Keeping the Gifts from our Children

By Cindy Koch

A scream. A squirm. A cute little smile. A toy car flies right over grandma Margo’s reverent head. Teaching little children to sit in church is one of the most frustrating experiences a parent may ever have. I know. I’ve done it a few times.

Standing in the narthex, shushing in the hallways, rocking in the cry rooms, the little babies are not cut out to sit in church. Only more frustrating than the sweet little sinner you are desperately trying to contain is the unsolicited advice from someone who has figured out the secret. Sit in front; they’re an angel. Sit in back and bring more Cheerios. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn’t. Sunday morning turns into a battle—parent against child—seemingly not even worth the fight.

There are churches that lovingly try to ease the burden of the unruly children. Babysitting, children’s church, even youth group instead of worship. Removing the kids from the controlled quiet sanctuary makes it easier on all who sit and pray. Providing an escape from the grown-up traditions attempts to engage the children on their own level of faith. The path of least resistance for adults and children alike, a place for everyone before their God.

However, solving the struggle of children in church takes away a beautiful confession of our faith. The crying and tantrums continue to remind us of a simple truth about ourselves. Uninhibited and immature, the babes say out loud a reality about ourselves which we will not. In their tears, they simply confess, “I don’t want to be here. You should kick me out.”

But adults or children, God answers all of us back in a most gracious and forgiving way. He sees our deep cry for separation, our longing for escape from his quiet solace. He looks directly at our puffy defiant eyes and says, “I forgive you.” He finds us running away from the declaration of His peace and joy and says, “In my presence, this is right where you belong.”

Oh, how terribly inconvenient to have loud and unworthy sinners chosen to receive the gifts of God. And yet this is exactly what we cling to on account of Christ alone. We are the ones whom Jesus came to save. To us, faith comes by hearing, and these life-proclaiming words of Christ are richly given during worship. Even children hear and know, not because of their own impatient understandings but only because of the merciful inclusion into the family of God through the death and resurrection of Christ.

My heart melts for the mother who fights through a service to be wrapped in the word of God, if only for a second. I’m so proud of the father who sings steadfast next to his restless child, again and again. Because secretly, I know they want to proclaim it alongside their child, “I don’t want to be here. You should kick me out.” And God answers both parent and child, “I forgive you. In my presence, this is right where you belong.”