Helping Children in Church

(In an effort to save some of the works that I’ve done that I really like, I’m reposting.  This was originally posted in 2010 at my old blog: The Rebellious Pastor’s Wife)

How children should behave in church (or whether they should be there) can be quite a contentious issue. I would rather hear children in church than not have them be there.  As a pastor’s wife and a La Leche League Leader, I’ve heard so many stories about mothers getting the evil eye when they walked into the sanctuary with a babe in arms or a toddler. Obviously, if your child is proving to be a distraction or too loud for others to hear, it is a matter of consideration to take them out and deal with it. What that means is defined by your family perspective and the age and temperament of your child.

I am a firm believer in “faith comes by hearing,” and children belong in the presence of their Savior. They need to be a part of the body of all believers from the instant they are baptized. I am always scared that nurseries, children’s church, and Sunday Schools during church give one of two (or both) messages to children

1. That they don’t belong in the presence of God,

2. That they should be involved in activities that are more fun than church.

Either message can be incredibly damaging to their faith.

That being said, having children in church can be a challenge. I ought to know. As a pastor’s wife, I am a single parent every Sunday. With so many men who are not involved in church anymore, and so many babies not born into nuclear, married families—many women are put in the position that if they want to go to church, they have to take care of their kids alone, and so many put off the challenge of having children in church until they are older, because they will be easier to handle.

The truth is, there is not an age that is “easier to handle.”  Children behave best in church who are used to being there.  Babies and toddlers are a challenge, but so are 6 year olds who don’t know what they should do, and definitely so are middle school aged children.  There is no magic age where you can say “It’s time to go to church now,” and they will be excited, if it isn’t a regular part of their lives.

I know this isn’t easy. There were many days I stayed home from church because I wasn’t up to the fight of keeping Maggie in the pew that day or dealing with Chris’s moods (he definitely was NOT a morning person). There were days when I wonder why I was there because I didn’t hear a word of the sermon, wasn’t able to go to communion, etc. and I was exhausted or in tears the rest of the day.  But my kids got older, and they are a joy to worship with.  In fact, they often go to church without me, of their own free will.

So here are some things that did make it easier for me:

1. Sit in front. Most parents have a tendency to sit in the back because they don’t feel like the whole church sees when their children act up and they can make an easy exit. But slump down in the pew to your child’s level or eyesight. They can’t see anything besides the back of people’s heads. They don’t see why they are there. They often behave a lot better when they can see what is going on.

In our church, there are side aisles, so while I sat up front, I didn’t necessarily sit front and center, so I could still make an easy exit. There even was a door off to the side to a hallway. But even if you don’t have that, it is less distracting to everyone than you think if you need to walk down the aisle (side) or the nave.

2. Bring quiet toys, non-messy snacks, and a drink in a bottle or sippy cup (or discreetly nurse). Young children don’t have the attention span to deal with nothing but church for the whole service, and having something quiet to do helps, and if nothing else, it helps you. Chris used to love to stack hymnals, and when he got done, he would put them in a new stack. Plastic animals, stuffed animals, Hot Wheels (if your kid is not the kind that goes Vrroomm) or coloring books can be a help. Kids also behave better when their blood sugar is even. Something like Cheerios is generally fine. And, having a drink right there means there is one less reason to take them out.  This means you get to hear more.

3. Pay attention to what is developmentally appropriate. For instance, a baby or toddler will have difficulty sitting still. He is not being rebellious or difficult, his mind is just hard-wired for movement at that age. Also, take into account temperament. My son Chris could sit still and become absorbed in books at an early age. At the same age, Maggie needed to move.

I would take my kids out if they couldn’t sit still, but somewhere around late two or early three, there were times when I could tell that this was less true.  That my child COULD keep from being active, he just didn’t want to. This was then more of an issue of limits rather than ability. When this became the case, leaving the sanctuary meant that we went and sat perfectly still in a chair for 5 minutes out in the parish hall. They then learned that since snacks, coloring books, etc. were still in the church, they could actually do more in church than they could if we left.

Children are hard-wired to challenge limits, some kids more than others. My rule was they could play quietly in the pew, but couldn’t leave the pew. Maggie would go to the edge of the pew, get “that look” in her eye and then bolt. We’d do the chair in the parish hall thing and then I’d ask, “are you ready to go sit in the pew now?” Often, especially at first, we’d be right back in the parish hall in five minutes. After a while, it became a non-issue. As frustrating as this is, it is quite normal, and it is part of their learning to think for themselves. Your job is to set good limits and make them stick!

A discussion on my homeschool board had where some parents with each five minutes their child was good they’d give them a pile of tokens and then take one away for each infraction during church. With my kids, just leaning over and whispering to them, “you are being SO good” was enough. If I were doing tokens, I’d be inclined to give them one every five minutes that they were good instead of the method of taking one away every time they misbehaved. Some kids will do anything to keep from losing one.  Maggie probably would’ve screamed bloody murder, and Chris would’ve tried to engage me in a logical debate.

