Last night, I was listening to a testimony at church and I looked to my left and saw my 9-year-old quietly learning a string trick from a 20-something, I turned a little and saw my friend’s 15 months old madly crawling towards the door before my husband scooped him up. I looked at my watch and realized it was my turn to do some kid-wrangling and headed outside where a gaggle of 5-7 year old girls were playing fairies under a tree….
Since starting to do church in the harvest about 7 years ago I’ve had a long and sordid history with my identity as a mother and my identity as a Christian involved in church activities. It can be incredibly difficult to find a balance between those two identities. But last night I knew I had to at least try to share some of what I’ve learned so far as a mother in the harvest. I knew it because at last night’s monthly leader’s gathering a lot of my husband and my friends showed up. There were 19 children. I could feel the “whoa” factor in the room as more and more kids arrived. It was a lot. The movie we’d downloaded wouldn’t play. People were worried. What would we do with all these kids?!?
Spoiler alert, the kids were fine (and so were the adults). They were loud at times. They definitely devoured all the desserts at the potluck table when their parent’s eyes were turned and several babies added their loud amens during the prayer time. Parents missed a few conversations here and there when they had to take a ten-minute kid watching shift. But at the end of the night when my 7-year-old was telling me how much she loves church, I smiled and then thought: Whew! This is hard! But also great!
But it hasn’t always felt great, I’ve now come to love having our kids involved in a lot of our ministry in the harvest but it was a journey to get here, so if it helps you: Here are my 3 biggest struggles when it comes to having kids in the harvest:
Current American society, particularly when schooling for all came into play about 75 years ago, is used to not having our children with us. We send them to school each day. We send them to camp during the summer. We send them to Sunday school on Sundays. And when we have them with us, there is always the iphone. Handing your kid a smartphone at Olive Garden will allow you to have a semi-quiet meal for at least 30 minutes. This is the society we live in.
I say this, not to judge, but to acknowledge the pressures we face when we start bringing our kids *into* our lives. It’s definitely awkward because most people are not used to it! And honestly, we aren’t used to it! It takes a lot of practice for our kids and for us to learn what our expectations should be.
We as adults have to learn to have life be a little more inconvenient. (Anyone who’s followed my insta-stories knows that God gifted me with the loudest son in the world as my third child. Friends. I’m not kidding. He’s meant to be a preacher who’s microphone doesn’t work-but until that day arrives, I’m constantly reminding him to use an inside voice!)
I now have to actually do discipline and teaching during church times. NO FUN! Right?!? My kids have to learn that we have expectations for them to follow during church BOO! right?!? But when we finally bit the bullet and invited our kids into our ministry.(Matthew 18:10 is a perfect encouragement to push past the inconvenience.) We learned some pretty incredible lessons and so did our kids….
Did you know Insta-kids exist? I’m sure you’ve heard of insta-quiet times. Where it gives us all an unrealistic view of what a quiet time looks like (cup of coffee, flowers in a vase, perfectly highlighted bible laid open, no laundry in sight…).
But I’ve noticed that social media is full of insta-kids too. In my circles of social media, I get to read how Sally has been quoting her memory verses at the table every morning since she was 3 and how she just finished the book of Mark on her 5th birthday! I read how little Johnny shared the gospel with his 5th-grade class and everyone got saved!
These are awesome and encouraging stories….unless you read them just as you’ve pulled your kids out of a dog pile on each other and yelled that everyone just “BETTER BE QUIET RIGHT NOW OR SO HELP ME!” and then you inexplicably realize your 4-year-old somehow learned the words to the pop song Uptown Road (thankfully it was a non-explicit version. But still). You have no idea how.
But, also my kids know how to share the gospel and they do so regularly. I know my oldest son asked my husband, unprompted, to get him up before his alarm to read the Bible every morning. I know that my singing 4-year-old constantly talks about Jesus at preschool and that my 7-year-old is always praying for the lost in her class at school. But that’s not how I see my kids! I see the worst, and I compare it to other people’s kids’ best.
To really do church in the harvest places, I must allow others to be a part of my kids’ lives. And that will include their bad days and good days. I must put down my own insta-version of my children and be humble enough to invite our neighbors, friends, and fellow-laborers in the harvest to truly know our kids.
The great news is that the single ladies in our church have a new appreciation for kid hugs, and my children learn by example from the great people in our fellowship! Young couples get to learn how to discipline (or not, depending on if I’m an awesome mom that day or not) by observing our family in action. And families who are new to faith and are just now realizing they should have boundaries for their children, are getting first-hand instruction… But that brings me to…
Push past Pride:
God for sure knew what He was doing by making me a mom. Before I became a parent I was forever judging parents. I was always making a list of things “I would never do.” or “That’s a good way to do it.” But as soon as that little snuggly first-baby entered my life, I immediately started making silent apologies to all those people I’d judged in my head.
Parenting is so complicated. The problem with this hard lesson is when I bring my kids into harvest places, I just know someone in the room is judging me. And well they should! I’m an imperfect parent, parenting imperfect kids! We’re messing up ALL THE TIME. And maybe they have yet to find themselves humbled by a screaming 2-year-old when everyone else’s two-year-old sits quietly on a blanket playing with a stuffed bear…so maybe they are judging. But, I’ve had to learn that most of the time it’s all in my head.
When I stop caring quite so much about what other people think of me and instead start doing my best to love (love my kids, love the other people in the room, love myself), the pride starts to take a backseat. It’s also been good to remember that those we are introducing to this new way of church are also feeling ALL THESE THINGS. Showing each other grace in these growing pains will honestly bring us all a bit closer.
Those are just some of the things I’ve struggled with over the years. Hopefully we’ll talk more about kids here at ITH. But until then, I hope the parents reading this feel this as a love letter to them. I am with you. We can do this. I hope the non-parents reading this feel all the feelings written above. If you know a parent in the harvest, just assume they feel some of this. Pray for them. And pray for their children. They are part of your churches too!