Why I didn’t make it to small group last week

It was a good day, but a long one: the house in disarray. Another week where we planned to go to our small group from church, where I made dinner early and managed to bring the boys in early from outside (one tantrum in the process but I only got bit once). August hates small group. We went for the first time five weeks ago and my oldest boy decided he’d never go back. Since then, Chris has gone alone. Staying up an hour past bedtime is hard enough on the boys, but if August is crying and screaming all day prior to going, it’s hard for me to work up the gumption to get us there. I know if we go, I’ll end up staying in the child care room all night and I’d rather stay home, go to bed, especially if I’ve been out another night that week at writer’s group or preschool co-op meeting or the college freshman Bible study I lead.

But this past week, I’d been home at night; I’d gotten rest. So I talked up small group. August was not excited but his tears were less pronounced and I promised I would stay with him until he felt comfortable. I made the promise, knowing that I might be signing myself up for months of childcare attending, instead of actually being with the adults I’ve been trying to get to know.

So, when the boys were sitting for dinner at 5:45 and the phone rang, I was surprised to hear from Chris that he couldn’t get home in time. Some emergency issue had come up at work. He’d be home late.

I hung up the phone, relieved that my already-crashing baby would make it to bed by 7:30. I was relieved I could catch up on laundry and make an early bedtime.

In my quest to define a new kind of spirituality for the mother whose life cannot fit the Christian plan for spiritual growth, I’ve had several conversations with other women about the struggle to follow Christ, knowing that their lives do not look “faithful.” The faithful life I grew up in always included an abundance of church attendance.

I’m beginning to accept that even if other moms of small children have found a way to be in a small group: I don’t have to. For whatever reason, I have a kid with a strong personality who had “a bit of an attitude” with the childcare woman at small group five weeks ago. I have the boy who is completely potty trained but refuses to go in public, who screams and cries when the children are all walked down the hall to the bathroom. I have a 14-month-old who still takes a 5 pm nap and, miraculously, falls asleep for the night at 7:30.

Sometimes I wonder, how did my mother do it? She taught school all day then took us to church in the evening, when she was in Bible study or handbell choir and I was in Mission Friends and childcare till 8:30 pm? Wasn’t she exhausted? How did she manage to get to church Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights? What about all those five-nights-in-a-row revival services? How did we get our homework done? How did we sleep?

I grew up in a church that was all about children’s programming. I did some wonderfully fun things and I learned all about missionaries all over the world. I smiled through competitions of who could leaf the onionskin Bible pages fastest. I memorized scripture, visited sick kids in hospitals, watched Christian videos, ate popcorn, had outdoor water fights, listened to Bible stories, built a clay sculpture of the Old Testament Tabernacle, and once a month slipped my two dollar tithe into the envelope with my name printed on it.

But I’m getting the sense that my boys’ experience of church will be very different from that of my childhood.

That’s not because I don’t agree with my church upbringing. I thank God for the deep knowledge of scripture I was given, how my heart lived among the words of the Bible. I’m thankful for the letters I wrote to the missionary in Hong Kong, how much bigger my world was when, as a four-year-old, I learned about how rice was grown in China. I’m thankful for a second home inside the church hallways, for the comfort of my great big Southern Baptist childhood culture, for the friendship of the adults who ministered to me.

But I find myself in a different place: I want to be the one to teach my kids theology. Honestly, I don’t trust what they’ll hear from others. I was a highly sensitive kid who still carries unhealthy ideas about God in my gut, ideas that someone taught me, ideas my parents didn’t hold. I want my sons’ upbringing in the church to teach them about community and mission. I want them to see us living with others in holy friendships: loving each other, praying together, carrying each other through sorrow and struggle. I want mission to happen as a family, not separate from one another in our age-appropriate programs. I want church to look like a community of people living faith in the messy, beautiful, confusing way faith happens.

Growing up I saw faithfulness in our family’s commitment to the order and sweet rhythms of church life; our church life right now is more chaotic, but it is sweet also in how we fill our hours with the lives of others.

And I know that’s not prescriptive. Being a mother has been a long journey of letting go of my need to please and impress. I want you to think I’m a good mom. I want you to think I care about being in small group. I want to be strong and get my kids to church, even if they don’t like it!

