It’s Sunday morning, and I’m relishing a few moments of quiet before the struggles and negotiations begin. I glance at the clock, chug the last of my coffee, and announce through the house, “It’s time to get ready for church!”
My kids, sporting p.j.s and rumpled bedhead, wail their protests as they build LEGO castles on the living room floor.
“Do we HAVE to?” they moan.
Here we go, I think.
In the next 45 minutes, we’ll wrangle them into clothes, remind them to brush their teeth, and try not to swear when we step on the abandoned LEGOs.
Mostly, though, we’ll field questions about why we have to go to church again this Sunday.
I must confess, sometimes I’m with them: I want to stay in my pjs, let the kids play on the living room floor, and settle in to read a good book. And sometimes we do exactly that.
My daughter stands in the kitchen, hands on her hips, furrowing her brow.
“Why do we have to go to church?” She demands.
I study my eight year old, whose fierce eyes insist on an answer. We’ve been down this road before. I get why she wants to stay home; she finds church boring and doesn’t have a group of friends there. Plus, she’s generally a homebody.
I answer her question differently depending on the day because there are all kinds of reasons we keep going to church. Sometimes I give the answer I most need to hear that day. None of my answers are complete, none tell the whole story, none get it exactly right. They are starting points, glimpses of something bigger, something I can’t always put into words. I might say any of the following 5 reasons on any given Sunday.
My 5 Imperfect Reasons:
We go to learn and to remember how much God loves us.
“But I already know God loves me,” she says.
“I’m glad,” I reply.
But I want this knowing to be so ingrained in you that it would seem absurd to question it. I want you to know it in your bones, to breathe God’s love in with every breath. When we hear God’s Story, we remember God’s love for us. If you get nothing else out of church, I hope you will get this: you are created and loved by God, and, therefore you have worth and dignity. And that very fact means you are called to love others, and to see them as people also created and loved by God. It might take years of Sundays before that sinks in. But I hope it’s the air you breathe, the thing you believe before you believe anything else.
Of course church isn’t the only way to learn this, but it’s one way we’re being intentional about remembering this truth.
We go because we are part of an imperfect community.
“Huh?” She says.
We belong to these people, I think to myself, and they to us. But it’s not perfect, it’s not what I wish it was. I wish we knew them better, I wish our kids had more adopted grandparents in our congregation, I wish we gathered with the other families more often. I wish we shared life beyond Sunday morning, our kids growing up alongside of the other kids in this church. It’s not how I wish it was. But it’s our community, with all of its quirks and flaws and frustrations. And we have experienced welcome and acceptance there. So we keep showing up because we are connected to these people.
We go to remember we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
She looks confused as I say these words, and she’s not in the mood to take in their meaning.
So I simply mention that when we pray for people and places in other parts of the world, or give our money to support a women’s shelter downtown, we’re reminded there is more going on than what’s happening in our lives. We’re part of a bigger Story. God’s Story began a long long time ago and is moving toward a time when all of the pain and the struggle will come untrue. I need to be reminded of that all the time. Because it’s easy to lose sight of.
We go because it’s hard to live a life of faith on our own.
“No it’s not!”
I know it feels easy now, when you’re 8. But one day, it won’t be easy any more. And when that day comes, I hope the community you’re part of, the words you hear and speak, the songs you sing, will somehow be companions on your journey. Of course you can find people to journey with you through the hard stuff outside of church. And sometimes, I confess, it’s the church stuff itself which makes the journey so hard. But as a general rule, we keep taking you to church because we don’t want to live our faith in isolation.
We go to worship God.
“But I can worship God at home.”
Yes, dear one, you can. And I hope you do. It’s not either/or. You can worship God on a walk in the woods, or while you paint a picture, or ride your bike, or even while you play with LEGO. We’ve set aside an hour and a half on Sunday mornings to worship with others. Maybe it re-orients us, so we become more aware that those other moments are opportunities to worship.
No matter what I say in response to her question, I know I don’t quite get it right. (To her, the only right answer would be “we can stay home today”).
I can think of so many circumstances when my answers don’t apply.
My Last Ditch Answer:
And in the end, when she isn’t satisfied with whatever answer I have chosen for that morning, I end up saying, “This is what we’re doing as a family. And when you’re old enough to stay home by yourself, you’ll be welcome to. But for now, you need to get dressed.”
The Bigger Questions:
After I struggle to answer her question, I’m bombarded with my own: how do we raise kids in the faith? what are we teaching our kids about God? Church is only a small piece of the answers to these questions. And we are still stumbling through, trying to figure it out.
There’s no formula. No money back guarantee when it comes to trying to teach your kids about this strange and beautiful, heartbreaking and hope-giving faith. So sometimes the best we can do is to keep trying to live it the best way we know how, give incomplete and imperfect answers to their questions, and love them in ways that point them to God.
Twenty minutes after I have exhausted all of my resources to answer the complaints about going to church, we are piling into the mini-van. For the most part, hair has been combed and we look somewhat presentable.
We’re late. Again.
But we’re together, and we’re on our way.
We turn up the radio and sing along. When church ends, we’ll have to convince our kids it’s time to go home because they’ll be having so much running between the rows of chairs. They will be content, forgetting they didn’t want to come in the first place.
And it will seem as if church is the best place to be.
Until next Sunday morning, when I will call through the house, “Time to get ready for church!” and my kids will respond, “Do we HAVE to go to church?” It’s become our family’s liturgy.
Want to Help Your Kids Grow In Their Faith?
If you are looking for ways to help your kids connect with God (in or out of church), check out this e-book that has just released! Sacred Pathways for Kids* helps you discover how your kids might be wired to experience God, and then gives you concrete ideas and activities for each of the 9 sacred pathways. You can even take this quiz to find out which of the pathways fits your child best.
And guess what? If you purchase your copy before June 18, you receive all kinds of bonuses…including this reflective gospel reading by me.
*Note: I am an affiliate of Sacred Pathways for Kids, so I will receive a small compensation when you purchase the book through my link, at no extra expense to you.