Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In Our Pew.....

I've been meaning to chronicle the "On-goings" of our pew for a while here I go!

Matt and I decided when Quinn was a small baby that we wanted to keep her with us in worship on Sundays. Our reasons were many. First and foremost, we knew we wanted to be in the presence of our Father as a family. It seemed so strange to have our weekly worship time as such a precious component of our lives, but then to not include our little one. Second, we felt we wanted to start from the get-go teaching her that if Jesus says the rocks can worship him, certainly our sweet little baby could, even from a young age.

So we started on the path. We knew this would be very counter-culture, even in a church environment. This meant two things. First off, I had to get over the fact that people would get annoyed when our daughter is not silent during worship. Second, I also had to learn to brush off the comments of friends and acquaintances that critiqued me and pointed out their opinion that "it just isn't appropriate to expect a infant/toddler to make it through an hour-long worship service." Both of those ME things have been a journey, but I am thankful for a husband who deals with the opinions of others far more gracefully than me and has helped me move my focus to just our family.

One of the first concerns we had about keeping Quinn with us in worship was how it would affect our worship. Obviously our attention would be largely on Quinn and not so much on the songs, prayers and sermons. We had to ask ourselves if this was okay. The correlation that immediately came to my mind was mealtime. Mealtime with an infant/toddler is craziness personified. If you have children, you know what I mean. The focus is not on Mom and Dad's enjoyment of the meal...instead it's spill-wiping, more food-getting, drinking-giving, hot food-blowing, bite-coercing.......Despite this craziness, however, we keep meeting at the table with our daughter. Why? Because family meal time is meant for togetherness, and because we know that over time she will learn, through our modeling, how to partake civilly in a meal. And for the parents, this may mean that they don't actually get much eating done between all the goings-on of mealtime, and perhaps they have to shove some food in their mouth at a later time....I began to see that this related very much to worship. Initially Sunday mornings involve shushing, entertaining, refocusing, redirection, many trips to the back, and LOTS of frustration. However, we are seeing over time that our daughter is learning to worship. That's right. Our 22 month old is worshipping. And we've realized that, like mealtime, sometimes we have to be adult enough to grab some additional spiritual nourishment at another time. Our Sunday morning sermon is streamed on the internet, and there are tons of other resources available to fill any voids that are lost because we're paying attention to our daughter during worship.

And us? Should you say, "Poor Matt and Daicia...they get absolutely nothing out of Sunday mornings now that they have Quinn with them." No chance....Honestly, by breaking down the components of worship and by explaining every little piece we do on Sundays, I have grown in my worshipfulness. Have you ever tried to explain in toddler-language why we drink the juice and eat the cracker? Give it a try! It will definitely challenge your understanding....And how about telling a little one the real reason we give our money to a God who already owns everything? Wow.....When you have to strip away the "church-speak" and use real words, it is a challenge!! So I can honestly say that sitting with an energetic, curious, participatory toddler on Sunday mornings has challenged my faith in ways I never thought possible.

Let me explain how we work with her during worship:
*during the week I get our fabulous worship minister to email me the program for the following Sunday. Usually I pick one of the songs I know she'll relate to well and start singing it with her in the car, at bedtime, etc. We talk about the song and what it means. I also try to find some easy activity that we can bring to worship to make the theme for the week tactile for her. For example one week I chose the song "Open the Eyes of my Heart." We brought her baby doll (the one whose eyes open and shut) and during the song she opened and shut the eyes and we talked about how we want to see God. Simple, but something she can relate to. I think preparation is a huge key.......

*We usually try to keep Quinn in Matt or my laps. This helps minimize distraction. We've never let her get down on the floor, and since she never has been allowed, she doesn't even ask for it anymore. When she did ask, we said, "We sit until Mr. J asks everyone to stand and sing."

*During prayers, whichever parent is holding her rephrases (by whispering in her ear) what is being said in the prayer in her language, to her level of comprehension. If the prayer goes longer than her attention span, we resort to quietly singing to her: "God is listening, God is listening, While we pray, while we pray. Close our eyes so tightly, bow our heads so slightly, now we pray." (to the tune of Fre Jacques). This is a song they sing in the nursery class, and she is familiar with it, so she will sit quietly while we sing it.

