Love in Trifles

October 9, 2008

“Good manners are simply demonstrating love in trifles.”  So writes Nancy Wilson in her provocative little book called Praise Her in the Gates: The Calling of Christian Motherhood.  I’ve been skimming a few books like Mrs. Wilson’s in preparation for the sermon this Sunday (Titus 2:1-10).  Or, it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been skimming books for the upcoming message, but few are like Mrs. Wilson’s.  Any book that can make me say “yes” out loud, or cause me to put it down at times to think, or incite laughter, or create a desire for discussion, is a pretty good book — even if it is a book for mothers!

Anyway, Mrs. Wilson includes a chapter on teaching children manners in church, with friends, and with family.  I thought what she had to say about church manners might be helpful for our families who have undertaken the awesome and daunting task of teaching their young children to worship.  Parents, read these words from a seasoned mother, ponder them, argue with them, discuss them with your spouse and other parents.  Natalie and I are rooting for you.  (Please root for us too as Ethan gets older!)  It’s a long quote, and only a partial quote, but worth the read:

[Our children] need to be taught that they must worship in a decent and orderly fashion.  They must be trained and taught all week in preparation for worship.  We cannot expect them to know how to behave without our instruction.  The goal for our children is not that they sit still.  That is simply the means to the end.  The end or goal is that they worship God with us.  Now little ones must be taught to sit still, but again, this is training to equip them for worship.  Many families with little ones sit in the back so they will not be a distraction to others while they are training their children to sit quietly.  Some families are way ahead of others, but as long as we are moving in the right direction, we should be pleased.

Methods of training vary, but the principle we should agree on is that our children should be expected to join the worship of God at a very young age.  We can share examples and ideas, but again, each family will vary in its progress.  We must be compassionate and tenderhearted toward one another in this.  One father loads his little toddler up with Cheerios outside before coming into worship, so hunger won’t be a distraction.  Some have their children practice sitting still during the week at home.  Another father makes a list of words the children can read that will be in the sermon (like law or love) and has them make a tick mark on a sheet of paper each time they hear it.  Now if some allow their children to color during the sermon, this should be seen as a temporary measure as they are training them to sit and listen.  In other words, though we did not allow our children to do this, I do not want to be hard on those parents who are allowing it while they are getting their children up to speed….  Perhaps they can allow the children to color after they have listened for fifteen minutes and then stretch to twenty minutes the next week.  This is an area in which we should bear with one another.  On the other hand, if parents are allowing their children to play and color on the flooor without training them to worship, they need to expect more of their children.  Young children can be taught to “hold it” so they will not need to get up to go to the bathroom during church.  By keeping liquids to a minimum and taking them to the bathroom before church, trips to the bathroom can be avoided.  And with older children, it is not expecting too much of them to make them wait until the service is over. 

As in all manners, the object is to serve others.  Children who are whispering, shuffling papers, eating cookies and candy, or getting up to go to the bathroom are a distraction to others during worship.  Mothers should work hard to prepare their children for the worship of God.  This includes feeding them a good breakfast, taking them to the bathroom before church begins, as well as preparing them spiritually all week.  Of course all parents rejoice when babies fall asleep during the sermon.  But older children should be exhorted to pay attention and not be allowed to snooze….

Other good manners during church would include participating in all the singing, following along during the Scripture reading, not looking around at others, not scratching or picking or chewing gum, and so forth.  If the worship of God is the high point of our week, we should behave in an appropriate manner.

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