Friday, November 3, 2017

The Fellowship of the Church Parents' Room

There is a special kind of isolation that happens with parenthood, especially for mothers.  We are barely recovering from the cosmically un-private event of childbirth when the dial reverses. We scrape together our wits enough to go out in public, and a thoughtful friend ushers us into "this quiet room back here, where you can nurse in private."  We might welcome the room--I personally can remember plunging my whole head under the blanket when I had company over, and was still trying to get the hang of the latch-on. But needed or not, we cannot help but notice that all of the conversation is happening without us.

Thus it begins. The constant stream of infant needs leaves us overstressed and overtired, and if we get any free time, we nod off rather than picking up the phone.  This is parenthood. And it's more isolating than I expected.

Of course, the children grow. As the bag of needed battle-gear shrinks, the child's mobility grows to compensate. Now stranger-anxiety plays an odd dance with toddler independence, and the lovely people who were willing to hold the baby for us (invariably in cold and flu season) can't even do that for us.  As they start to sleep more regularly, we might not be tired zombies anymore, but now we are shackled to bedtimes.*

And then there's church. Church, of course, is no exception. I once read the opinion of a nameless stuffy man who insisted that church wasn't manly enough because it was "suited to the needs of women and children." I will not tell you how long I laughed when I read it. This man has obviously never taken small children to a church. It's not just the joy of trying to convince a 3-year-old that he is not, in fact, whispering, or juggling three plates in the potluck line.  There is also the fact that church may be the most isolated part of our week.

We start in the little Beginner Sabbath School, where we actually see some other parents in the same situation. We try to get in a little adult conversation, but not much, since it distracts the kids from their butterfly felts.

From there we head to the worship service, where we often land in the parents' room, not hearing the service because we're too busy tending our kids. I remember very well the feeling of being trapped.  Outside, in the church, were my friends, but I might not even see them in the melee of fixing emergencies and answering kid questions.  There, just out of reach beyond the (decidedly not-sound-proof) window was the adult world--I could see it, but it was out of reach.

The parents' room is like the "quiet back room to nurse in," only it's been institutionalized. We get to spend years of our lives in this room.  Sometimes we have other parents with us, depending on how big the church is. We can be quarantined together, and compare notes on our conditions.  We talk sometimes, and that's good.  Except that it guarantees we won't hear any of the service at all.

I don't regret the parents' room.  There would have been chunks of my life where I would not have come to church at all if that room wasn't there.  Because of the parents' room, I got to do two things: 1. Talk to people between services and afterward, reassuring myself that I am part of the community, and 2. Maintain the habit of getting dressed and going to church once a week, keeping a place reserved in my schedule for when the kids are older, and I can participate again.

Today's blog is dedicated to all of you parents, quarantined to the parents' room.  To you who get up on Sabbath mornings and dress in nice clothes which no one will see, who could show up to church without a Bible, but had better not forget the snacks. To all of you who haven't heard a sermon or participated in a song service uninterrupted for longer than you can remember.  To all of you in the holding tank, sequestered, and put aside, I want to honor you today.

Not everyone makes this choice. I have no blame for the parents who decide to skip this chore. It's reasonable, given the realities, to stay home. But that fact gives me all the more admiration for the parents who go.

You are important.  And you are making a difference. As little as it feels that you participate in church, still the church depends on you for its very life. If we don't keep this place reserved for church life in our families, if we don't pass this priority to our children, there is no church. This is the least-glorified, and (let's face it, evangelists) the most labor-intense form of evangelism.

On this Sabbath eve, as you take a breath from your busy week, and think about whether you can pull yourself out of bed tomorrow, I want you to know I see you. I'm with you. To all of you keeping vigil, waiting out your quarantine, hold on. Persist. In a thousand parents' rooms around the globe, you are not alone. The Fellowship of the Parents' Room is with you.  We know.  We're there.  And we'll see you on the other side.

Happy Sabbath!

*I confess that I have mixed feelings about all of this.  Before kids, I would have called myself an extrovert, and chosen to be out with friends whenever I had the chance.  After kids, confined to the house at night, I've gotten in touch with my inner homebody. Sometimes bedtime is a burden, but just as often, it's a handy excuse. The advent of Netflix may have something to do with the change.

1 comment:

  1. My 36 year-old daughter and 45 year old son-in-law decided not to have kids because of what a terrible place the world is. Her mother and I and the church have been praying against them for a long time. I believe that having children was God's first homework assignment. As He pushed them out the garden gate He said, "Be fruitful and multiply." Adam and Eve were in trouble when God gave them that instruction. My daughter and her husband have been pillars of the church. He's the head elder. She practically runs the youth ministry. Their house is full of kids constantly (teens mostly). They go as sponsors to every youth conference there is. They have not neglected the work of the Lord.

    Unfortunately, they also have that desire to parent. Without their own kids they are free and untethered. Borrowed kids don't count as parental experience, because you can give them back at the end.

    Being tethered to children teaches you lessons you can learn in no other way. Lately, my daughter has exercised her "parenting" instincts upon us, her parents. Fortunately, one dear saint in our church is a professional foster parent. She raises the most desperate babies, born with health issues and other problems who have become untethered from their birth parents. She gets them healthy and then tethers them to likely parents. Today, my daughter and son-in-law became foster parents to a 13 month-old little boy named Eli. They will be tethered to another life now. Their lives will change. They will experience many of the things parents are supposed to experience. I know my daughter. That little boy is as good as adopted. I can't wait to meet my grandson. We're 3000 miles away, but we already love that child. We had a promise when our first child was born. You can find it in Isaiah 54:13. While in labor, my wife suddenly sat up and said, "Isaiah 54:1 and 13". She doesn't remember doing it. In the texts, God expressed sympathy for her struggle and then promised to be our children's teacher.

    I don't believe you can have God's full education unless you've been a parent. There's something about being tethered to a child that is flesh of your flesh that makes you a whole person in a way that nothing else will.

    I used to go get toddlers out of the cry room and take them to the Primary room. We could hear the sermon on the speakers they had in there and we'd do structured play that went along with the sermon. When they were old enough to manage being in the sanctuary, they moved on.

    I read a comparative religions book and in the article on Seventh-day Adventists it said we have the noisiest church services in all Christendom. Why? He said it was because we bring our children to the sanctuary. It was the thing that most impressed him about us.

    So to the moms and dads that tether themselves to their children and survive their growing up, I salute you all. You are doing God's work as surely as any evangelist.

    Tom King