The other day, I read this post on Faith Village. The writer, Sharon Miller, talks about the difficulty in attending church services with an infant and her frustrations around how to handle it. Ultimately, she concludes that although it would be easier to stay home, she will keep going for the sake of corporate worship and raising her child among the faithful.
While I commend Ms. Miller for making the decision that felt right to her, I couldn’t help seeing her perhaps not-so-subtle judgment for people who have made different choices. She writes,
Despite my best efforts I am not perfect in this area, and having a baby has accentuated my consumerist tendencies even more. Now, I can’t help but think of church as a major inconvenience. It is hard to go to church. It’s a commitment. And as much as I put into getting there, I don’t get a whole lot in return.
She talks about consumerism and compares the decision to stay home from church with consumerist mentality. I suppose that may be true for her; I wouldn’t know. But there’s a lot of assumption present on her part about the reasons people choose to go (or not go) to church.
When our older child was born, I was, in many ways, ready to be a parent; we had wanted children for a long time. At the same time, I was utterly unprepared for how challenging it would be. Our son was not an easy baby. He cried constantly, he demanded to be held 24/7 (we literally did not put him down for three weeks straight, other than to change his diapers), and he was a poor napper. He had stomach troubles which necessitated feeding him nearly round the clock, and I was breastfeeding so I didn’t get a break. When people brought us meals, they wanted to see the baby, but I was too tired and unhappy and didn’t want anyone to see me, so only one friend actually got to hold him that first week. We had a major power outage during that time and ended up at my sister’s for a couple of nights. Needless to say, it was a trying time.
We very quickly figured out that church happened at exactly the time of day that our son needed a nap. I was not comfortable nursing in public (we had a rough start) and was useless at pumping because of the constant feedings (and hell, no, I wasn’t going to use formula just so I could go out; he couldn’t tolerate it anyway). We didn’t go to church at all for the first three or four Sundays after he was born.
After that, we began to go back to church. But because of his neediness and his schedule, we had to choose between Sunday school (the hour before church) and the church service. When I shared this with the women at church, they were nearly universally in support of our choice to go to Sunday school and then return home. The other women surrounded us with love and offers of support.
All except one.
One friend criticized us for our decision, saying that it was self-centered and that we should be careful not to fall into a pattern of non-attendance. She informed us that not attending would lead us down a path of apathy, and said that we would eventually stop coming altogether.
Apparently, she didn’t know us very well.
See, here’s the thing. When the women at church cared for me and reassured me that it was okay to take care of ourselves, they were doing exactly what Ms. Miller believes a church should do—they were loving us as family. With the one exception, no one judged us; no one told us we were acting as though we thought church should be there for us to “get something out of it.”
With the brief exception of taking a month off before searching for a new church this year, we have not taken any extended breaks from attendance. Even through all the times we had to make our son eat dinner in the car between dance class and midweek service, we kept attending. But it eventually did grow tiresome trying to fit in the expectation of church or church activity three to four times weekly. I am certain that I will never do that again; not because of consumerist mentality, but because attendance for the sake of meeting some artificial standard isn’t good either.
See, what Ms. Miller is missing is that it isn’t about church attendance at all. Consumerist mentality is present in church anyway. When we gear our services to a particular subset of the population; when we try to be hip, cool, or different; when we use gimmicks to get people to show up; when we guilt people into attendance; when we run our churches more like corporations than like houses of prayer—that is where we find consumerism.
Only in our present-day conservative evangelical churches do we find this belief that the very natural need to care for our infants, even at the expense of church attendance, is somehow selfish and wrong. How terrible that we have made new parents feel that they have no option except to prove—to themselves and others—by way of church attendance that God is important.
I am truly sorry that wherever Ms. Miller is going to church, she isn’t surrounded by the loving community we had when our son was a baby. I’m sorry that she feels that she must attend church regardless of lack of sleep or challenges with her infant or nap schedules. My prayer for her is that she finds peace and that she’s able to care for herself without feeling guilty that she might be giving in to “consumerism.”
That wraps things up for this week, folks. I’m taking a much-needed break to work on my NaNoWriMo novel and to enjoy Thanksgiving with family and friends. I hope you all have a great rest of your week, and I’ll see you back here on Monday for the next installment of Fifty Shades.