Just two years old at the time, my youngest son had more energy than the rest of the household combined. He didn’t feel pain, he never cried, he could climb out of any crib, never went to bed when told, but always, always smiled, laughed, and loved. He ran everywhere, habitually chewed his fingers until calloused, which I mention only because of a babysitting incident that scared the babysitter to death, and constantly annoyed his older sister…on purpose. About that babysitter…she had opened a door and my son ran, out of his abundant curiosity, to see who might be there. He inserted his finger in the door frame as she attempted to close the door. You probably already know toddlers and closing doors don’t go together very well. He cried, she worried. As we arrived home, she began apologizing profusely for the ‘accident’ and thought his fingers might be broken; even suggesting we take him to the doctor for x-rays. As most parents are prone to do, we simply looked, laughed, and excused her for the evening, but not before assuring her all is well. “You see”, my wife explained, “he chews his fingers all the time and they’re just calloused and ‘look’ swollen, but they’re certainly not broken.” Thanking her for her honesty and apologetic nature, she immediately appeared relieved that no real harm was done.
We had three kids at the time and in addition to ‘accidents’ like the one mentioned above there were always moments for concern; scraped knees, soccer injuries, bruises, twisted ankles, the assorted owwies, you name it. Children are very resilient, I thought. They bounce back quickly, they forgive willingly, smile often, laugh constantly, and are some of the greatest teachers on earth.
My children are much older now, my oldest son is married to the sweetest girl on earth, my oldest daughter is currently serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and my energetic son and another daughter are still learning from their rapidly aging parents. Over the years, I’ve watched them play all kinds of sports, participate in school activities, play music, sing, dance, and otherwise entertain my wife and I. It has truly been a blessing to raise them, each one of them.
I mention all this because of what I witnessed today while attending Stake Conference; a semi-annual 2-hour Sunday meeting for all the congregations in a larger geographical area. In attendance at these meetings are local leaders and sometimes regional or national leaders to teach and instruct those in attendance. These meetings usually begin with an opening song, a prayer, and several speakers all of whom speak for about 10-15 minutes each; just something a two-year old would whole-heartedly enjoy. The chapel is not designed to hold the 1,000 or so attendees so most of the church buildings are designed to allow the rear curtains to open accommodating many more chairs that extend well into the gym area; cold, hard, metal, chairs. Again, something a two-year-old would love to use as a metal Jamaican drum. During the meeting, I observed a young family with several small children. In the beginning, the family arrived took their seats and settled in as best they could. An assortment of ‘quiet toys‘ were made available for each child to stay that way…or so the parents had hoped. However, it wasn’t long before the youngest, a babe in arms, proceeded to create a ruckus for which the mother exited the room, with child, leaving the dad to do his best with the other two. Their oldest daughter was well behaved, but it was the middle child, a boy not too unlike my own energetic toddler, decided he had had enough of trying to be quietly entertained. And so….he ran! Not out of the room, not to his mother, but up the isle towards the front where some sweet elderly lady was speaking, coincidently, about her love of children. Father in speedy pursuit caught the little speed racer before he had gone too far. This process repeated itself a few more times. In between we’d hear the not-so-rhythmic tunes on the steelpan, or the vroooom vroooom of the not-so-quiet hot wheels on the steelpan.
Over the years, my wife and I managed. Now, we smile about it when we observe young parents going through it. I simply lean over to my wife and whisper, “I’m sure glad those years are over.” However, for all those years my wife and I endured similar behavior in our own children, I have not a single regret for ever bringing them to church each and every Sunday. I can’t possibly count the number of Sunday lessons missed because I was in the hallway tending to a much-too-noisy-for-church child, or the countless Sundays dressing up little children in their ‘Sunday Best’ just to watch them spill juice all over their clothes, or the constant distractions of a child looking for parental approval for their latest quiet crayon-scribbled work of art, just when someone had mentioned something uplifting and insightful over the pulpit. “What’d she say honey?”, I ask my wife. “I couldn’t hear it either”, she’d say, pointing at one of our other children. Oh well.
Do little children learn what is being taught over the pulpits of our churches? Not always. Some do, but certainly not every word. Occasionally a child will remember a phrase or something a speaker has said, and will repeat it at home, much to the astonishment of their parents I’m sure. “See honey? It IS working!” Little children are resilient indeed, but in a society that seemingly rewards ill behavior more often than good behavior, they need the strengthening and tireless example of parents who will chase them down in the isles at church, who will voluntarily miss the occasional sermon, and willingly wash countless juice-stained dresses, shirts, and ties.
Why do we endure these hardships? Why should you? Because these days matter. Seeing a child grow into adulthood, having learned the values of faithful obedience to God, of serving Him, of worshipping in His house, of being honest, true, chaste, and of discovering for themselves the rewards of service to others, matters. Children may not remember every word heard in church when they’re little, but they’ll grow up knowing there were those who loved them enough to look beyond the immediate hardships young families endure. They’ll remember a mom or dad who could see that child the way God sees them, not as a noisy, energetic, distracting bundle of chaos, but as a child of God. And one of the most effective ways I know of teaching them to know who He is, is to bring them to church…EVERY Sunday. Because yes, it matters.