You might think I’m being lazy when I don’t hush my daughter every time she makes a loud noise during church. (In fact, I’ve found that this tends to cause her to be even louder in response.) Also, I don’t want to squelch her voice. I want her to want to sing in the choir, or chant at the chanter’s stand. I want her to read the Epistle in the front of church when she’s a teenager. I want her to believe that she is an important voice in our parish. I’m working to teach her the right time to use her voice, but I can’t do it at the expense of her not using her voice at all.
You may think I look for excuses to leave church thirty-two times each week, but really they just seem to multiply on their own. I don’t want to be disruptive to you, but even more so I want to teach my daughter that it is important to be present in our Church. And to teach her that we have to practice…being in Church. This means we will have to go out if she falls and hits her head and starts crying loudly. But we will come back in and try again! We will have to leave if she gets a poopy diaper and needs a change. But we will come back in and try again! We will leave if she gets so tired that she can’t control her emotions for a bit. But we will come back in and try again! I wish we could exit and enter more invisibly, but our only other alternative is to not come back at all…
You might think I don’t mind the lack of focused time for prayer or never getting to hear an entire homily. You may think I don’t mind when people give me the side-eye or make passive-aggressive comments about my daughter being loud in church. But really, that’s just my game face used to get through the service. I practice before church, because bringing a toddler to a Divine Liturgy is a bit like running a marathon. And if people aren’t cheering you on you’ve got to keep your game face on and keep running.
Fortunately, we’ve got lots of Church family to cheer us on. Little daughter has her favorite friends who welcome her into their pews and encourage her participation in the service. Every week multiple parishioners tell us how much they enjoy seeing Josephine each week in Church. Just this weekend my bishop got down from his throne in the middle of Matins and came over to me to say: “It’s okay for her to talk in Church. Don’t ever worry about that. It is very important for her to be here.” My heart was so full of joy, because when a mama works so hard for her child’s faith it is transformative to know the Church family has her back.
As I often like to remind myself (especially at the end of Matins and Liturgy and a Trisagion and Announcements and Extra Special Announcements): she won’t always be loud in Church. One day she won’t have to leave the service multiple times to make it through. One day she won’t be distracting and busy. But I am hoping fiercely that this is because she has grown up in her faith and not because she is no longer in Church.
Let’s encourage and pray for the long-term faith of our children. By ignoring the distractions or offering an encouraging smile. By asking about their favorite part of Church rather than praising them for only being quiet. By showing a loving friendship rather than asking them to go to the cry room. By embracing them as members of the Body of Christ–the Church.