In which I can only testify with my absence from church

In which I can only testify with my absence from church

naked on the church steps

Earlier this summer, I told you about a little problem we were having at my house: Silas, my three-year-old, wanted to be naked. All. the. time. Which was problematic, because there are many places we go in our day-to-day lives where it is not okay to be naked.

I told you about our situation; you gave me some (much appreciated) suggestions.

I didn’t exactly tell you about the gut-level soul-angst this problem was causing me.

I’m a writer, so I wrote about it, but I don’t get real churchy here on this blog, so I sent it to somebody who does.

Today, please visit my friend Sarah Bessey’s place to read about that time (not so long ago) when my kid was naked on the church steps, when we were on the wrong side of the sanctuary door, when I was reminded once again how poorly my family has merged with the family of God.

I was the one who insisted on going to church. We’d been traveling a ton this summer, and missed week upon week of services. This particular Sunday morning, I wanted to be there. I needed to be there.

But the actual going is never easy.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another, and this morning it was my naked three-year-old. Silas started screaming the moment we told him to get dressed. My husband finally, painfully wrangled him into some khakis; we buckled him into his carseat shirtless–and still screaming. I stuffed his shirt into my purse, and we drove off, frazzled.

Three miles later when we pull into the parking lot, Silas is still screaming and is once again naked, despite his snug five-point harness.

We were already late, so my older three slipped through the sanctuary’s back door with my husband. He went one round with Silas this morning; I thought I could win round two.

I was wrong.

Head over to Sarah’s blog to read the rest.

I’m feeling pretty vulnerable with this one. I’d love to hear your thoughts and struggles and ideas for moving forward. 

43 comments | Comment


  1. Carrie says:

    3 year olds are so hard. I have no idea why everyone makes such an issue of the terrible twos, when the twos are easy compared to 3! Right now our 3 year old is driving us ALL mad. She won’t sleep, she is constantly destroying things and pushing her baby sister around… it’s rough. This. too. shall. pass…some days it’s hard to love her.

    • Anne says:

      I completely and totally agree. My youngest was an absolute angel–no terrible twos at all–until he hit three, and then … WHOA. He’s over it now. Mostly. 🙂

  2. Rachael says:

    Oh, yes! I dread when we miss a sunday service, as for a long while, that was my only social outlet, and not a great one at that. I will be praying for you Anne, its a hard place to be. Yes, parenting is hard, and as I often tell myself “one day does not a childhood make’ and ‘one decision does not my motherhood legacy make’ — otherwise, I can really beat myself up for things that go wrong.

    Yeah, I have thoughts about how to win those clothing battles, but I suspect that’s not what you need to hear (and that you know the general I should do this ideas). I think (though I’m not sure) that you need to hear: keep on Mama! These battles are worth the fight as you teach your little one that they are not autonomous (they are under authority — yours, God’s), and they are not self-sufficient (they need others and they need Jesus. Its worth the fight to bring up a young man who will want to know God, who will love people, and will know his need for Jesus. Its a long road, and its worth it.

    And he will out grow it, I’m sure. At least the naked in public bit. My Hubby has….

  3. Amanda says:

    Given that my most recent job was as the Children’s Director at a large church, this resonated with me in a big way. I saw, week in and week out, how much a battle Sunday mornings often were. By the time parents actually got to the service I wonder what state their hearts were in. I obviously am not going to give parenting advice and it sounds like you’re plenty educated about the ministry side as well so wouldn’t necessarily need my professional insight. All I can say is I hope you find yourself soon in a season where you’re able to walk through the doors, all fully clothed 🙂

  4. Michelle says:

    I totally relate. While we manage to make it to church most weeks, I seem to spend every service managing bottles and snacks and colouring in, taking my three-year-old for repeated visits to the toilet because she likes the purple liquid soap, sitting down through singing because my oldest screams at me to sit down because we have to sit down in church, even though she can see everyone is standing except me… And I am lucky enough to have a church where I feel welcome and loved, where people smile indulgently when my children overtake the children’s address with stories about the colour underpants they are wearing, and where we are greeted afterwards with hugs and kind encouragement and conversation. And yet…. At this stage for us church is a routine, because we feel it is important. A spiritual experience it is not. My minister’s wife has sympathised and told me that it is a season, which will pass so quickly so to try to find God where we are right now because He’s in the mess and the tantrums as well as in the joyful singing and fervent prayer.