3. Try 1-2-3 Magic. This is a book or video you can generally get in the library or at Barnes and Noble/Borders. When I was working as a social worker, this was one of the programs we taught to parents who were in the DCS system. The method takes the emotion out of it, which is nice, and sets clear warnings. I was going out of my mind with my daughter who bounces off the walls, and when I started using it, it helped SO much. It worked well in the home, but it worked MARVELOUSLY in church. Maggie was three, and very active. She’d forget to whisper if she had to tell me something, I could just hold up one finger. Three minutes later, she might start trying to walk out of the pew. I’d gently grab her wrist (my reflexes were getting pretty good by this point) and bring her back and hold up two fingers. If something else happened that was not right, within that ten minute time period, she got a time out. At first, I went out with her, but eventually, I could just have her stand in the hallway, in plain sight (remember, I mentioned we had an open door right next to my pew).  When time was up, I could just wave her back into the pew. I wasn’t missing church anymore because of her!!

After a couple of months, I never got to three anymore.  She had it down.

So, what worked or works for you? I’d be eager to hear, and I’m sure it would help other parents as well.

A Day Like Any Other Day

The rain is falling for the third or fourth time today.  Some days, I can’t keep track.  The dog is hiding under the house and the cats are cuddled up on the porch.  It’s a night like any other here in the Papua New Guinea Highlands.

We don’t know how many we’ll have left.

I lead devotions on Tuesday night, because it is the night for our regional conference call.  Tonight we prayed the Litany —

“To rule and govern Your holy Christian Church; to preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living;

To put an end to all schisms and causes of offense; to bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived;

To beat down Satan under our feet, to send faithful laborers into Your harvest, and to accompany Your Word with Your grace and Spirit. —

We implore you to hear us, Good Lord.”                                           (Lutheran Service Book, p. 288)

And we sang “The Church’s One Foundation” –

The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, Her Lord;
She is His new creation, by water and The Word.
From heav’n He came and sought her, to be His holy Bride;
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.   (Lutheran Service Book, p. 644)

That got me to thinking about Donna.  Donna is an incredibly special woman who has been a missionary for several years.  She retired from being a teacher and then went and served in Guinea.  After her term in Guinea, she signed up again and went to Indonesia.  At the school in Indonesia, someone accused them of evangelizing, and they were deported, and then she was sent to New Guinea, where I met her.  She hugged me with great energy the first time we met.  Donna equals warmth and comfort.

Our first weeks, we were neighbors with Donna.  She would sit on the porch swing every morning, singing hymns.  Often, Jeff and I were still lying in bed, trying to process this amazing place before we were inundated with it again.  Donna told us that before she was deported from Indonesia, she sat and sang hymns while she waited alone to find out what was going to happen to her.

I’ve been singing a lot more hymns lately — either out loud or in my head.

This morning, Anton sent me a picture of the latest article in the paper, accusing us of not even being missionaries and being criminals (who, us?  really???) and I’ve been thinking that it might be time to start getting a suitcase ready.  We have not been served any papers, and if we get deported, I am not sure that the laws will be followed – they certainly haven’t been thus far.

Tonight, the thought popped into my head:  “If I were to need to put my whole life into a suitcase, what would I pick?”  Thus far, I have my favorite mauve vest.  I don’t wear it here.  It’s usually too warm or too cold.  I’m not sure it even fits anymore. Without hesitation, I grabbed our Advent wreath, then our wedding picture and the kids’ baptismal portraits. I probably will try to cram in our Christmas ornaments — all of them were picked each year and commemorate something that happened in the year.  I will miss my Mexican blankets.  I haven’t used them here, but I’ve had them since before I was married, and they are still warm and soft.  I will also miss the spice houses my mother bought me as a wedding present.  Maybe if there is room somewhere.  It seems like a weird list of things.

The Christmas things have a particular value.  Our stuff hadn’t arrived yet last Christmas.  We had been traveling in early December and very eager to get home to Timothy so that we could be at church again.  Culture shock slammed into us as we sat in church on that 3rd Sunday of Advent, and they sang the exact same songs they’d sung since we arrived, and the exact same songs they’ve sung ever since.  The bush is the same, the weather is the same, the roads are the same.  Nothing was different.  I don’t want to feel that way again at Christmas.

There is a pervading sense of calm.  The newspapers may attack or defend, but here,  the rain falls, the cats cry on the porch as if I hadn’t just given them a pile of bacon rinds ten minutes ago, and the day just kind of meanders to night, like every other day.

Whatever happens, God is good.

Words of Comfort — Miscarriage

I wrote this post six years ago on my other blog, The Rebellious Pastor’s Wife.  I have participated in several discussions lately regarding miscarriage, and I thought I would repost.

Words of Comfort

I meant to write this a couple of weeks ago, but there hasn’t been time, so I apologize that this is an unusual writing for Easter, but in some ways it still fits.

Between my son and my daughter, are three children who are in Heaven.

