I have been pulling solo-parenting duty during church for three years now. My husband is in the church choir so my role is to primarily be a mom and secondarily, praise the Lord. So, I sit in the pew with my little blonde-headed minion and make every attempt to keep her quiet and happy while also trying to glean some sort of inspirational joy and passion from the message and feel Christ’s presence in our congregation.
It’s not God’s fault, but I rarely feel inspired.
I spend so much time focusing on keeping my child from kicking the back of the pew, I rarely get to stand up and sing a whole hymn without wiping her nose or grabbing her hand to keep her from running away.
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I spend so much time rummaging in my fashionable handbag, which doubles as a horse-adorned backpack, for Cheerios, grapes, crayons, stickers, and toy cows and horses that I rarely even know the crucial point of the day’s sermon is.
It’s a continual disappointment.
I spend so much time getting all the bells and whistles that accompany getting a toddler ready for church that I am never on time to church. I am not exaggerating. Today I was 10 minutes late, which might be a new (embarrassing) record for me. I was tempted not to go in—just turn the truck around, go home, and put on my leggings to wait for my husband to come home.
But today was different.
When it came time for the offering, she joyously rushed down the aisle to contribute our weekly envelope. Then as the doxology started, my daughter stood up on her own—with no prompting, pleading, or begging. She recognized it was the time in the service to stand and sing.
I looked down and was overcome with shock.
Later, during children’s time, which is a very rare occurrence in our church because our daughter is the only weekly attendee under 10. I asked her if she wanted to go up and she nodded an emphatic yes, so I led her to the front and explained she needed to sit on the stairs and listen to the story about Jesus, and then she could come back to us. I had 2.5 percent confidence that this would all go to plan.
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But again, today was different.
I watched and listened as she answered questions about offerings and clean hearts. She was engaged and very talkative—the latter part coming from her father’s genetics. My pride turned to red-faced shame as she decided to talk about her visit to timeout when she didn’t brush her teeth, her sparkly new Valentine’s dress from my dad, and how her grandma had bought her a tablet. None of these were pertinent, and I have no idea why she brought them up. But, she didn’t cry, and she was polite and did listen to the message. She grabbed her fruit snacks reward and rushed back to us with a proud smile on her face.
It was also United Methodist Women’s Day at our church, so the sermon was led by a visiting female pastor who shared insight on how women are always waiting.
Waiting for husbands to come home from war or work. Waiting for the right to vote. Waiting for the right to serve as clergy in the church and more recently, waiting for equal healthcare rights, pay, and equal representation. I was moved and empowered that the pastor addressed these topics, and I told her so following the sermon. I asked my daughter to say hi to the nice pastor, although not suspecting her to comply with my wishes because, well, why would she? I think all children thrive on frustrating and embarrassing their mothers.
But today was different.
My daughter proudly told the pastor, “Girls can do anything!” before adding, “Look at my shiny shoes!”
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I nearly cried multiple times today in church, not necessarily because I was moved by the Holy Spirit, but because I could finally see my efforts for the Holy Spirit to move my daughter becoming fruitful.
I usually leave church feeling like a failure as a mother, frustrated that I had missed the message, and upset that I had been defeated, yet again, by a toddler.
But, today was different.