Tonight I took four children to a special church service that was supposed to focus our hearts on the season of Lent, but instead of centering my mind on Jesus, I lost my religion. It’s kind of unfortunate when that happens, especially in God’s house.
I should have known from the get-go that things were doomed. As we walked into the candlelit room, we were each handed a small piece of paper. These scraps were meant to be written on and nailed to the wooden cross at the front of the room, part of a public profession of personal sacrifice during the Lenten season. Ours, of course, were immediately folded into paper airplanes and covered in drawings of butts. Farting butts.
We found a seat. A front-row seat, because kids don’t know that any self-respecting churchgoer doesn’t sit on the front row, otherwise known as the spit zone. In retrospect I realize I shouldn’t have conceded to sitting front and center, but hindsight’s overrated, so…
The service was held in the chapel at our church. It’s an old room, and it’s full of pews and stained glass. While people around us prayed and listened to beautiful piano music in anticipation of the service starting, I attempted to keep my children from leaping over the backs of the pews like tiny hurdle-jumpers. They’re not used to having multiple Bibles and pens at their disposal during church, and they immediately began yanking books out of the pew racks and drawing more butts on the church’s offering envelopes.
As this was all happening, another service attendee nailed his piece of paper to the wooden cross at the foot of the stage, and my kids’ attention immediately snapped to what was going on. Suddenly they felt extremely spiritual and were sure that they, too, wanted to make a sacrifice for Lent (so they could write it down and nail it to the cross). They, of course, had to get clean pieces of paper, because we weren’t going to be nailing farting butts to the cross of Christ.
My seven-year-old son wrote “VIDEO GAMES” on his paper. He held it out proudly to me, and I looked at him in shock. “You want to fast from video games for the next 40 days in order to focus more on Jesus?” I asked him incredulously.
“Wait, huh?” he asked, confused.
It didn’t take me long to realize that he didn’t understand what the purpose of the paper was. He thought he was writing down something he was thankful for. VIDEO GAMES. #SMH
I stifled my laughter and told him, “Buddy, I think it’s GREAT that you want to give up your video game time on the weekends from now ’til Easter. That will definitely help you focus more on Jesus. Let’s go nail it to the cross!” I ushered him up there and handed him a nail before he had a chance to change his mind. (Insert evil laugh here.)
My younger son followed suit, also scribbling out the words VIDEO GAMES on his piece of paper. I nailed that sucker to the cross before he knew what has happening and congratulated him on his tender heart toward God. Then I made a mental note to unplug the Xbox.
My daughter decided to fast from candy, which is admirable when you’re nine. She nailed her paper to the cross, of course also nailing her thumb with the large hammer, resulting in a near meltdown. I say near because, amazingly, she kept it together, and our crisis was averted. Ish.
As for me, well, I decided to fast from all adult responsibility. That will certainly give me more time to focus on the Lord and the upcoming celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
The band arrived onstage, and the crowd began to sing. “Jesus, Messiah. Name above all names. Blessed Redeemer. Emmanuel.” It was glorious. After the song was finished, the pastor came onstage and seated us. He began to talk about Lent, about what it is and what it isn’t, and about why we take time to consider making a sacrifice for the Lord. Or at least I think that’s what he talked about; I still can’t be quite sure, as I spent most of my time hissing “be quiet” to my five-year-old.
He was drawing. He was giggling. He was “whispering” to his friend. I use quotes when referring to whispering because we all know that a five-year-old isn’t really capable of whispering. They’re capable of stage whispering, which creates a very different, very loud, very shrill sound.
“Son, I don’t want to hear another sound!” I hissed at him from the other side of his friend.
“Son, NOT. ANOTHER. SOUND.” This time I also used my eyes to make my point.
“IF I HAVE TO TELL YOU ONE MORE TIME TO BE QUIET, YOUR FATHER IS GOING TO GET INVOLVED WHEN WE GET HOME.” Oh man, I pulled out the big guns for that one. I think I might’ve turned into Madea for a second.
Still. More. “Whispering.”
At this point the pastor had glanced down at us more than once and was, I’m sure, silently praying that my child would pass out and remain incapacitated for the remainder of this reverent service.
I yanked my son over onto my lap and whispered in his ear, as any good mother would, “When we get home, there is going to be a MAJOR consequence for your behavior. Now sit COMPLETELY quietly, NO WHISPERING.”
Right then, my seven-year-old son picked up my littlest guy’s paper, the one covered in butts, and started to fold it into a paper airplane. My youngest lost his ever-loving mind. Tears started flowing, and all he could think about was his paper.
“He has my paper! That’s MY paper! I want my paper back! Hey, GIVE IT BACK! That’s mine!” All said in a stage whisper, which by now we all know isn’t a whisper at all.
I whispered a frustrated, “COME ON,” to all of the kids, grabbed my youngest up, and rushed toward the door of the chapel, shooting a few cursory apologetic glances people’s way. As I got to the door, I turned around to see the other three children still sitting on the pew, staring at me along with the rest of the crowd. I shot them a death glare and motioned to them to follow me. This time they obeyed, smart kiddos that they are.
We made it through approximately fifteen minutes of a church service before everything went to pot, and while I wish I could pretend that it’s not a common scenario for the Watts family, you all know I’d be lying.
As we drove home, I found myself frustrated, silently and indignantly telling God how HE should have ordained that experience to have gone differently. “God, I was showing up FOR YOU. I showed up so my kids and I could focus on YOU during this crazy season, and You just let it all fall apart! I’ll remember that next time I singlehandedly load up all the kids and take them to church. Next time I’ll remember that, and I just WON’T GO. It’s not worth it.”
And then, as He always does, He gently reminded me how broken I am. So. Broken. He whispered to my soul, “My child, I DID ordain this moment, as I do every moment. You think you came to honor me, I know, but what if I told you that you needed to come so I could show you how broken you are. You’re indignant with me right now, sure that I failed you, when you should be self-reflecting, seeing your own need for redemption in the ugliness that this situation unearthed in your heart. I accomplished just what I intended to in that fifteen minutes. Your kids saw people love and worship and sacrifice for me, and you saw your desperate need for a risen Savior.”
And with that, I realized that I’d had church just as I’d needed to, just as it was intended to be.
Worship songs and communion speak to my heart, to be sure, but my own anger and sense of entitlement spoke louder in that moment. Words about Lent and Easter and the need for Jesus resonated, to be sure, but my own depravity is what ultimately made the impact on my heart tonight.
Sometimes He uses beautiful music and inspiring words and reverent silence to move us a step closer to Him. Other times he uses hyper kids and butt drawings and stage whispers, and maybe our own selfishness and sin. And it’s never, ever a mistake.