*The words to the songs we sing are up on a screen, and there are also usually meditation versus during communion. We draw Q's attention to the pictures on the slides--she can recognize the cross and the juice, and we've explained to her that the cross hurt Jesus and that he had to go there because of our sins--and we specifically say, "Mommy's sins and Daddy's sins and even Quinn's sins" and have explained to her that sin is when we don't obey God's words. After listening to me say this one Sunday she turned around and said, "Ouch, Mommy. Cross hurts Jesus," and she signed "ouch." Now whenever she sees a cross anywhere she will say, "Cross hurts Jesus" and do the signs.

*We try to point out to her the different people who are involved in leading worship and tell her their names. One thing we've noticed is that she does much better in worship if we sit closer to the front. This means we have a lot further to walk when we take her out, but she has a better view of what is going on.

*When we do take Q out of service, we typically use the wording, "Very sad, you can't stay in worship with Mommy and Daddy and Jesus and.......(name whoever is currently up front leading worship at that moment). You have to go out until you're ready to sit quietly." We want her to think of worship as a priveledge and not act up to get to go out. When we take her out, we first try to just stand in the back so she doesn't associate acting up with getting to leave the assembly. If we do have to take her out of the auditorium, we find a isolated, quite place and give her very little attention until she can regain control. We don't ever let her run around or interact with other children.

*We encourage Q to sing, clap, and say the words in the songs.

*During communion we explain each item and tell her what it means. We of course do not let her participate--but we do tell her that someday when she is baptized she will take communion, too.

*During giving we have a little book we get out. It has photos of different things she owns and says, "God gave me my pets." "God gave me my family." "God gives me my food." Etc. The last page has a nickle taped on the page and it says, "We give our money to God to show we trust him to take care of us." We let her put a coin in the plate each week.

*During the sermon we have a small bag of items for her to work with. This is the most in-flux portion of worship right now. I am still trying to figure out what I think is best for her to do during the lesson. I want it to relate to God and worship as much as possible. We have several Bible story books in the bag, some crayons and paper, some stickers, and a doll with a blanket. I also recently added some stringing beads--the beads are letters and I included only the letters for Jesus and Bible.

*When the preacher quotes a scripture we try to get Q to help us find it in our Bible. We're working on teaching her that red words mean Jesus said them, to see the names of the books at the tops of the pages, and she has learned the word Bible and can point it out on the front of Bibles. We sometimes quietly sing "The B-I-B-L-E" when we get out the Bible.

*I stole this tactic from a Mommy friend--I saw her opening the bulletin in her child's lap during "family time," where our involvement minister introduces people who have placed membership or become baptized. The bulletin includes a photo of each of these people, and this smart Mommy was showing her child how to find each person named. I love this, and we now add this component as another way Q can be involved.

I will say that I leave every Sunday frustrated about one thing or another that went wrong. Quinn does not do well at all with talking quietly. She tries to push and hit when she doesn't get her way during worship. She throws whatever she is working with. But then there are the weeks when she gleefully shouts "Amen" after every song. Or when she hears the word "God" or "Jesus" and repeats it to me.

One particularly frustrating week I felt like she wasn't listening to a single thing I was telling her. Worship felt like a wrestling match. That week we talked about Holiness, and throughout the songs and sermon I whispered in her ear about God's holiness. When we got home I just knew she had tuned me out completely. Then as I was putting her down for her nap she said, "Momma, God's Holy." This is a phrase she repeats at least once every day. She started saying, "Mommy's holy. Daddy's holy." This led to me explaining to her that no, Mommy is a sinner, and if we have sin we can't be Holy. But because Jesus went to the cross and died, his blood makes me holy. And she is beginning to understand that.

So that is why I wouldn't trade those crazy, frustrating, painful Sunday worship services for anything! Because my 22 month-old has already gleaned that the cross hurt Jesus and that God is Holy from being included in worship.

Sidenote, her favorite worship song is now "Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord." She will say, "Momma, holy eyes, Momma sing it." That means she wants me to sing it to her.

So I realize we aren't even close to doing things perfectly, and there are so many weeks we want to just give up and plunk her in the nursery and sit childless in glorious quiet.....But we're hanging in there, and I just wanted to share a little bit about our journey and our attempt to convey to our daughter the importance of worshiping with the family of believers in the presences of a HOLY, mighty God.

Two books that have shaped me greatly in the area of children and worship are:

And I'll have more to say on this in the future...believe me. :) It's definitely an area of passion for me.
Posted by Picasa