Sunday, June 24, 2007

Learning to walk

Two and a half years ago, during Lent, I took on attending one mid-week mass (as well as the Sunday mass) as part of my discipline. I was very pregnant at the time – in fact, my priest used to joke about how cool it would be if I went into labor in church. And I have to admit that I felt like I was always in church and it could certainly happen that way! Of course, it didn’t. I wasn’t really always in church, although at the time it did feel that way. The decision to go was a discipline taken on because I truly, honestly, did not want to go. It was a large chunk of my morning that I was giving up, and I wasn’t feeling well, and those unforgiving wooden pews were hard on my very pregnant body. After Lent was over (and my baby was finally born) I stopped going.

The next year I considered it, and I think I actually went a few times, but I didn’t make it part of a Lenten discipline. Jonathan was about 10 months old and I struggled to keep him quiet even in the regular Sunday service with Gabe’s help. Wednesday mass was populated by about six regular attenders, most of them elderly, and it was a silent service (compared to Sunday, when there were always lots of children making some level of noise!) and I honestly wasn’t sure how welcome a fussy baby would be.

This past year I also considered including mid-week mass as part of a Lenten discipline. And again, I chose not to. But I have been attending anyway. Somewhere along the way this past year, I started to want to go. The change from discipline to desire had happened without my noticing.

This was, to put it mildly, a surprise.

I’ve been a Christian all my remember-able life. My parents made sure that I always knew that Jesus loved me, and I can’t recall a time when I didn’t believe that. I am deeply thankful for the security and grounding in faith that they provided. However, my experience with Christianity, per se, was not always so positive. As a child I went to church with my family, went to Sunday school and refused to pray out loud. My strongest memory of elementary age Sunday school, actually, is the teacher who forced me to do it anyway. In sixth grade I had a wonderful teacher who taught us to read scripture and then think about it. We had amazing discussions (in sixth grade! Truly!) and I think I learned more about the faith there than anywhere else until college.

In Junior high we changed churches. I was a homeschooled kid who couldn’t fit into a youth group where main topics of teaching and conversation were sex and drugs. I spent my time in the nursery, being the best assistant anyone had ever had. I am so grateful to the leaders who recognized my need for an alternate place to fit, and gave it to me. Sometimes when church isn’t where you want to be, good people can find a way for you to fit there anyway.

High school came along and I went to church because I was expected to, and hey, I had some friends there. I knew that God was real and I certainly believed in him…but he seemed very far away from “real life” as I experienced it. I spent a lot of hours begging God to notice me and fix me and sometimes to let me die so I could go to heaven, because I didn’t think I could make it if he made me stay on earth. He didn’t.

By the time I got to college, I knew all the right answers. How could you not, being raised in solidly Protestant Evangelical churches for your whole life? I was a pretty educated Christian in my head, but my heart was dry and lonely.

Enter the Torrey Honors Institute. Torrey took my world apart. All my carefully “right” answers weren’t so right anymore. The tutors wouldn’t let us get away with “Sunday school answers”, and that was all I knew. I remember weeping for days when I realized that I couldn’t defend the idea that God was good.

Around the same time I started attending Blessed Sacrament Church. Thanks be to God, who gives us the good gifts that we need. At Blessed Sacrament, I found structure in liturgy that allowed me to feel God, experience God, know God in a way that I simply hadn’t before. As Torrey (rightly) took apart my bad reasons and false understandings, Blessed Sacrament gave me a safe place to become re-grounded in the faith. Faith that had been the same for generation upon generation upon generation. Liturgy carried me to the cross when I wasn’t sure I could walk. And there, even when I couldn’t pray, I was fed and loved and cared for.

God waits for his children. I can’t even comprehend how patient he has been with me, as I have taken tiny, stuttering steps toward him over the years. All the years when I usually didn’t want to go to church; the years when I often went because I didn’t want to have to explain to other Biola students why I hadn’t been there, or because Gabe simply assumed that we would go. More recently the years when I went because I knew that I should, and I knew that I’d be glad that I did when I got there.

And now finding that, more often than not, I want to go. Want to enough to give a second morning back to the God who gave me seven of them. Want to enough to take two children to a silent mid-week service and teach them to be quiet and participate as much as they can.

