Mothering in Church: Do Not Grow Weary in Doing Good
By Rebekah Zuñiga
Seasons of life present us with new and sometimes difficult situations. Caring for elderly parents, battling chronic illness, and entering or ending a career—such circumstances present unique challenges and can make church attendance and fellowship with the Body of Christ difficult. Mothering young children is another season that can be challenging as we strive toward spiritual growth and community with a local body of believers.
Young mothers often find themselves either managing their own children in the pew during service or caring for a group of children as a nursery or children’s ministry volunteer. It is easy to become discouraged by the prospect of another Sunday morning of toddler tantrums, missed naps, and nursery volunteer shortages. The “big church” on the other side of town with a booming kids’ program (and an hour of peaceful worship for mom) can start to look very attractive.
Allow me to share three statements of encouragement for those moms wondering if church is even worth all the trouble on Sunday morning.
1. Your children need you to go. Your kids need you to be at church with them, even (and especially) if the church does not offer a kids’ program. Storytelling is a primary means of character formation in children. But stories are not just in books. In a recent podcast episode, author N. D. Wilson encourages parents to step back and view our own “character” in the arc of God’s story and to use our knowledge of our story’s Author to inform how we make our own character decisions.
In other words, your life is a story your child is reading, vividly illustrated, piercing straight to the heart. You are the first hero your child knows, and your words and actions define what heroes are like. Are they courageous or cowardly? Do they persevere or give up? Do they worship God or themselves? Are they disobedient or properly submissive? Your weekly faithfulness builds a pattern of thinking and behaving in your children, even if your time in church feels less than “spiritual.”
Your own faithful church attendance does not guarantee your children will also be faithful, and it cannot make up for unfaithfulness in Bible teaching at home. However, your faithful church attendance does provide an invaluable scaffolding upon which the Holy Spirit can build. Charlotte Mason, in a discussion on instilling good habits in children, remarks, “Thought runs into the rut, which has been, so to speak, worn for it by constant repetition.” Let this repetition be the weekly hymns, prayers, and preaching of your local congregation.
2. Your church needs you to go. Other moms need the solidarity of your presence. I remember the first wedding I attended as a new mom. It sounded to me like every grunt and sniffle my two-month-old made echoed through the aisles at an ear-shattering volume. When I finally decided to make my way out the back, I met my new tribe. Five or six moms lined the back wall, bouncing babies and passing out cheese puffs to antsy toddlers.
Few things are as encouraging as knowing you are not alone. Your presence—yes, your noisy presence—can be uplifting to the mom across the aisle who might have been tempted to think she was the only one struggling.
But it is not just other moms; the older people in your congregation need you there, too. They need the presence of a younger person to whom they can pass the torch, so they are not tempted to let the flame flicker out as each day draws closer to Heaven’s rest. Your presence reminds them of the work yet to be done and encourages them their work is not in vain. Your presence connects the hands of elderly saints to the hands and hearts of your children, enabling the chain of faithful witness to continue.
In addition to the elderly, other kids need your presence. Whether their parents attend church or not, kids need relationships with other faithful adults to build a strong web of Christian community from which to learn and grow.
Your faithfulness could provide the steady adult input some child is missing. Your presence, with your children, can be an important step toward the greater goal of intergenerational worship and discipleship.
3. You need you to go. Finally, whether you feel as though you get anything out of it or not, you should attend church out of your own neediness. The Bible commands us not to forsake meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), and all of God’s laws are for our good (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Psalms 25:8-10). We must obey in faith, even if growth in faithfulness does not quickly display the types of results we want.
You may not be able to take notes on the sermon; you may have to keep one eye open during corporate prayer; you might even miss the last verse of your favorite hymn. But God is not thwarted by your toddler or nursling. His will for you is your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), and His Spirit works extraordinary things through very ordinary means.
Your time with the children in your care will come to an end, but if you are a redeemed child of God, your standing as a member of Christ’s body will not. Your friends and family—even the little ones into whom you are pouring your life—may “despise, forsake you,” but the Lord will take you in (Psalm 27:10). Your presence—against all odds some Sundays—is a triumphant recognition of that fact, and a bold declaration of where your loyalties lie. Submit to God in faith, and He will lift you up at just the right time (1 Peter 5:6).
Adjust Expectations. Disappointment is the difference between expectations and reality. Realize not every church is equipped with the personnel to provide childcare for every service, yet God may still desire your continued presence in the congregation.
On the one hand, most small children can sit still and be reasonably quiet for a few minutes with regular practice. On the other hand, even a well-trained, well-behaved child can only do so much. Sitting in service with your children will never feel as easy as sitting without them, and that does not mean it is a worse experience. It is just harder. Assess whether your expectations are too high or too low and adjust as needed.
Prepare. Set aside special (quiet) toys just for church. This strategy can expand the amount of time your toddler can remain reasonably quiet. Practice whispering at home. A wrap, sling, or baby carrier can help a younger baby get that precious morning nap during the sermon, enabling you to stay in the service.
If you can inquire ahead of time about the songs and Scripture, sing the songs and read a children’s version of the passage during the week, so your children can participate more easily, and you can focus your own mind more quickly.
Ask for help. When you demonstrate faithful effort to bring yourself and your kids to church week after week, you will find most people are more than happy to give you a break every now and then, even if your church does not have a regular kids’ program or nursery volunteers. Even if they do not offer to help, many people are willing to hold the baby while you take an older sibling to the restroom, help you find a quiet place to nurse, or guard the other end of the pew for you, if you just ask.
When we help each other care for children in the service, we communicate to visitors and other families that church services, though not kid-centered, are kid-friendly. We welcome children as Christ did (Matthew 19:14).
I have mistakenly attended church in the past with the expectation I will leave the service more centered, focused, or spiritual. I am thankful for the times God speaks to me in a special way through a particular Sunday service. However, if I keep up that type of expectation, I will be sorely disappointed and discouraged from bringing my children to service. It will tempt me to think they should always be shuttled off to their own age-specific services, so I can enjoy some peace and quiet.
Instead, if I realize the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is at work in me both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Romans 8:11; Philippians 2:13), then my circumstances no longer determine how spiritual I can be. In the power of the Spirit, I can bring rowdy kids to church and still be a faithful worshiper. In fact, it may be that if you have children, you cannot be a faithful worshiper without bringing them.
Perhaps God is more pleased by my imperfect efforts to guide my children through the worship service than by my ability to pay perfect attention when my kids are in the care of someone else.
Let us spur one another on to love and good deeds this week by encouraging ourselves, our kids, or our young moms to obey God’s command of corporate worship.
About the Author: Rebekah Zuñiga lives in Arnold, Missouri, with her husband Zuri and son Agustin. She holds an M.A. in teaching from Trevecca Nazarene University and a B.A. in history from Welch College. A stay-at-home-mom, she has interests in educational philosophy, biblical theology, and mathematics. She is a member of Grace Free Will Baptist Church. Read more from Rebekah at TheHSF.com.