    You will get there, as will we 🙂

  5. DebRN says:

    Another excellent post. You young moms blow me away with the ability to tell your stories. Maybe it should go in the church newsletter just so the rest of the folks can be a little more understanding. I am a 60 year old grandma that loves life, Jesus, Anne with an E, Jane Austen and being able to ride 50 miles for a fundraiser if I am asked. I get the best ideas from your blogs. I hope in a few years you will laugh at the stripping accident. The first time my 2 and half year old son went up to children’s time he told the pastor (and the entire congregation) that I was going to have a baby “in 2 weeks.” Not true. The pastor had accidentally set him up by saying sit by me, we will talk about brothers and sisters but you don’t have any…. I was crimson but it is pretty funny now. Stripping…that’s what 3 year olds do!

  6. Ana says:

    I found it incredibly sad that you were told that the problem was with you and your family, and not the church. That can’t possibly be the message they want to send? Sorry I have no advice, about either church or 3-year-olds (seriously, I’m trying to fathom the biological purpose of 3-year-old behavior; do they WANT their parents to throw them to the wolves??)

    • Anne says:

      “I’m trying to fathom the biological purpose of 3-year-old behavior; do they WANT their parents to throw them to the wolves?”

      Hahaha! I know, right? 🙂

  7. Tim says:

    Good job on the post at Sarah’s place, Anne. When I read it yesterday I was struck by the part where you go over the things people told you had caused your situations. To those people I say “Phooey!” (Sorry to use such strong language. One’s dander gets up at times.)

    None of them know what they’re talking about because none of them are living under your roof with you and your family. I adopted early on in parenting the habit of ignoring people. Worked wonders.


    • Anne says:

      Tim, I’m flattered I wrote something thought-provoking enough to get you to use salty language. 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words, and the long-term perspective. I’m experienced at parenting my kids (and my kids only) through age 10 … and the rest is still a mystery. 🙂

  8. Tina B says:

    I wish I knew what to say to encourage you. I’m not a parent. I do know however that you will find God where ever you seek Him. You and your hubby are setting a great example for your kids by trying so hard and showing them the importance of church. Hugs to you! May God bless you and give you peace.

  9. I gets me all fired up that people in church of all places are blaming you for a situation that seems totally normal and relatable to me.

    My son started religious education this year, and one of the requirements is that we attend mass each week as a family. We had spotty attendance before because of the issues you mentioned. It has been an adventure. My older child is fine, and enjoys it somewhat which is rewarding. My almost three year old enjoys seeing all the people, but has been known to SCREAM Lord Hear Our Prayer at inappropriate points and once started singing Happy Birthday at the top of her lungs in the middle of the homily. At least three times every week my husband & I look at each other and say “Well, at least we’re trying.”

  10. Denise says:

    I have ONE five year-old little boy, a little boy who has been ejected from Sunday School more than once for bad behavior. (And openly questions most Sunday mornings why he has to go to church and be reverent.) I do not pretend to have all the answers. (My heart sincerely goes out to those of you wrestling multiple littles on the bench; it’s a very much increased level of difficulty than what I deal with, with one.) However, I do know that getting to church on time, with wits intact, and sitting still for however long is a SKILL. It is a skill that can be practiced and learned. Part of that is doing the things on Saturday night that make Sunday morning easier. I think very few people, and certainly no children, can sit still for an hour (or so), listening to a speaker without practice. Some are capable of learning earlier than others, but it CAN be learned.

    The first time my son chafed (out loud) at reverence, it caused me to think about why we do this. Why do we ask anyone to sit still and be quiet? I think part of the answer has to do with 1 Kings 19:12, and the still small voice. I think (I hope) that helping him sit still now, and listen to the music and the words, and think of Jesus, for a short time each week will help him later learn to listen to the spirit. (And, let me freely admit, that after the sacrament–communion–is passed, he gets markers and paper to draw; masterpieces that usually involve some combination of guns, lava, zombies, angry birds, and bad piggies.)

    My two cents, and hope this is a skill you guys get better at, and are able to find peace with.

    • Anne says:

      Ironically, once we actually get the three-year-old in the pew, he does great. (We finally figured out that the nursery was a dealbreaker for him, but the pew with his parents was fine. Now that he’s three–it wasn’t fine when he was two!) But getting him there? OH MY MY.)

      It’s encouraging to hear about other families’ Sunday mornings struggles. Thanks so much for sharing that.

