When I finally pull into the church parking lot with our son Ethan babbling in the back seat and tossing toys, I feel like I’ve just accomplished a major feat before 10 am. I’ve fed him breakfast, cleaned up a little bit of the mess in the kitchen, mostly scrubbed him clean, wrestled him into submission long enough to change his diaper, slipped both socks into place fast enough that he can’t pull them off, held his feet still long enough to fasten the Velcro on his sneakers, and stocked the diaper bag with a back up outfit and a few choice toys before properly snapping him into his car seat.
By the time I’m carrying Ethan up the steps to church, I’m sweaty and feeling a little frazzled. I’m trying to calm myself down to focus on worship, to be kind and patient in the crowd of people, and to remember to hold onto Ethan’s nursery number.
When we arrive at the nursery, it’s dark and empty.
The volunteers in the next classroom over confirm there’s no one in the nursery today.
My wife and I have talked about this for a long time. We’ve been meaning to volunteer in the children’s ministry at our church, especially the places where we need support ourselves. However, this semester feels like a fire drill for us with our daily schedule filled to the minute with work spilling into the early morning and late evening for us most days. With some added responsibilities this semester, we rush from one hurried goodbye to another.
Church has been mostly miss since Ethan’s nap only recently moved back far enough in the day that we can attend church with him.
He’s been in the nursery maybe six times. All the same, I feel the guilt of expecting other people to make sacrifices so that I can enjoy a peaceful Sunday. I really counted on someone being there this Sunday so I could worship for a few hours, although I’ve never made the same sacrifice for others. As I paced the back of the sanctuary, I thought about the tension that a place like the church nursery brings up every week.
A big part of Church Nursery Guilt (CNG) is that every parent has burdens and struggles. We all have our limits and issues. We haven’t known what each Sunday will bring, so it’s hard to commit to much of anything for four Sundays in a row. We’re always grateful for those who help in the nursery, but gosh, I don’t think we’ll be able to do much until January.
I ponder that limitation as I see all of the parents who have joined me in the back of church to rock our kids, to let them run around, and to supervise their crawling across the floor that has paperclips and bit of broken tile here and there.
* * *
The biggest part of CNG is that I can see how we all just need to make a few sacrifices in order to benefit the many. It makes me feel petty and stupid that I haven’t jumped in yet. Can’t I just suck it up and plan four Sundays for the nursery?
And then I think about how erratic our Sundays have been over the past year. How often have I made it to church on time if at all? It feels like adding one more responsibility will send our jam packed lives tumbling over. And when I think of burning out or having a major breakdown, the first thing I think of is how we don’t have TIME for that to happen, let alone put it all back together.
I’ll bet all of the other parents holding their kids with me felt the exact same way.
I’ll bet they all felt CNG too.
Who blinks first?
* * *
This is the tension you get in a church that is primarily made of young families. There are droves of kids and a smaller contingent of exhausted, busy parents. Everyone is hungry for a few moments of peace and quiet, just a little time to sing a song, pray, or to think about a passage of scripture.
We spend our days thinking, planning, and giving, and sometimes one more place to think, plan, and give feels like the end of the world.
Even if I do try to pitch in a bit more this January, the problem will remain. There’s never enough people for children’s ministry. That’s one of the rules of church. I’ve never attended a church that didn’t struggle to fill children’s ministry slots every month.
If I had a free hand yesterday morning, I wouldn’t have pointed it anyone other than myself. And I know that there are plenty of others who felt the same way.