By Rebekah Theilen
“We implore you to hear us, good Lord, to grant all women with child, and all mothers with infant children, increasing happiness in their blessings.” (The Litany, Lutheran Service Book, p. 288)
I couldn’t stand to be there anymore.
The pain was too much, the silence too loud, the burden too heavy. Staying in the pew alone was too hard. The walk across the lawn was too close, too easy. I whispered to the children, told them we were leaving, snapping at them to pick up the mess of papers and crayons. I avoided eye contact with the ushers as I led our children through the narthex and walked out the door. The farther away I was from that building, the more relief came to me, the less I felt crushed, and the more I could breathe.
We stumbled into the parsonage and the kids old enough to dress themselves ran off to change their clothes. Starving for food, for something to feed me, I went straight to the kitchen, devouring the left-overs from yesterday’s supper. I leaned against the counter, my back sliding down the cabinets to the cold kitchen floor. I could hear the Communion hymns playing, the organ humming through the parsonage walls. Sobbing at the Lamb’s high feast, I picked up a pen and journaled these words:
The floor keeps me warm.
There is no room in the wound. No more room in the insult for injury. This is the song.
Church does not strengthen me. Church weakens me. Drains me. Engulfs me.
Floods me with tears of defeat.
I left again. I caved again. I couldn't fight the toddler alone again. I faded into the background music of silent martyrdom--again. I pray their father will forgive me--again.
Until then I wait on the floor.
There was a time, not long ago, when going to bed meant two dreadful things. First, there would be little sleep that night. Second, I would have to wake up the next morning. Saturday nights before church were the worst, and I often went to bed in a pit of anxiety, maddened by the great delusion. For there appeared to be some kind of mistake, a discrepancy in the common language used in reference to Sunday morning. The Divine Service was not a gift to be received like everyone keeps saying it was. Rather, church had evolved into a purgatorial twilight zone of sorts, a silent assault on body and soul.
There’s a common confession among mothers of young children and it isn’t the Athanasian Creed. Here it is: The Day of Rest isn’t restful. Just ask the woman standing in the back of the church with her baby. She feels invisible, but it’s not hard to spot her. She’s the one fighting a cold, a toddler, her adorable infant, and her own hidden tears. It might not sound like much (the devils know this of course), but it’s just enough to keep her beating herself up about having no good reason to cry (she’s extremely blessed, after all). But given enough time, and yes, one more crying baby in the middle of the Gospel reading and joy is turned to sorrow as she exits the sanctuary and enters the cry room convinced. This Jesus is for you and for him and for us and for them--everyone else except for her.
For in the place where she is promised peace, the demons howl and taunt her soul. Thy Strong Word, sung and spoken, broken and shed for her nourishment, is missed as she kneels in a sleep-deprived confusion to eat the crumbled Cheerios off the floor. But who will ever know? The place where God dwells and saints gather is a lion’s den of dire loneliness. Church is not the haven where faith is nurtured; it is the place where faith is ripped to shreds. Church is not the sanctuary where God comes to her; it is the place she comes desperately asking where on earth her God has gone. Church is not the Holy Land where she is fed and strengthened; it’s the weekly land of make-believe that leaves her more defeated than when she came.
Do you ever wonder how it happened? How something so beautiful become so impossible?
Now I’ve heard it said, maybe in sermon, or maybe in song, that with God all things are possible. In many and various ways, God does for me what I am unable to do for myself. Jesus keeps the Law perfectly, dies for the forgiveness my sins, and counts it unto me as righteousness, as perfection in His eyes. Though I cannot find a prayer in the darkness of my tears, the Spirit intercedes with groans on my behalf, and my voice is heard in the shining chambers of heaven’s throne room. Though I am born and raised a beggar, my Heavenly Father richly and daily provides all that I need to support this body and life. If this is most certainly true (and it is), than yes, with God all things are possible. It can only be true then, that when the day of rest wearies my soul, when I cannot by my own reason or strength receive the gift of rest, the power of God not only rests upon me, the power of God rests for me.
Indeed, count it all joy when you encounter various trials. Yes, even the Sunday morning ones. For though we may not see it, the Word we hear in church, the words we think we’re missing, are tiny crumbs of Hope feeding us and our children. By the grace of God we can enter His gates with a quiet thanksgiving, knowing the testing of our faith produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, rejoice. The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthens and preserves us in body and soul unto life everlasting. Raised to new life, blessed and kept in our baptismal grace, we are the joy of His pasture, the resurrected sheep of His hand. Though we wonder why, though we question and doubt, cry or yell, curse or despair on Sunday morning, peace is ours because Jesus is ours. God has given us rest for the sake of His Son.
God has a way of using babies to get to us. The next time the little one cries, the next time the forces of nature force you out of the sanctuary, taking you away from the blessing of assembly, remember this. The Day of Rest is not a weekly vacation, or an earned day off. The Day of Rest is the Light of Day won by Christ for you. When you feel alone, cut off, forgotten, as though the darkness will never lift and the blessing of children has gone horribly wrong, barring the way to God forever, hear the words of the crying Christ Child, He who crushed the lying serpent’s head. His word is trustworthy and true. He is your Savior and Rest, the One who said, “Let the little children come to me.”
Jesus wanted the children and He wanted someone else.
He wanted the mommas He knew would bring them.
He wanted the mommas He knew would bring them.