One Sunday, I chose to bring my cranky older baby into church. He was feeling clingy and getting a tooth. I knew him well enough to know that there was no way he'd last more than 10 minutes in the church nursery before I was paged to pick him up. I knew this because I had been paged 10 minutes after dropping him off in the very crowded nursery for the last 4 Sundays, and this was the worst mood yet.
As we walked in before the service started, he was already fighting my grip and monopolizing the noise in the room. After being up with him the night before, we had overslept and were attending the busiest late-afternoon service. We live in a college town, and we felt like the oldest (and youngest) people in the room.
The auditorium was almost full, but we managed to find a couple of empty chairs on an aisle while we made our loud, dramatic entrance. As we slid into our seats, I glanced down the row. There was no smiles or sympathetic nods from other mothers; actually, the entire row of college students next to me looked ready to move to new seats! (Nothing makes a room full of 20 year-olds more uncomfortable than a crying baby.)
Once the music kicked up and the lights dimmed, that was it: my son started wailing. He and I found ourselves out in hall within minutes, me feeling a little ostracized, him feeling relieved. We never made it back in. After getting everyone dressed, fed, and out the door, I attended church for less than 5 minutes that week.
After a long week of not enough sleep and not enough adult interaction, an intense hour of parenting out in the lobby is not where I wanted to find myself that Sunday morning. I was left feeling torn between worshiping in the way I wanted to be and fulfilling my part in the role God chose for my life.
Some babies just insist that no nursery worker or children's minister can take mom's place, not even for a half hour. That was my child. He absolutely refused to be pacified. There was no toy, no snack, no way to be held or rocked, and no distraction from his anxiety. (People say it's just a stage, but that doesn't really help when it's happening to you.)
It was a little embarrassing. I would stand there in the lobby holding my screaming child and watch as a dozen kids the same age as mine went happily into the nursery while their moms freely walked away. In that situation, you can't help but wonder what the heck you are doing wrong.
(I realize now, his obstinance was not entirely because of my parenting. Part of it is just him being who he is. I only had so much control over my son, even as baby or toddler. Some kids are always happy in the nursery, others kick up a fit the entire way through preschool or beyond. Parenting itself is only a portion of what contributes to this behavior. A big part of it is just the child's personality, tastes, and stage in development.)
Looking back on it, I realize that my own expectations for smooth Sunday mornings were more selfish than anything. I had a serious heart problem: I was much more concerned about how I might escape my difficult parenting reality for an hour than I was about worshiping God in church.
God really caught my attention out there in the hall. He taught me quietly with a lot of grace, and I learned a lot.
After weeks (months?) of he worst attitude I could possibly have in this situation, the first thing I learned was that God had specifically placed me in the hallway and not in the seats. He gave me this child. He called me into motherhood. This was my place to flourish or fail. That knowledge did not make me feel warm and fuzzy, but it did provide some much needed prospective on the situation. I lowered my self-centered expectations for Sunday mornings, and, since I was an absolute mess, I asked for help.
I didn't want to ask for help, because I'm proud, but once I started talking about it, I ended up asking everyone I could think of: my husband, my mother, my father, my grandmother, my cousins, my life group, other Christian moms, friends who are paster's wives, and the nursery volunteers. It was amazing how many of the godly women I admired had spent a year of Sundays in hallways, or more. I collected stories and advice. We traded survival tips. And, best of all, some of these precious people offered practical help; sometimes I stayed in the lobby for the songs, and my husband or my mom traded with me for the sermon.
This clingy phase lasted for a year of Sundays. I admit, sometimes I passed off my child to the nursery workers kicking and screaming just to experience a song or two alone before getting paged to pick him up. This tactic never worked for us, but I am ok that we tried it. My was just anxious and needed his mom, and that's ok, but it was also ok to stretch his world a little. Also, on these weeks, I would often come back and stay and play with him until he was no longer feeling anxious and afraid.
Some weeks, we streamed our church service online from home. We did this when someone was sick or when nobody in the house had slept. Our church started a live streaming service just about the same time my son was born, and the timing for our family could not have been more convenient. When it comes to spiritual nourishment, it's ok to think outside the box sometimes!
