Church, children and Easter

Published 2:05 pm Friday, April 29, 2011

Is there any more perfect representation of the tribulations of being a parent than sitting in church with three antsy children?

Making matters worse is the chocolate and candy orgy, courtesy of the Easter bunny, that precedes one of the more significant sermons of the year.

To my left sat the supremely unique John, my 14-year-old, who kept bowing incessantly with his arms outstretched. I appreciated the sentiment, but not the execution.

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To my immediate right was eight-year-old Ruth writhing and screaming that the PA system was turned up too loud. Sure. Like her iPod is not. Every time the preacher reached a crescendo, she would moan and grimace.

Then to my far right, unfortunately outside of whacking distance, was 12-year-old Lawrence, floppily outstretched with his eyes shut in deep sleep. I could tell the snores would start any second.

I had to motion to my wife to nudge Lawrence awake. She didn’t really want the job, which created more tension. When the nudge finally occurred, Lawrence shot me an affronted look and mouthed the word, “What?” This went on for several iterations until I finally determined I was the one creating most of the commotion.

All the while, pastor Steve was imparting to the congregation the joy of the resurrection and what it means to each person personally. I’m a true believer and I thank God for that, but that still left the difficult problem of parenthood here on earth. Do kids behave in heaven, I began to wonder.

Being somehow on the front row didn’t help matters. It has always bugged me that people in church always sit in the back. So I always make a point to sit up front. After all, if you’re gonna come, you might as well have a good seat.

Suddenly I had a new appreciation for sitting in the back. Aha! That’s why people sit in the back. It’s sort of like parental post traumatic disorder from experiences such as I was presently undergoing.

I realized my options were limited. I could drag them all out and spank them on the church steps, but that would pretty much ruin the Easter Sunday service of the  Covenant Presbyterian Church. I vaguely recall doing that once, but I confess it may just be an old fantasy bouncing around in the recesses of my mind. Besides, spanking is not in style these days.

My solution came after the service: Skip a nice Sunday dinner and go straight to household chores. The garage needed cleaning and the porch needed sweeping and I had the labor to do it.

The children thought I had lost my mind. They sort of understand the nature of chores, but I was taking it to a whole new level.

John quickly objected to working on the Sabbath, especially Easter Sunday. He promptly turned to the Old Testament passage in which Moses is instructed to kill anyone who works on the Sabbath. “Now I will have to kill you,” he informed me. John definitely needs to keep working on his social skills.

Of course, this is the same John who recently determined the Sabbath was actually on a Saturday. This worked well for him because he could not work on Saturday or Sunday, depending on how he applied his Biblical interpretation.

I patiently explained — with questionable Biblical scholarship — that we go to the covenant church and that when Jesus came a lot of the old laws got changed and we had a new covenant. Besides, kids doing chores is not really work, as in you haven’t been laboring in the fields for the last six days.

“But we have been laboring in school all week,” Lawrence chimed in. “Yea,” Ruth said. “School is hard work.”

Okay. Now it is Easter Sunday and I am starting to lose it. “Holy Spirit, fill my body with patience and love and joy. I can’t do it, but I know you can.” This is a prayer that I pray a lot as a parent.

As usual, just as I am about to commit infanticide, the Holy Spirit filled my body with — well, I’m not sure love and joy, but at least sufficient restraint to keep me out of prison.

I prevailed in the end. It wasn’t pretty. I got a blister demonstrating the proper sweeping techniques, but the chores got done, the driveway was swept and I’m hoping they made some connection to their behavior in church.

Then came the call to my mother who was visiting her sister-in-law in San Antonio. During the conversation, I said, “The kids were so bad in church I made them come home and work.”

John overheard and sprang into action. “Work. You called it work. You are a sinner!”

This is the same John who at age six kept saying “blah blah blah” instead of repeating the children’s prayer during the “children’s moment” in church. To my dismay, the preacher kept going. The more emphasis the preacher placed on the words to repeat, the more emphasis John gave to his “blah blah blahs.” I tried to slide under the pew while half the congregation nearly ruptured sensitive internal organs trying not to laugh.

Then magically the day ended beautifully, as we visited my cousin’s houseboat on the Rez. Despite the tangled lines and stinky bait, each child caught one small fish. Oh the smiles and joy. “I’m so proud of myself, Daddy,” Ruth told me. I had somehow failed to realize she had never caught a fish.

We ate on the deck of the boat with a perfect sunset breeze. Everyone behaved. Nobody complained about the food. Smiles and joy abounded. Ah, April in Mississippi. My Easter Sunday was resurrected. It was all the joy and beauty I ever needed.