Let’s talk for a minute about a desperate place every Orthodox mother has been in.
You see, in our church, kids do NOT leave for the service. They do not have a separate kids’ sermon or kids’ school. They stay with us, in the church, for the entire 2, sometimes more, hours. We do this for a reason– kids can worship in their own way, even if that way sounds deafening half the time. And how else are they going to learn to love church if they aren’t with their parents in the service, ready to copy the adults around them? We all learn by copying, so the premise is that they should grow up imitating the adults in their life, not their peers in some separate room. They shouldn’t feel inferior, they should feel like they are part of the Body of Christ at all times.
But it gets a little loud and crazy. And every church I’ve been to has been especially considerate of this. One time, I took Gregory out because he was whooping and hollering (his version of singing). One of the deacons followed me out and said, “Oh, dear, I hope you didn’t leave because you thought he was being loud! We love it when we can hear the young ones. God’s Kingdom is especially for them. It brings tears to my eyes when I can hear them. Please bring him back in!”
Another time, we had a wild kid in the back, kicking and flailing. I don’t think he was participating at all, but the mother sure was trying to. He was getting so loud, he was drowning out the Priest’s homily! Everybody was staring at each other, awkwardly, wondering what they should do, if anything. I’ll never forget it, but the Priest’s wife, a wonderful mom of two, marched straight to the back. Everyone held their breath, wondering if she was going to ask the mom to leave. Instead, she picked up the kid and talked to him softly, calming him down. She figured that instead of complaining, she would pitch in and help so that the mom could participate in the service.
But I’ll tell you one person who minds the kids and their disruptions. It’s usually the one person who’s the least tolerant. It’s always the kids’ mom.
I’ve been that mom a lot lately. Mortified, hearing every squawk as though it’s on a megaphone, looking around to make sure no one’s staring. Gregory is going through a super defiant stage, where he purposefully walks straight up to the line and camps out. If we say no laying down and flopping on the floor, he will lay almost completely down on his elbows and stare at us, showing that he can technically follow the letter of the law without the spirit of it. Sometimes, if he’s feeling especially naughty, he’ll attack his brother at some random moment, causing them both to scream. Once, he tried to BODYSLAM his brother in church, missed, and fell flat on his bum (it looked like it hurt!). It was hard to feel too sorry for him, since he hurt himself trying to hurt someone else.
A few months ago, it was particularly bad. I took Gregory out for the bazillionth time that day, and tried talking to him. He wasn’t listening, that much was clear.
Something inside me snapped. I reached a desperate place.
“Gregory,” I said. “When you act like that, you make Momma sad. You make Dadda sad. You even make JESUS sad.”
His eyes popped wide. I had his full attention now.
“Jesus?” he said quietly.
I felt sooo terrible. My church behind me was preaching Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance of the people He loves, and I was out here telling my son that Jesus was disappointed in Him. That might be an appropriate conversation for later, granted, because being respectful is a good skill to have. But all a two year old is going to hear is, “Jesus doesn’t like me.”
I tried to move on, but he told Jesse later, “Jesus is SAAAAD.” Jesse shot me this look that said, what the heck did you tell our son?
Total Mom Fail.
He brought it up for several weeks in a row. When somebody would ask him about church, he would say, “Jesus SAD.” It made me feel like a terrible person every single time.
A few weeks went by, and he stopped mentioning it. When he found out we’d be going to church in the morning, he would say, excitedly, “See Jesus? Kiss the cross? Cah-moon-un?” No mention of Sad Jesus. Whew.
This last Sunday, when I brought him out for the bazillionth time once again, I tried to have the talk again, taking a different approach.
“Gregory,” I said. “We come to church to pray to Jesus because He loves us. When you act like that, Momma can’t pray. Dadda can’t pray.” Then I finished with, “When we go back in, I want you to apologize to Dadda and Momma.”
“Yeah,” he said, “And JESUS.”
Ugh, there it was again. I ignored what he said and brought him back in. He acted eager, like he couldn’t wait.
And then I got a front row seat to my son’s tender little heart that I love so much. He marched straight over to Jesse and said, “Dadda, I sorry. You pray.” And then, without being prompted, he walked out to the center of the church, straight under the large icon of Jesus on the ceiling. I could just barely hear him as he looked straight up and said softly, “Jesus, I so sorry.”
Tears came to my eyes. For that moment, I got to see my son how God sees him. A tender soul, open, willing to apologize and be loved anyways. For me, church that day was a huge lesson. It’s so easy to go before Jesus and tell him what we need or want. We want him to fix everything. But we ignore the one thing that begins the path to fixing everything. Repentance.
It was so simple for Gregory to march in, look Jesus right in the eye and repent. I thank God for letting me see that, because he taught his mother so much about child-like humility.