But, even with the extra help and support and the occasional e-church Sunday, there were still few weeks where I ended up in the church lobby for the entire service. (For instance, the week when my son came down with a virus, and I didn't catch on until half way through the service.)
In the end, the lobby wasn't a bad place to spend a year of Sundays. I learned a lot in that place.
First, it's a really good place to pray. The hall is active yet quiet. As a parent, you're primarily guiding how your child spends the time while allowing your little one to be him- or herself. Maybe you're nursing or cuddling or handing out toys. But, you're not doing much talking in the hall other than directing interest away from minor hazards (like an uncovered outlet or the stairs) and toward a better choice.
In those moments when you're parenting on autopilot, pray. Maybe try the oil and vinegar approach? If there's bitterness there, I tried to confront it first, and I think confronting it helped improve my attitude during that time.
It's a place to reach out. This is the place where I asked for help in my spiritual walk.
If Sunday morning parenting is wearing on you week after week, and you're struggling to grow and thrive in this chapter, you're never alone. There's moms on either side of you that have been there. They have walked this road, and they know the way.
Start by opening up about your struggle. Talk to your family, your friends.
Join a new MOPS group or women's Bible study. This is a new chapter, after all, and it comes with a steep learning curve. Don't be afraid to reach for new forms of support, especially from other moms. It's scary at first, but it might end up being exactly what you need.
What did I do? I got plugged in! I joined my church's MOPS, and I made new Christian mom friends. Another friend and I get out our strollers and walk and talk through some tough accountability questions on Thursdays. Also, a group of us meet monthly, just the moms, and no kids allowed (unless... well... it happened sometimes).
If you're struggling and don't know where to start to build this community around yourself, please feel welcome to reach out to me personally. We might be able to come up with some new ideas together.
My e-mail: brohgan [@] gmail.com
It's a place to gain perspective. When I'm being a grouch because my life is so hard, bumping into someone whose life is way harder stops my negative thoughts every time. There is always someone dealing with something bigger and harder than my own struggles, and I need to look past my own life to gain perspective. In fact, some of the people reading this are probably struggling much more than I have been.
For instance, I've met people who are primary caretakers in other situations, not just babies and toddlers. My time in the hall might be a couple of years, while others time in the hall might be a significant portion of a lifetime.
I have also yet to spend time in the hall without running into someone who has been openly struggling with infertility or infant loss.
Pay attention to the people around you, smile, and try empathize with the fact that we all have struggles in our lives. Even if they are not a mom of littles, nobody's road is easy on this side of heaven.
It's a place to consider giving back in a new way.
If your church's volunteers are looking like they could use a little help, this might be a good time. Nursery, greeting, coffee bar. Think about what opportunities might be open to you in this stage of life and whether they are a good decision.
If you missed church, here are little ways to make it up throughout the week:
- Read your Bible. Try opening to a Psalm and reading a verse at a time in the cracks. Even if it is only a single verse, meditate on it while completing your tasks throughout the day.
- Read a book by a Christian author you respect and trust. Nap time, bedtime, or an audiobook might be your best chance. Sometimes, I like to read on my Kindle app while rocking my son to sleep.
- There are dozens of church options online now. Here is where to find 250 free sermons from Redeemer Presbyterian Church that come highly recommended. I also like to listen to the Truth for Life podcast by Allister Begg.
And, finally, music.
Nothing soothes my the mom-tude like a playlist.
But, since I've spent a year's worth of Sundays out in the hall, I asked my tribe to help me with this. Here's a playlist of worship songs that they suggested for YOU, the mama who spent Sunday in the hallway, and me too.
When people come together to encourage and help each other out, it's powerful stuff.
Want to know the secret that finally worked on a peaceful transition to the church nursery? Playing with my son with toys in the nursery for a few minutes before quietly slipping out the door while he wasn't paying attention. Will it work for you too? I have no idea, but might be worth a try?
Are you finding yourself frustrated in other areas in this chapter of life, such trying to provide your family with healthy snack and meal options? I write a weekly newsletter to help moms tackle the small stuff around the house, like meal planning, quickly and efficiently so that they can have more time to savor what matters: time with the people who sit around your kitchen table.
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