Attending worship with small children in tow can feel like trying to sleep with a helicopter hovering over your bed. What you want is refreshment and inspiration; what you get is low-level tension, discomfort, and distraction as you brace yourself for what might happen next.
Those who have attended worship with small children for a period of years, as I have, might begin to feel that the effort expended in the fight for focus isn’t worth the seemingly small return received during the service. Amid sibling squabbles, trips to the bathroom, feet on the back of the pew in front of you, and misplaced comments — “Mama. Mama! Mama! What kind of dog is your favorite?” — it is easy to surrender to weariness and give up, going through the motions instead of reaching for fresh grace.
In those moments of wondering if there is any real purpose to our being present in worship, we may benefit from reminding ourselves of God’s sufficiency, the nature of worship, and our calling to minister to our children.
Come, Everyone Who Thirsts
Left to my own resources, I lack the patience, perseverance, and perspective required to make it through Sunday after Sunday, and year after year, of distracted worship. I have my limits and I reach them quickly — particularly if I sense we may be distracting others around us as well.
God, however, has no limits, and he is not daunted at the thought of giving out grace yet again as I navigate minute 28 of another service with my littles. Scripture describes God as a living fountain, eager to sustain his creation (Psalm 36:9). Or, as one of my graduate school professors put it, “God is the all-sufficient supplier of all things.” Fountains are for people who are thirsty; our weakness commends us to him. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!” (Isaiah 55:1).
God Parents Even Parents
So, let the distractions come — God has sovereignly ordained them, and they are invitations to depend on him for whatever is needed for this moment and the unexpected one five minutes away.
We know that God hears our pleas from the pews. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9). God loves to give us the gift of himself, through his Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). So, when he hears, “Father, help me to hear from you this morning” or, “Father, help me to be patient,” he answers. In that moment, God is parenting me. And because my heavenly Father parents me, I have what I need to reflect his loving care to my children in the pews next to me.
The Wonder of Worship Together
My husband and I sometimes joke that we attend the 9:10 service (our church’s first Sunday service begins at 9am.) It doesn’t seem to matter how early we begin to get everyone ready; by the time Bibles are found, shoes and coats are donned (and hats, mittens, and boots during Minnesota winters), and the bathroom has been visited by all, we will be ten minutes late to church.
While sometimes discouraged about our seemingly perpetual tardiness, for years we overlooked an important evidence of grace: our family was in church, together. We were late, but we were there. All of us. That fact alone declares something about God. He is worth a great deal to our family. He is worth the hassle, the effort, and the work it takes to get there. He is worth the embarrassment of showing up late. He is so worthy of all of it, and of so much more. That is what worship is: declaring God to be worthy, with our words and our actions.
Worship Through Parenting
But our continued presence in worship as a family is not the only declaration of God’s worth that occurs when we attend service together. In the pews, as I interact with my children, my actions declare something about God, too. They may declare that he is patient and kind, and wants to draw them into his presence; or, they may declare that God is annoyed, impatient, and eager to discipline. While there is a place for setting and enforcing boundaries for the good of our family and others, how we go about it declares something about God to those around us — especially to our children.
Most preliterate children will remember little, if any, of the sermon they hear on Sunday. The preacher’s advanced vocabulary and abstract ideas are difficult for young children to follow. They may not be able to read all the words to the songs.
But they will remember questions patiently answered, instructions given in kindness, and boundaries explained through the lens of God’s great worth. They will recall Mom’s arm around their shoulder or Dad’s lifting them up so they can see during the singing. They will remember joyful faces singing and worn Bibles opened during the sermon. These are the legacy of parental worship, regardless of how many times it was interrupted.
So, when someone asks me whether or not we were able to worship while sitting with our littles, I hope I can say (regardless of how much of the sermon we caught, or how many songs we were able to sing beginning to end), “Yes! God was there, and he met us.”