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Sunday is the worst day of the week

Every Sunday I think about that Huffington Post article written to parents of young children in church. And every Sunday I am unconvinced by it. We have no creche or Sunday school but each week at church, people say to me, ‘It’s fine for him to run around,’ ‘We don’t mind the noise,’ ‘Being curious is natural for children’. However, they also shush him if he’s noisy, move him if he’s playing with the spare microphones, pick him up if he’s on the stage, etc.

Tanzanian children of Elliot’s age are able to sit still on a chair or pew for long periods of time. That’s what they do during church if they’re there, though often they’re simply left at home, or they come to church but spend the whole time outside under the supervision of an older child. We have no ‘older child’ to look after Elliot and since he’s not as compliant as a Tanzanian child, I don’t feel it’s fair to ask one of the older children to do so.

So I bring a bag of activities and snacks for Elliot to do in church. Sometimes we last less than 5 mins in the actual service; other weeks we get through almost an hour. We always end up outside at some point. Then there is a new set of challenges. The other children are drawn to us (and my bag of tricks). Elliot pushes the kids who press around him, and he’s angry if I pay attention to the other children.

By the time church finishes, I am fantasizing about creches, cry rooms, or play corners.

There is no morning tea or chat afterwards. Everyone leaves immediately to go home.

I leave feeling frustrated with Elliot that he is more unsettled than he normally is. I am cross that the church is so inhospitable to my child. I feel stupid that I haven’t worked out a way to tolerate the cross-cultural tension, and I am tense and short-tempered for the rest of the day.

So I want to stay home. Arthur can go to church, and Elliot and I will stay home.

We are outside for most of it anyway. I think to myself, ‘I might as well be reading this Bible story with him at home, without having to mediate between him and 20 Tanzanian children.’

When we are inside, he is having a parallel experience to the service and disrupting everyone else while my blood pressure sky rockets.

We are not learning, we are not worshiping, we are of encouragement to no one.

We go because we want it to be part of our family rhythm to meet with God’s people each week, but it’s more about the rhythm than the actual ‘meeting’. I oscillate between feeling that this is valuable in itself, and feeling that it’s tokenism. Whichever it is, for me Sunday is the worst day of the week.

Categories: Church Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

6 replies

  1. I don’t think you can ever know if you turning up isn’t an encouragement for anyone else. The fact that you turn up every week even though you may not get to stay in the service may be encouraging to some of the other people there, even if they never say it to you.

    We’ve had similar feelings with our kids at church back here in Australia, so I know the feeling. The good news is, kids don’t stay small for long, so things will change soon enough :)

  2. I remember finding church in NZ similarly frustrating with small children. Why am I here in the crèche mediating between toddlers and playing with dirty old toys when really we could be at home playing with our own toys and not missing the normal sleep time. I think there are also a range of attitudes to children’s behaviour/inclusion in church services even in our cultures actually. No easy answers. It’s a difficult phase of family life, I’m sure even more challenging with cross cultural issues. We always brightened Sunday afternoons with an excursion/walk or something which helped. That might not be easy in Tanzania either.

  3. Hey Tamie,

    Thanks for your honesty. We’ve felt similarly (though now we have two little disruptions, not one, and we do have kids church/creche, and I am the minister).

    I can’t really speak to the Tanzanian context, or to your church and the mums there… but the idea “we are of encouragement to no one” is interesting. I know its an honest self-assessment and I’m not wanting to respond with empty platitudes – but what we’ve realised is that it’s encouraging to other parents to have permission to have rowdy kids, and its encouraging to other mums with rowdy kids when other mums persevere. I almost want my kids to be the noisiest/rowdiest kids in the church because of the standard that sets.

    We also keep telling ourselves this is a season thing, and it’ll pass, and it teaches us empathy.

    I’ll be praying for you guys (and being encouraged by you guys) this Sunday as I wrangle my noisy kids, or look down at my son when he runs up the front while daddy is talking into the microphone.

  4. Children and church are two things that sort of don’t go together, and yet we want them to. We want our kids to sit quietly, and yet when/if they do, it sort of worries us.
    The way I have always thought about it is that kids are doing on the outside what the adults are doing on the inside. None of us, I believe, actually pay attention for the whole time. Our attention wanders… and our kids wander around on legs, not just inside their heads.
    I think it’s fantastic that you keep persevering. There is a season for Just Showing Up, for holding a place, setting a rhythm for life, so that when the rest of you is able to be there, not just your body, your body doesn’t rebel and keep you away.
    My thoughts for how to manage it for now would include: decide that this week, you are only going to stay in for x percent of the service. And tell Elliott: today we are going to church, we are going to be there for the (whatever the first bit is), and then we will go and play outside (not, recreate church, just play, go for a walk, whatever is appropriate). Feel happy that you have participated in that bit, having lowered your expectations maybe your frustrations will be lowered, too. Gradually build up, either consecutive bits of time, or go out and in. If you’re frustrated, he knows, and that’s not going to help him help you stay in church.
    I don’t know Elliott well enough to really help from this distance, and maybe you’ve already fixed it, I’m a bit behind in my blog reading… But maybe that might help?

    1. Thanks Fiona. I think what gets me the most is the loneliness of it, the sense that he does not fit and we do not belong, so I really like what you say about being there in body for the time when the rest of us is able to be there.

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