  11. Anna says:

    Well I can raise my hand and tell you that you are not alone. We too suddenly found ourselves on the wrong side of the doors upon becoming parents. We have a special needs child with parents who believe in gentle parenting – we do not fit the mold at our church. I’ve cried and prayed and spent hours thinking through what is causing this. Is it them? Is it me? None of it gets us closer to church. So we spend our Sundays, the only day we consistently all have off together, just being a family. We hike and eat and explore and spend time together. And to be honest, as I’ve let go of the feeling that it’s not the “right way”, I’ve found that it’s been enough for us in this season.

    • sarah k says:

      I sympathize with having a child who doesn’t conform to the handed-down “parenting wisdom” practiced by a given church. It might work for a lot of the kids, but not for ours. And I think we unintentionally did some damage by attempting to put it into practice for our child. I wish we hadn’t. I commend you for choosing what is best for your child and your family. And am so sorry you have found it puts you on the wrong side of the doors. I find myself increasingly aware of the strong tendency of Christians to exclude, to be against, to set up extra and unnecessary barriers against inclusion and community. I hope you find a place someday that is not like that.

    • Anne says:

      Anna, I don’t know what your family looks like, but I’ve had some really good talks with (gentle) moms who have kids dealing with autism, Tourette’s, and SPD.

      It’s been encouraging to all of us strugglingto get Church and Kids to mesh just a little gracefully to know we’re not the only ones, but it’s been so hard to come up with good answers. Thanks for raising your hand to say, “me too.”

  12. sarah k says:

    Amen to everything you said. Church attendance has felt like an endless string of hopeless failures for the last seven-plus years. First it was being late, chasing kids and not being able to listen or talk to people, and kids getting sick every Tuesday (thanks, kids in Sunday School with runny noses) and then having to sit in the hallway with us for the next 3 weeks. Then, in addition, personal sorrows mounted and made me feel less and less at home in a church full of happy faces and cheery songs. Now, finally, I no longer care about going to church–the weeks we do go, it’s the worst day of my week, as our family’s tragedies have made me feel utterly out of place as others proclaim God’s faithfulness to them and I see none of it to me.

    On the three-year-old front: mine is making me regret all the times I assumed that my parenting was the reason my two oldest children were fairly well-behaved and compliant. Ha, ha, ha. Every child is different and you are choosing your battles–very wisely, I am sure. I strongly second the commenter who said “Phooey” to other people’s judgy advice. I think it is awesome that you walked your child to the park in his underwear. And someday he will be fully clothed, voluntarily, and sitting quietly beside you in church. I wish all mothers patience to wait for that day, and deaf ears to ignorant blame-casting and criticism from others who ARE NOT YOUR CHILD’S PARENT.

    • Jeannie says:

      Very touched by your comment (and Anna’s above as well). The church as an institution often does a very poor job of lamenting with or on behalf of its suffering members. I sincerely hope you’ve received comfort and support from individual people, though. If and when the time is right to return to the Sunday morning gathering, you’ll know.

      • Anne says:

        Jeannie, I would love to talk to you about this one day over a nice cup of tea. I have a dear friend with two sons who have autism, and whenever I speak to her about her struggles with things like church I’m reminded of you, and whenever I read your comments here, or your blog, I’m reminded of her. Actually, I wish the three of us could have that cup of coffee together.

        • Jeannie says:

          Thank you, Anne — I’m grateful for how supportive and encouraging my church is, but at the end of the day (and by day I mean Sunday 🙂 ) it is still really hard and isolating for those who struggle with something different.

          I wish I could meet you & your friend too.

  13. Robin says:

    How I wish there were more truly “family friendly” churches! Where families were encouraged to worship together. Where mothers and fathers could model corporate worship, prayer, giving and learning for their children. Where families were not separated at the front door with nurseries, children’s church, the teenagers pews. Where are the times and places for quiet and reflection? Why does it feel like the mall with the noise, lights, and even stores and coffee bars? My kids are 17, 17, and 7 and we still haven’t found what we long for. But we still manage to make it each Sunday and my older ones are learning to serve and I’m thankful for that.

  14. liv says:

    amen. we are one of those families that plum burned out on the rigamerole it took to get into service every week. it has actually led to a momma who burned out on church entirely (but never Jesus). thank you for putting it into such familiar words. with four kiddos i can totally relate!

    • Anne says:

      I appreciated that article, Laura. Thanks for sharing. (And I know Kate Wicker from the blogosphere! Fun to see her there.)

