~by Corey Fields
Life can be an exercise in doing lots of work for what is relatively a moment of reward. You practice that Christmas cantata at church for months and it’s over in 45 minutes. You plan and fundraise for that international mission trip — often more than a year of prep for a 10-day trip. You spend beaucoups of money and 35 weeks of planning for that 35- minutes of a wedding ceremony.
My family and I recently took a trip to Portland, OR for a conference, and planned in a little extra sightseeing time. Of course, the planning seemed to take up a lot of time while the trip flew by. One of our sightseeing stops was Multnomah Falls along the Columbia River Gorge. It took us forever to get through bumper to bumper traffic (everyone wants to go to Multnomah Falls), and then it was a steep hike with whining kids in tow to get all the way to the top. But the views, and the sense of accomplishment, were worth it.
But on this trip to Portland, the hikes weren’t the only example of this dynamic. During the conference, which was a biennial meeting of my denomination (American Baptist Churches USA), my wife and children came to the evening worship sessions. My children are currently 9 and 7. The worship services at these conferences are usually long — often more than 2 hours. (Well, that’s long for this white Baptist, anyway). The sermons are longer than mine usually are. There are lots of special presentations, greetings — basically a lot of time to listen to people talk.
Since I’m a pastor, I’m almost never the one who sits with my children in worship. But when I do, I can feel all the old restlessness within myself that I had during their younger days, wondering, “Will they make it through? Will they have a breakdown? Will we have to drag one of them out?” Sometimes I forget they’ve gotten older (and other times THEY forget they’ve gotten older).
But as we sat through what totaled up to be three long worship services over the course of the weekend, what we got from my children was one of those “glimpses.” Not only did they sit through worship (I’m not sure I like that phrase), but they actually seemed engaged. Granted, this indeed WAS more engaging than I’m sure our church averaging 100 on Sundays ever pulls off. They got to hear the great music and see the cultural diversity of the denomination. Oh sure, they had coloring books and things to read, but they spent a surprising amount of time giving their attention to what was going on. Because of that, they got to see and hear stories of ministry around the country and world.
On the last night’s worship service, there was a time of prayer for all the local church pastors in the room. The leader told all pastors to remain seated as everyone else gathered around us to lay hands on us and pray for us. As I sat there with several hands on me and the leader voicing a prayer, I felt an additional hand about halfway through. I opened my eyes to peek, and saw that it was my son. He was standing in front of me with one hand on me and another hand on a gentleman in front of us. He was participating in the act of praying for us.
It was unexpected. It was beautiful and meaningful, even if all he was doing was copying an action.
It was a glimpse that may just make it all worth it. All the Sundays we’ve spent getting up and going on a morning on which a majority of the population sleeps in. All the Sundays my wife has gotten them dressed and wrangled them out of the house. All of the restlessness in the pews, all of the crying and whining, all of the wondering when the sermon will be over.
…and especially, all of the wondering, “What are we doing wrong? How do we teach them? What if they grow up to hate church?”
Of course, after any “glimpse,” it’s often right back to work, right back to the struggle. I don’t think we’ve done anything special or extraordinary. There have been many good articles written about the benefits of including children in worship, even on this Practicing Families site. All we’ve ever done is take that to heart and used many opportunities to have our children sit with us in worship. It hasn’t always been easy, and we’ve done nothing special.
But then, every once in a while, you might get a glimpse.
So be encouraged, parents. While you might not succeed in getting pastors like me to preach shorter sermons, take heart. Bring them. Let them see, year after year, the sacred rhythms of the church in the midst of the chaotic madness of your lives. It’s hard work, but the glimpses are worth it. It is with high hopes that we Christian parents pray they are glimpses of more permanent things to come.
When we got to the top of Multnomah Falls, we all stood in awe at the height we had reached. My children took off their shoes and put their feet in the cool mountain spring. We said to them, “See, isn’t this cool? Wasn’t it worth it?” I don’t remember if they responded. I only know that they’ll probably whine on the next hike too.
Life can be an exercise in doing lots of work for what is relatively a moment of reward. By the time Jesus left this earth, he had had only glimpses of the disciples “getting it” or showing faith and courage. But here we are still talking about them. So as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”