When I was pregnant with Atticus, I attended a church service that featured a rambunctious young boy who was not particularly interested in being quiet. I was distracted by the noise, and I was troubled by my own frustrations. In utero, Atticus showed signs of being quite a lively boy himself. How could I parent him if I was constantly irritated by him? We went home and I wept, overwhelmed by all the change that was coming.
This year, Atticus was asked to put the baby Jesus in the manger at the beginning of our church’s Christmas Eve service. Mike laughed out loud when he heard about the request, but he consented when I chattered on about special memories. At Christmas. And in truth, it was a special memory, when he sweetly placed the baby Jesus in the manger (with a little help from a neighborhood youth group member). The rest of the service, though, was a little dodgy. He is loud and rambunctious on regular days. Add holiday overstimulation into the mix and all the toys and blankets and snacks we brought did not make the slightest dent in his speed or volume.
We try to hold to two values when it comes to church services: we want to be together as a family and we don’t want people to be too bothered by the noise. It sounds like a nice idea, to be together, until your toddler starts hollering about . . . I don’t even remember what he was hollering about, to be honest. He ran down the aisle and he tried to hide under the Chrismon tree. When candles were distributed, he tried to eat his and then realized we’d been right when we told him it was a bad idea. There was spitting after that.
This all makes it sound like he was bad, and he wasn’t. He was just a toddler who was being himself. He loved the piano and the organ. He sat in my mom’s lap for a while, and he shared his cereal bar with one of his friends. He will have to sit and be quiet for a lot of years. We took him out as much as we could.
I was nervous about the service all day, and even when I was in the sanctuary I was barely present. I don’t get long stretches of silence like I used to, time to reflect. The only thing I remember our pastor saying was something about our hearts of stone turning into hearts of flesh. And as tense as I was, that reached me. My heart is softer than it was a couple of years ago, when I was bothered by the noise. There is room there for the parents and the toddlers as well as the sneaking sympathy I still carry with me for the people who like it to be a little bit quiet.
After the service, one friend in particular came up and said that Atticus and his friends were so good during the service. They are just toddlers, he said, and it’s Christmas. I had to look away, because his grace, it overwhelmed and embarrassed me, so much more generous than I was when I was in his shoes.
Grace and a heart of flesh. They are what is saving my life this week. What is saving your life right now?