the joy of passing your faith on to them.”
There are few greater joys.
Do you have a great story to share about the benefits of the liturgy in your family? Please, share them in the comments so we can mutually encourage each other.