The other day a fairly well known Christian comedian posted a picture on social media. The picture was of a card handed to someone with a child during a church service that politely stated, "Thank you for being committed to being in church with your child. In order to allow those seated near you to engage in the message, please enjoy the remainder of the service in our lobby. A connection team member will assist you." The card was obviously given to the parent when, during the course of the service, the child was acting, well, like a child.
Scrolling through the comments, I saw everything from praise for the church because, "children should be seen, not heard," to condemnation of the church for so passive aggressively handling rambunctious children.
Ironically, this situation hit close to home for me.
Right now, I have a three-year-old and a three-month-old. Both boys. We are in a very loud and chaotic season of life. Most days, it's a chaotic mess. A beautiful, chaotic mess that is insane and exhausting.
Last Sunday, I had been sitting in church when my 3-month-old began to get fussy. My husband and I tried to keep him quiet while also wrangling our 3-year-old into his seat, and trying desperately to listen to the sermon—any little bits of hope we can cling to in the moment. During this mess (I can only imagine how we looked), another momma who has five of her own much older than ours came over to me and quietly said, "I know that kind of tired and I'd love to take a turn." Those were her words of solidarity and comfort as she offered to take my sweet baby and walk with him behind us. I handed him to her reluctantly, not wanting her to miss the service, and also self-conscious of the fact that my kiddo has great lungs (i.e. can be heard a mile down the street, easy). But she was kind and confident, and I really needed a minute.
I'd like to clarify that our church is a small church plant. On Sundays, there are only about 60 people on average, and there are tons and tons of kids. Probably as many kids as there are adults. I didn't know this woman particularly well, but we'd been around each other enough that I felt comfortable letting her help. Her kids are older, 7-14ish, and sit calmly together in a row almost every Sunday. Something I admire and hope to achieve one day. But when she offered to walk with my kiddo that morning, I never felt judged, or silently criticized that my kids weren't doing or acting like her kids.
I felt loved.
I felt seen and loved and taken care of.
As I saw this comedian's post and reflected on what it said to those parents in that moment, and contrasted it to what I'd experienced that Sunday, and I couldn't help but feel deep empathy and indignation on their behalf.
In Mark 10, Jesus is teaching among crowds of people, Pharisees (the religious pious) and his own disciples. He is teaching and healing and addressing questions. At one point, the people began to bring children to Him so that He might lay hands on them and pray, but the disciples basically said, 'these kids aren't good enough to bother Jesus, take them away.' But when Jesus saw this, Mark says He was indignant. Indignant. A quick dictionary search will let you know this word's strong connotation: feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment. (Mark 10: 13-16)
Jesus saw these children. He saw them and deeply loved them. He was compassionate and caring and welcomed them to His side. He didn't push them away, He didn't consider them less than or annoying. He came to their defense, saw how unfairly they were being treated and rebuked the disciples. Not only this but he commanded them to bring the children to him, then goes even further to say, "for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mark 10:14b-15)
Don't you think some of the disciples were probably thinking, "um, excuse me, aren't we who the kingdom belongs to?" Some were probably embarrassed at the rebuke. But Jesus looked at these children and stated their eternal value plainly, without hesitation.
That Sunday, when my sweet mom friend took my little guy and gave me a moment of peace to listen to God's word, it spoke to me just as much as the sermon that day. Jesus used her to remind me that, not only does He love and care for my kids just as they are, He loves and cares for me as well. I am His child.
That is what the church is supposed to look like—a community. A body of people coming together to lift one another up and carry each other's burdens. Church is not just a place where we sit and consume. It is a place where we serve, where we give, and where we are called to sacrificially love others.
Children are not a burden. They are image-bearers. They are beautiful, created-in-His-image little people, who we are also called to serve and love and help grow. And if we consider Jesus' words to be true and let them resonate with us, we should actually be looking at them to learn how to receive His kingdom.
So as that mom, with those kids sometimes, I am grateful for my friend who chose to love instead of judge or consume, and lived out the Gospel to me that day.
I want my children to be loved and accepted, especially in the church. If I'm being honest ... I want to be loved and accepted in the church. What a great opportunity then to, instead of isolating, bring kiddos (even rowdy ones) and their parents into the body with loving arms—ones that are sometimes willing to hold a crying baby.