And then I take a deep breath and say: Oh, my kid is deathly afraid of the childcare worker and my other kid needs sleep, and I am out on Monday nights and Thursday nights already. And this may feel like a long season of life, but it’s really just a flash of a season. So, if I don’t make it to small group, perhaps I’m practicing a different sort of spiritual discipline, the kind where I determine not to impress you, the kind where I get rest and read stories to my kids and trust that when I beg God to hold tight to my boys, God is doing it in his own way, while they sleep and while they sit with me on Wednesday nights on the couch and giggle.

  • Jeannie

    Loved, loved, loved this post. We have 2 special needs kids (one who thrives on routine and still goes to bed like clockwork at 7 p.m. even at 9 years of age!), and my husband works shifts, so I totally understand this need to deviate from what seems like the Expected Way to Be and instead do what’s right for yourself, your family, etc. We’ve had many invitations to evening small groups with great child care provided etc. but we just can’t do it. (I wish I could say we’ve developed a home routine that substitutes for it but I can’t say that either, yet…) But anyway I just want to say thanks for the breath of fresh air. I think a lot of people can relate.
    OK, I am now officially hooked on your blog …

  • Callie

    ” I want to be the one to teach my kids theology. Honestly, I don’t trust what they’ll hear from others” couldn’t agree more. But sometimes when my husband and I discuss this, I can see that it really makes him uncomfortable and afraid that I will give them all the doubts and questions that I carry around. He doesn’t understand quite yet that my doubts have made my faith so much stronger. I don’t want to give those to my kids artificially, but I do want them to know it’s ok to ask questions and it’s ok not to always have the answers.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    I think you’ve hit on a need to please and impress that we all struggle with at one point or another. My wife hits really busy seasons at grad school, and we sort of disappear for a few weeks. It’s easy to wonder what people think of us, but it’s all just life and staying afloat.

    I also wanted to add that our church has added small groups that meet on Sunday afternoons and early evenings, and I know parents with kids love that format.

  • http://ruthjleamy.com Ruthinthedesert

    Isn’t it wonderful how God leads us in such personal ways? I’ve been studying simplicity, and I found this fantastic quote: “Living simply is not so much about the particulars of our lives as much as it is about the principles that govern them. Knowing what God has called you to do, and then doing it–that’s living simply.” (http://thesimplewife.typepad.com/)

    I have to do what God called me to do, and you have to do what God called you to do — and I hope and pray we can each do that without envying or criticizing each other.

    God called you to care for your children and that seems to mean staying home from small group for now. I am glad–and your children will be grateful–that you are listening to God!

    God gave me a small group that has a childcare program that my children love–and because we are homeschoolers it is important to me that they hear God’s truth from a few different teaching styles then mine. This year my oldest is volunteering in the baby room, and finding a ministry, while I’m teaching a ladies’ group.

    Different personalities–different seasons–different ways of worshiping the same God who speaks to each of us.

  • Beth

    Yes I know the feeling. Wanting my children to be happy and wanting others to see me as a good christian. I have found that following Gods nudges, searching for truth and sharing that with my children brings me closer to them and God. I’m glad that I’m not the only one. Thanks

  • Mary Grace

    I loved this post, friend. I actually breathed a sigh of relief when I read it. I go through this all the time. In fact, London was deathly afraid of the church childcare as well… for a very very long time. I always felt guilty… For putting him in there, or, for not going to my mom’s group. It was like, either way, I couldn’t win… but sometimes, I think it’s harder to “keep trying.” Some days, there is comfort in knowing that it’s ok if we miss group.

    This was a very refreshing post… thank you. Miss you. MG

  • http://weteyelashes.wordpress.com Beth

    thank. you. thank you. for admitting so publicly that you have a kid who bites (mine hits & throws things – like plates – & i’m embarrassed by him yet still angry at others for judging), for admitting that you want to be – or look like – the perfect mom, and for admitting that other people teaching your kids theology scares the crap out of you. i echo another comment above: sigh of relief.

  • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com Addie Zierman

    I found such freedom and grace in this post. We’re struggling with the same thing, though on Sunday mornings, and I often find myself struggling with the tension of wanting to do what’s best for the kids and arriving at the place where church is not always it. Beautiful post.