Last Sunday I was doing what I always do around 11:00 am. I was trying to control my children so that I could enjoy the morning church service and to minimize disturbance for the others. Despite my efforts to produce obedient automatons I have three small and wiggly children.
Linus, age 2, prefers to take every single Bible and hymnal out of its spot on the back of the pew and spread them across the cushions, and then read each one. Under no circumstances are you to place them BACK in the hymn holder. He is also fond of spreading around and losing the blue index sized Friendship In Worship cards. Last week, approps of nothing, he repeatedly shouted "Holy Casserole!"
Jarvis, age 4, has perfected many forms of church misbehavior, from running laps around the church to singing "This Little Light of Mine" while everyone else is singing " Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Usually he is just generally noisy, running back and forth across the pew, barking shins and asking at the end of every song "Is it done yet?" Sometimes he just decides he needs to join Grandma on the stage while she is leading the music and has to be carried away, screaming.
With all this there are a few bright spots. They LOVE to put money in the offering plate. Every time they find loose change in the house they say they want to give it to Jesus. Well, sometimes they say "We can buy a donut!" I'm wondering if the donut holes they consume before Sunday School have anything to do with what transpires an hour later.
Last Sunday during worship my friend Elizabeth was leading the choruses and Jarvis exclaimed "Pretty music!" He then left the pew and starting dancing between the end of the pew and the wall. Linus joined him and they turned in circles like little ballerinas in a pre-teen jewlrey box. Eventually they started running up and down the aisle and I tried to catch them and ask that they keep close while they dance.
Jarvis ran past an older woman who tried to grab him and tell him to go sit down. I told her "I gave him permission to be out there." She stated matter of factly he didn't need to be out there. I stated through gritted teeth "He's a little kid...he's dancing" and turned away.
I suppose I look like a sloppy mother but truthfully it took willpower for me not to go after him. I have a tendency to be hard-nosed and I get very nervous about what other people think. But he's four years old. He can't read. Because he can't read he can't sing. Let him dance.
My husband pointed out that he only started this after we had the children baptized. I am not a theologian. I have no intricate explanation for how the sacraments work. But I can't help but feel when my son leaves the Lord's Table crying "I want more Body (of) Christ" that there is a mystery at work there, and I see that same mystery in his joyful expression and giggle when he turns an amateur pirouette during "I Will Enter His Gates."
My whole life I've been regaled with stories of the "old days" when the people would "get blessed," resulting in much hanky waving and shouting, the occasional running of laps around the sanctuary. There was even a story of a man who walked across the TOPS of the pews when he got "In the Spirit," rather like Roberto Benigni at the 1998 Oscars.
I find it disingenuous to say that sort of "disruptive" behavior is fine when it's coming from someone in plaid pants and a Mr. Rogers sweater, but not ok for someone in Scooby Doo underpants.
When my children were baptized I wanted them to stand still and represent a beautiful motif of children bathed in holy light. Instead I got wild monkeys hopping all over the stage. The pastor noted my worried expression and exasperated actions as I tried to corral them and reminded me that Christ said to let the children come unto him and forbid them not. So I have been trying to do just that.
This is not the say I won't try to minimize disturbance, maintain some order, instruct and discipline. But I won't do it to the detriment of their spiritual development. When the music plays, and the boys want to step out into the aisle, I will not forbid it.
I will let them dance.