There was Mara – we don’t know if she was a girl, but we had a boy in our arms, for some reason, it was easier to consider her a girl — whether because we wanted one, or because it was too painful to relate it to the idea of losing Chris. Mara means bitterness. Naomi had chosen it for herself when her own name, meaning “pleasant” could no longer apply to a woman who has lost her husband and two sons, and all she had.

We were in in the emergency room until 3 a.m. the night before my husband’s ordination, and the process of losing her took weeks. It was probably an ectopic pregnancy that “resolved itself,” they never could find the embryo…just an empty sac in my uterus, and a blip near my ovary. The HCG slowly went up for several weeks, and then slowly started going down.

Then came Jessica. We lost her at six weeks, on Ash Wednesday. It hadn’t been a week since we’d found out about her existence. I cried through the contractions while holding and nursing my one year old while my husband was at church conducting the service. There had been a little spotting, enough for me to stay home that evening, but nothing to indicate that miscarriage was imminent. By the time he came home, everything was done, and my toddler was sleeping calmly. I haven’t been to church on Ash Wednesday since.

Noah we lost at 19 weeks. The midwife couldn’t find his heartbeat, but we didn’t believe anything could be wrong until we saw the face of the ultrasound technician who wouldn’t let us see the screen. After all, we’d made it past the “dangerous time.” But she just sent us back out again and told us that our doctor would be calling. The doctor wanted to send me to an abortionist to get a D&E, because they were expert at the procedure that most OBs never have to perform. I wouldn’t let a murderer chop up and suck out my baby. My doctor then checked me into the hospital, induced labor, and continually checked on me through the night. We held him in our hands, wept over him, had him cremated, and gave him a memorial service with my inlaws in attendance. God bless them.

The congregation didn’t know about the first miscarriage. We didn’t know them well enough to let them know what was going on. I cannot begin to express the pain of enduring the other two losses in the public eye, putting on a brave face while people assured me “it was God’s will” or “you could always have another,” or worse “At least you have Chris.” Those are statements made to people who do not realize that the children lost were real. They stabbed my heart.

There were two words that brought me comfort. Words directly from the Bible…words that usually only seem to draw attention for their smallness…the shortest verse in the Bible. “Jesus wept.”

Jesus wept outside of Lazarus’s tomb, knowing full well that He would be raising him from the dead in just a few moments….knowing alsol that he would soon conquer death. Jesus wept because it was NOT His will that any of us should ever have to face death. Jesus knew so completely the eternal horror we would face because of our sinfulness. We often glibly dismiss what to him was so tragic that He Himself took on flesh and endured our punishment and conquered it so that we would not be utterly consumed by it.

A few weeks ago, these words rang in my ears again because they were the gospel text, and hearing them brought to mind that it was near that time again. Nine years ago, these words brought comfort to my heart because Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was the gospel reading near the week that would’ve been Noah’s due date. As far as I am concerned, it is one of the richest texts in the Bible (and it blows me away that it isn’t even in the One Year Series)– showing Thomas’s loyalty to His Lord, allowing the much maligned Martha to be the one to run to her Lord and utter the clearest confession of faith in the resurrection of the dead that is in the Bible…..and to show so clearly how tragic death is…that death even brings the Lord of Life to tears.

It was not God’s will that my children died. I will see them again in Heaven, but to know that Christ wept with me over their deaths even though He is victorious over death brought so much more comfort than “it was God’s will.” That didn’t ring true. God never made man to die — He didn’t want us to know what evil was. He wanted us to eat from the Tree of Life. Satan and man conspired to bring to bring death and evil into the world. It was not God’s will that Adam and Eve should die, or that Lazarus should’ve died (twice), or that as we age our bodies should break down and turn on us, or that the babies that He creates to live should die before even taking a breath…His tears show that, as does His own death and resurrection.

He is risen, He is risen indeed, and because He rose from the dead, I know that I shall rise also, and I know with confidence that my children are safe with Him. My heart misses them and will always grieve that I was not allowed to hold them, know them, be with them….. because that is what we grieve when we lose those precious to us. We don’t lose that grief even when we have the comfort of their salvation. But they are at the feast that I was at today at the communion rail and someday I shall look upon them and know them….because He is risen.

Happy Birthday, Noah

On October 1st, my son turned sixteen.  Not Chris, he will be eighteen in two weeks.

Noah Tyler Horn.  Noah was born dead after his heart stopped beating somewhere around his 16th or 17th week of pregnancy.  Since I refused to go to an abortionist for a D&E, my doctor induced, and after a peaceful labor, I delivered him.  In the quiet hospital room we held him and said goodbye before we were able to say hello.

It blows my mind that I should have two teenage boys (not to mention the two other children that I miscarried early on in the pregnancies, too early to know if each was a boy or a girl).  We should be teaching him to drive, he should be sitting here doing homework, watching movies, and playing Nintendo with Chris and Maggie.  There should be another boy with a deep voice towering over me, teasing his sister, eating us out of house and home.  It would be a very different house.

With Jeff’s surgery it didn’t occur to me that his birthday had passed until a week later, but sixteen is such a tangible age. It doesn’t hurt, exactly, I can’t say exactly what it feels like.  I guess it just is.  But it’s real.