It isn’t easy. There are still mornings (more often than I’d like to admit to) when I really don’t want to go. When staying home sounds so much easier. When Satan whispers in my ear that it isn’t necessary, and it isn’t important, and wouldn’t it be nicer to stay home and nurse my cup of coffee instead? It isn’t easy once I’m there to keep two children quiet and one of them reasonably attentive. Teaching a toddler how to genuflect and make the sign of the cross and be still often doesn’t leave much room for silence and reflection in my own heart.

But it doesn’t matter. Liturgy still carries me to the cross, even when I’m carrying children with me. And at the cross I find that I can pray, and when I can’t I am still fed. Christ gives me the grace and the sustenance to keep trying, to spend one more day attempting holiness. My friend Jessica likes to say that she is God’s toddler. I like the metaphor. And I think that maybe I’m finally learning how to walk.


Amber said...

OK, I've been wanting to comment on this post but I haven't quite managed to form up what it is exactly that I want to say. I'm going to comment anyways though, because otherwise I'll have waited too long and it will just seem odd. :-)

I'm glad for you - that you're finding comfort and nourishment in the liturgy and worship services. I think that is wonderful, and thank you for posting about this. I think one of my biggest surprises as an adult convert is the amazing numbers of people who have been raised Christian (in liturgical and non-liturgical churches) who can't stand attending church and just can't fathom why they should do this or what they might gain by doing so. I tend to operate under the assumption that everyone who has been a Christian longer than me - and especially those who were raised Christian - are automatically going to have a deeper and fuller appreciation and understanding of everything. Rather silly when I think about it, I suppose, but the impression has stuck.

So my question then is... what can we, as parents, do to try and help our children along so that this process can be easier for them - less of a struggle, and filled with earlier understanding? Or is it just part of how everyone needs to mature into adult Christians, and since we all mature at different rates (and some never get there at all, I think!) so there's not much we can do other than teach and show by example what we can, pray for them, and watch with love?

Wow, those were convoluted sentences. But I think you know what I mean. :-) Something I've been thinking about a great deal for some time now, as I contemplate raising Christian children and wondering how to help them turn into mature adult Christians.

bearing said...

Great post. Amber pointed me here and I'm glad she did!

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

Amber, thank you for commenting. Every now and then I throw something serious and personal out into bloggy land and I HATE it when it is met with silence. I suppose I ought to expect that, since I doubt I have a very large reader base...but still! When no one comments I start thinking "oh gosh, I shouldn't have posted that, it was stupid, it was too personal and everyone is embarrassed now, etc. etc. etc." So thank you!

The question of how to raise Christian children well is something that Gabe and I continue to ponder. We're honestly not sure of the answer. We are grateful for our evangelical upbringing, because we really did learn a LOT through it. On the other hand, once we realized that we'd been missing out on SCADS of church history and tradition and GOOD STUFF, we were honestly kind of upset! So we're planning to (if at all possible) raise our kids in a liturgical Anglican church.

BUT. A generation ago everyone in the liturgical churches (everyone meaning lots of people!) left and founded all the calvary chapels and non-denoms. So if we raise our kids in the place where we've found so much depth and joy, are we just setting them up to run away to something else? Is it just that part of the maturing process may manifest itself in finding the "other" ways of worshiping Jesus that you weren't raised with?

We don't know. At this point we figure that the best we can do is teach "both sides" (not that they're sides, just that they're different approaches, you know?) and try to help them "get" the true fullness of the faith. Which includes all the Anglo-Catholic tradition AND the evangelical emphasis on Scripture. I don't know how it will turn out. I'd like to think it will work. :) I do know a family at our church right now: they have a 17 year old daughter who has been raised Anglican and homeschooled with an emphasis on solid education and scripture knowledge, and she's choosing to attend Biola (as Evangelical as they come!) and also continue in the Anglican church. So I look at that family and think "it can be done!" :)

Ashley said...


Thank you for your great post. I've started attending weekday masses too because you said it was possible with 2 kids in tow.

On the topic Amber brought up I've often wondered the same thing. As with most things in parenting I just have to trust in the grace of God and try to do my best. My children may not be Christians when they grow up, but it won't be because of my lack of trying. I remember Doug Gresham saying in a talk when he came to Biola that both his parents died (C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham) before he became a Christian. So it is possible that we may never see our kids become vibrant Christians, but God's grace will still reach them. Parenting is hard because while we think we can mold our children into the great people we want them to be the truth is that is God's job, not ours. In the end everyone has free will.