I did not set out to have six children. I was also never the girl to go gaga over babies, but somewhere along the line, I became the poster mom for Extreme Parenting. It is rare to find me without at least one by my side at any given time.
I first noticed maybe I was different when I was sent to a special Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon, whose bread and butter is children. As my four children quietly lined up against the wall of his tiny exam room to hear the prognosis on big brother, he became really nervous. I don’t remember much of what he said; his eyes were darting from the patient to the siblings to his precious instruments on the counter. He stumbled over his words and finally blurted mid-sentence, “the other kids could wait outside, maybe?” Like the Queen of Bavaria in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, I could see he despised and feared the very children he’d made a career of. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that children could have concern for one another and not just be hellions unable to play quietly in his reception area for ten minutes. I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen.
But many churches, the designated bastion of love, haven’t fared much better on my pedophobia meter. One we visited had a beautiful new sanctuary. The kids filed in beside me and sat doodling on the back of the bulletin or sucking thumbs, while Dad rocked the fussy baby to sleep on his shoulder in the narthex. Two ladies at the other end of the pew were quite responsive to the preacher. “Amen. Preach it, brother! Oh, yeah.” An elder came by and quietly asked me to please remove the children because they were disturbing the congregation. I looked at my three silent children ( the oldest was 7) and then quizzically back at him. “Please don’t make a scene, ma’am. Could you please come outside?” He proceeded to take me on a tour of the lovely facilities available for the little urchins where they could get their own, dumbed-down versions of the sermon we’d been removed from. “Wouldn’t this be so much better?”
For whom? I could see they’d spent a lot of money planning and implementing this educational complex of God. It was sterile and safe. No one need fear interruptions from anyone different from himself. All groups were neatly cordoned off so as to avoid unnecessary interaction, and all had highly skilled, certified-for-the-appropriate-level teachers. It would’ve been a lot more efficient if they’d consulted the Bible. In the Sermon on the Mount as elsewhere, I’ve only seen one preacher teaching a pastureful of people. Men, women, and children sitting together, complete with lunch baskets in case the sermon went long, and then discussing with one another what they’d heard on the walk home. Isn’t it obvious that this won’t happen if we didn’t hear the same illustrations, that interaction requires commonality of experience?
And many churches do see this and strive to coordinate lessons, yet still separate the family members every chance they get. They’ve missed the whole point. The children yawn over the bright, scripted lessons for weeks, yet in two minutes at the liquor store on the way home, they learn a whole new vocabulary complete with its specialized grammar. It’s the relationship that’s the key. If we will just include them in our affairs and what interests us, instead of treating them like little idiots, they’ll get it. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” The thing to remember is that, if we don’t want to be around them, they’ll get the point. They’ll stay away for good. And if we expect them to be rascals, they won’t be satisfied until our wildest dreams have been fulfilled.
At another church, we’d visited for a month or so when the pastor called my husband mid-week and asked if he could please make sure the little woman fed the children before coming to church. Someone had complained about my nursing in church on Sunday, and he couldn’t allow that to continue. He was unaware that I’d nursed every Sunday we’d been there, even though I’d had eye contact with him repeatedly during his preaching in the small sanctuary. I can only assume the busybody in front of me, whose shrill voice startled my wee one and I was briefly exposed, was the complainant. She was the only one who’d ever noted what I was doing. Interesting. A woman and mother, upset that I had nursed my baby and held him silent through the entire service without bothering anyone else. I cannot conceive her motivations. The pastor concluded his recommendation: “We have a secluded room in the back if she needs to take the baby out.”
Do I have the wrong version of the Bible? I’ve never seen requirements ensuring the children were dutifully Cheerio’d before the Master arrived. No mention of a specially sound-proofed basement for banishment of nursing mothers. I have never required anyone else to miss church and care for the kids so I could concentrate. I’ve missed a few sermons when they were young, but I expected to be in church worshiping, and my kids saw that. They learned quickly that sitting quietly on my lap was preferable to the grouchy mom that appeared outside. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation– if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3) If babies are, from their youngest age, in worship, content and learning to be quiet and listen, they will grow into it. If I shuck them out where they can be noisy and play banshee-boy, when will they ever be ready to come in? Never. It’s no fun in there.
Now, I will grant that I wasn’t very discreet nursing the first one. The images I still carry from that first church we joined are priceless! But with older, more experienced mothers around teaching me, I quickly became proficient at all aspects of pew-parenting. This is motherhood at its finest, and straight from Titus 2.
It is quite possible I’m the least modest woman in church. I won’t go to the back room, and I’ve never mastered the art of draping a bedsheet around me and fumbling for boob and baby at the same time without going under myself. And that’s hardly discreet anyway. (“What’s going on back there, honey?” “I have no clue, but it sure looks like the two-headed ghost we saw last Halloween. Maybe it’s fighting.”) I don’t want to offend anyone around me, but I don’t care who sees that I’m using this body God gave me for His purposes. God is all about reality, and it looks nothing like the scripted TV version. He’s aware babies cry and moms need encouragement, and has provided the perfect solution the minute she sits down.
Yep, I’m different. I can only assume that, because I did not have the luxury of in-laws and babysitters available as a new mother, I had to learn to do it all myself. I trusted in God to make it work out, and He did. I brought my babies along everywhere for everything and talked about everything that came up. Now, they can handle anything I can, many times better. I have a sneaking sense I’ve discovered what discipleship is all about.
“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. – Mark 10:14