The 6-year-old triumphantly displays his stained athletic shorts, a left and right shoe from different pairs, laughable bedhead, and a syrup-streaked face.
The 3-year-old stands next to him in an outgrown dress that barely covers her behind, also ready for her audience with God. The baby’s diaper is pretty well soaked and he’s still in his pajamas.
Church started five minutes ago.
This Sunday morning ritual is guaranteed, regardless of what time we start the day. We are stunningly consistent in our scrambling lateness.
As we rush in with the pastoral procession, the battle of where to sit starts. Daddy votes for down in front, where the kids might actually feel a sense of ceremony and thus behave accordingly. I lean toward the balcony where our own chaotic presence will blend with other small-children families and latecomers.
There’s a full crowd today so I win. To the balcony we thunder, heavily stomping on each step with the rain boots she chose to wear on this sunny day.
I appreciate Sunday mornings. I like the chance to commune with others and develop our social family. It’s a great way to start the day.
But going to church with children can be a challenge.
Because once we make it, the experience has only begun. There are now 45-60 minutes in which we have to quietly contain our babies.
On our best days, the faith leader invites the older children to leave for their lesson, and a brave volunteer leads our haphazardly dressed darlings away. For 30 blissful minutes, we sit without distraction.
We sit. Without distraction. Well, one of us does anyway. The one who isn’t Greco-Roman wrestling the almost-toddler.
On those Sundays when the children’s lesson isn’t offered, we play our games of Snacks (the crinkliest, loudest snacks possible) vs No Snacks, What’s in Mommy’s Purse Today? and How Many Hymnal Pages Can We Rip? All played while my husband and I perfect our you-will-lose-everything-you-hold-dear facial grimaces and other silent communications of doom.
Without fail, some perceived slight will launch a child’s inconsolable scream, which reverberates nowhere better than within the chapel walls.
In my head, these distractions – which never take place under the cover of the music – cause turned heads and frowns of disapproval. I’m convinced of our fellow congregants’ censure up until the point near the end of the service when we say hello and they give us huge smiles of acceptance and understanding and requests for baby snuggles.
It is these connections that make me think it’s worth it to show up on Sunday.
We don’t go every week and there are days when I wonder why we force it. But the opportunity to be still for even just the length of a breath is rare and sometimes needs to be forced. And in those few moments of quiet and reflection during the service, I remember to be grateful for these blessed, messy children.
One day, we might just make it on time. Maybe even with matching shoes.