I heard my 3-year-old gasp over the sound of our church’s piano and looked over just a moment too late to catch the crayons falling behind our pew. I set my hymnal down and crouched to the floor collecting as many of the stray crayons as I could. As I looked up, I locked eyes with my husband who was out in the narthex chasing our toddler.

The look we gave each other said, “Why are we even here? Neither of us is getting anything out of this.

I handed the crayons back to my son, and as I turned toward the front, I realized that through that whole exchange, I hadn’t stopped singing the pre-sermon hymn.

Typical, I thought, I’m going through the motions of yet another hymn and getting nothing out of it.

Sundays are like that with three kids ages 2-5. We’re chasing toddlers, whisper-reading books during the sermon, attempting to draw cartoon characters upon request, breaking up fights, and taking kids to the bathroom one more time. We’re technically participating in the church service, but we’re so distracted by trying to teach our kids how to sit like human beings in church that we don’t entirely process the message.

Actually, it’s not just on Sunday mornings that I feel like I’m going through the motions of my faith.

My personal devotions are very short and often interrupted. They’re a far cry from the in-depth Scriptural study I did as a young adult before becoming a parent.

My prayer life is scattered and sometimes incoherent.

Taking care of three young children has me feeling spent. Physically, emotionally, and mentally spent. God’s not really getting my best these days, and it’s really easy to beat myself up over that. It’s really easy to feel guilt and treat my relationship with God as something to check off a list.

As if my faith is doing God a favor.

The reality is that I’m clinging to God as a lifeline during an exhausting period in my life. The reality is that He’s not going anywhere no matter how rote my prayers are or how short my personal devotion is.

The reality is that nothing and no one can tear me away from God’s hand. Not even the exhaustion of the early years of motherhood.

As I think back to the scene in church that Sunday, I’m grateful for parents who raised me in a Christian home, church, and school because those hymns and Bible verses are written in my memory and on my heart. They’re there to fall back on when I’m too tired to form a coherent thought or when I’m distracted by the needs of my young kids.

And that’s what I’m doing for my kids now. I often forget that teaching my kids Bible stories and showing them how to sit still at church is a form of ministry and praise in and of itself. If I’m being honest, I prefer deep intellectual conversations about the Bible and forms of ministry that are more public and garner more recognition.

That’s why this stage of life is so humbling and so necessary. It’s truly helping me to realize how much I need God, not the other way around.

Hanging on to God for dear life in this stage may mean I’m not digging into Biblical commentary, but rather teaching my child a short and simple memory verse. It may mean singing Jesus Loves Me before bed instead of getting emotional over a liturgically rich hymn. It may mean a quick prayer in the shower instead of a drawn-out conversation with God.

Thankfully it’s not about what I’m doing for my Savior, but what He did for me.

Someday, probably sooner than I think, I’ll start to emerge from this baby and toddler fog. I’ll have the mental and physical bandwidth to serve and worship with all my heart and mind. I’ll volunteer more, and bake more for potlucks, and my ministry will extend outside the walls of my home.

But for now, His grace is sufficient for me.

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Sometimes Church is Hard

Dig Yourself Out of the Trenches and Go to Church—Even When It’s Hard

I Don’t Want To Raise Church Kids, I Want To Raise Jesus Kids

Emily Krause

Emily Krause is a freelance travel writer and author of the family travel blog A Mom Explores. She seeks to encourage other moms to find adventure with their kids, whether that’s their own backyard or somewhere across the ocean. Emily, her husband, and 3 young children call sunny Florida home, and love spending time exploring nearby beach towns.