University Congregational Church
Oct. 20, 2013
“Why I Made My Children Go to Church”
Adapted from Anne Lamott in “Traveling Mercies”
There used to be a conversation in our home every Saturday night or Sunday morning. It went something like this… “Mom, do we have to go to church tomorrow?” With patience, I answered the whine in a calm voice, “yes”. “But why?” the whiner would typically respond as if he or she hadn’t already asked me the week before and the week before that into the distant past that started shortly after he/she was born, “None of my friends have to go to church every week!”
This is a tough question to answer. In fact, I know several adults who still ask the question. “Why church?”
- I can get my spiritual needs met in the wonder of creation.
- Sunday is my day of rest – when I sleep in – church just doesn’t fit into the day.
- I don’t know… that preacher, that person who rubs me the wrong way, the ushers who just talk to each other, the person who doesn’t speak to me… church just isn’t filling my needs.
- I think I’ve outgrown the church. I really don’t believe that stuff anymore.
Well, it won’t surprise you that I made my kids go to church. But I understood their concerns. What young person would rather be in church on the weekends than playing video games, having sleepovers, playing ball or hanging with friends? It doesn’t help to remind them that if they go, they might enjoy it… that the teachers have great lessons planned, that the children’s messages aren’t always lame, that there are cookies and cheese & crackers, and that lots of people talk to them. Don’t confuse them with the facts. Church, well, it’s not the in place to be. This week, I asked my now adult children to weigh in on this topic. Daughter Erin wrote, “Going to church every week was simply habit. It was routine. Just as my parents emphasized the importance of diligence and commitment to important things — relationships, school, extracurricular — so it follows that weekly attendance at church was an expectation. My relationship with church during adolescence was somewhat like having a third brother. It was sometimes an annoyance and it complicated my life. Sometimes church was absolutely insufferable. Sometimes it was difficult to make it a priority. Sometimes attending church felt like an exercise in futility. But then other times, it was rewarding and motivating and felt like it was the most important 2 hours of my week. A mixed bag full of more good things than bad things.”
You would think, noting the bitterness, the resignation, that they were being made to sit through a six-hour Latin mass. Well, if you were to ask me why I made my kids go to church, here is what I might say: because I’m the mom and I said so!
But that’s only part of it. The main reason is that I wanted to give them what I found at church – which is to say a path and a little light to see by. By the grace of God and several people, they got that. From Erin this week came this list of the things that were precious to her about the church experience:
- Easter Sunday.
- Being loved and nurtured and mentored by the seniors (i.e. Bettye and Dick) and in turn, developing a deep appreciation and connection with my grandparents’ generation.
- A church family that was a presence in my life outside of church — i.e. the church member who stood on the stage at my high school graduation, the church member who gave me violin lessons for 8 years, the church member who, with her expert seamstress skills, saved me from a bridesmaid dress alteration disaster the night before I was the maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding.
- Super trendy bible covers as a present for advancing to the next Sunday school class.
Our son Adam would add that one of the benefits of being at church every week and being a Preacher’s Kid was that he learned how to handle difficult people. There was one in particular – the children’s choir director. It wasn’t so much her as it was being a young boy and being made to sing in a children’s choir. Adam still relishes the idea that he was the one who should get credit for single-handedly dismantling the children’s choir. And it’s true that he made our choir director so mad that she refused to have children’s choir any more. It’s also true that Adam got to learn how to apologize for something he didn’t want to apologize for. And to make up with a person and to sit in close proximity to her for several years afterward this painful experience.
And while my children didn’t mention this, I would add that the church is full of good cooks. You get to eat a lot. Potluck dinners. Cooks Night Out. Cookies. Food when you’re sick. Parties with great finger foods.
More importantly, as Anne Lamott reminds me, “Most of the people I know who have what I want – which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy – are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians – people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful.”
When you are at the end of your rope, the people of the church tie a knot in it and help you hold on. When you leave, you feel better.
Romans 12:1-2 record the Apostle Paul to have written: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
Each of my children were in church the Sunday after they were born, even though I had cesarean sections. That’s because for the months before their births, they were prayed for, hoped for, anxiously awaited, and celebrated. The church provided for us – baby clothes, casseroles for the freezer, advice and concern. I knew that these babies were being born into a family and a church.
Often I was aware that though church members were pretending to be concerned about how I was doing, they were mostly killing time until it was their turn to hold the baby. I sometimes wondered if I was simply the driver of these tots, hired to bring them and their gear back to church every Sunday.
Bettye Tumlinson was one of my daughter, Erin’s, favorite people. Bettye and Dick took Erin into their lives and they nurtured her like their granddaughter. Bettye and Erin had an especially deep connection that is not something mere words can explain. Bettye was short – so short, that she had to bring a wooden box-like purse to church in order for her feet to touch the ground while sitting in our chairs. But petite Bettye was a powerhouse in other ways – a community activist, a passionate woman who empowered other women, a smart and savvy person, and a teacher. Bettye saw the potential in Erin, and set about to support, encourage, teach and nurture her.
One day, while at church, Bettye had a stroke. A senior in high school at the time, Erin happened to be beside her at the time she fell and hit her head on a table. While Erin couldn’t catch her as she fell, Erin’s arms provided the support to ease her onto the floor. I won’t soon forget Erin’s eyes as she looked up at me and said, “Call the ambulance.” Bettye survived the incident and the two of them became closer over the next couple of years. When Bettye was dying, Erin came home from college on a weekday to say goodbye. Afterward, Erin wrote a lovely tribute to Bettye, and Dick asked her to read it at the memorial service.
And there’s more. When I asked Erin about the lasting benefits of having that 3rd younger brother named church, she said:
“ * lifelong relationships, the most important of which is with my Maker.
* a foundation (both spiritual and theological) on which to stand, especially when things go wrong. I can’t explain or comprehend each detour of my life, but I do appreciate having something to fall back on when everything else seems tumultuous or uncertain or just plain messed up. Science sometimes fails me. People, even the dependable ones, sometimes fail me, and I them. The Spirit is the one entity that never fails me, ever.
* Grace. It’s highly coveted and in short supply and I generally find it from within the church. I’m still working on that whole “extending it to others” thing. But just in general, I learned about grace from the church and I think it’s made my life, and the world at large, richer.
* Med school did not teach me about death and dying. The church did. And damn, if that’s not an important topic of contemplation for, oh every human being ever, and especially people with careers in healthcare, I don’t know what is.”
And that is why I made my children go to church.