      I think you’re spot-on about the kids. Everybody wants the kids in church, but only in theory. A few do in practice, but they’re in the minority.

      Of course, my big problem is getting everybody INTO the church in the first place. 🙂

  15. Cate says:

    I advise you to look at this as an issue of developmental readiness and appropriateness. Most little children are not developmentally capable of ” behaving” in church, until they reach a certain age. It’s like expecting a 4-month old to walk. You can wish and hope and pray, but it’s just not going to happen.

    The only thing that ever worked for us was to leave the littlest one at home until he/she could handle church. Obviously, Silas can’t yet. Yes, this means that one parent takes some of the kids to church while the other parent stays home with the little “troublemaker.” It’s only temporary. Four years always seemed to be the right age. I could have dragged, threatened, yelled, or whatever to force the child to church, but then everybody just feels bad, which defeats one significant purpose of church, in my opinion.

    I am guessing you don’t take Silas to things like the symphony, “grown-up” restaurants, or adult poetry readings. He’s not developmentally able to behave appropriately in those places. I don’t see a difference with church (unless you can find a much more family-friendly service somewhere else.) Maybe it’s okay that for a little while, in the name of familial and maternal peace, you just don’t force your little guy to go to church. Go yourself and enjoy being there in peace, causing no stress for yourself or your child. Silas will be truly ready to join you soon enough.

  16. Lois says:

    Hang in there! This too shall pass! Don’t give up on God or your church. If the church is the right one not only will they be understanding, but they will do anything they can to help you through this difficult season of life. If it is any encouragement, I was in a similar situation for 11 years. Finally, I am able to sit in church with the rest of my family. You can get through this.

  17. sarah says:

    Beautifully written (as always!)…it’s a shame that it’s so challenging to find churches that truly fit “family friendly”. And as a new step-mom now, I’m finding that “family friendly” for one kid can mean something completely different for another…and what about mom and dad? We have to find a church that feeds us spiritually too!

  18. Karin says:

    I read this post last week, and thought of it throughout this past Sunday morning. My son is two-and-a-half and loves Toy Story and being a people person. The first struggle -getting dressed. Because he doesn’t know that Sunday is different than another day, and just wants to wear his dirty Woody shirt for the 19th day in a row. (He wore the Woody shirt AND a shirt I chose. At least he was dressed?!) Then church. Coloring. Stickers. Snacks. My MIL was even with us this week; we had a 3:1 adult to toddler ratio. It wasn’t enough. The thing that quieted my spunky little boy? The sixth grade girls in the choir we were sitting with. (I accompany the children’s choir). He wanted to sit like them, and he even folded his hands to pray like they did!

    It was exhausting. And we got looks from some of the older parishoners nearby, but no one said anything. But we were there. It was hard. But we’ll try again. We’ll help him learn. Our church is full of young families, so he is not the only practicing his best dinosaur “STOMP! STOMP!” down the pew during the sermon. (Well, maybe he is.)

    And so in the few minutes he sat with folded hands, I found myself not listening to the pastor so much as remembering your post and remembering that I am not the only one who has ever tried to bring a toddler to church. Thanks for that. Sometimes it’s hard to feel human as the parent of a toddler.

    • Tim says:

      If you ever feel like it, Karin, you can yell those older folks that this old guy here thinks your son was behaving perfectly gone for Jo’s age. Sheepish, some peoplr!

  19. Katherine says:

    I just wanted to let you know how I get what you are going through and you are not alone. Our now six year old son was a nightmare at church for the past three years. He is all boy as others describe him and it was torture trying to get through church. We do have junior church which leaves after the offering, but then my other kiddos would be sure to let me know how their brother was running around like crazy and also spitting on the table or trying to eat the glitter glue. Seriously, why in the world he would want to do that I have no idea. He has always been a handful and it is only now getting better at church. Your little guy sounds adorable and someday all his naked running around will be a hilarious memory, but when it is happening it is so hard and I feel for you. Best wishes to you and your family, it is all going to work out in time, just keep on and it really will get better.

  20. Alice says:

    First of all, I have to confess I am not a parent. But I do go to church, and if you came to our church, I’d say bring the kid into church naked. It’s not that big a deal. I’m sure God won’t care.
    Or if he doesn’t want to come inside, then let us come out to you and have church on the steps.
    We are the body of Christ, and where we are is the church.

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