Thursday, May 28, 2015

The worship of the sleepy. . .

We have all witnessed the sight of a child curled up in a pew asleep or wistfully sleeping away in a mother's arms in the pew or even at the rail.  We have all seen children whose eyes have glazed over during the sermon and are ripe for the rest and renewal of sleep.  Sometimes people wonder what kind of benefit these children get from being in church.  Often those same people are subtly suggestions that they do not belong at church at all but in a nursery somewhere.  I disagree.

Children belong in church.  Even sleeping.  We do them a grave disservice when we shuffle them off to a nursery or stay at home because we fear they might make a little fuss or fall asleep anyway (how many parents have secretly wished their infants and toddlers would sleep away their time at church!).  Yes, it satisfies those who seek order in everything and those among us who think we cannot think without absolute quiet but there is something sad about a completely quiet church -- devoid of muted sound of children curious, interested, distracted, unhappy, singing, and, yes, sleeping.

The worship of the sleepy is not without its value.  I don't know about you but some of my best prayers are prayed in the weary hours of the night when rest overtakes me before the "amen" is said.  For that is exactly how we come to the Lord -- weary with the heavy burdens of this mortal life after the fall and in desperate need of the rest of a clear conscience through forgiveness and the peace of Christ to rule our hearts.  We are too often kept awake by the very things the liturgy is designed to ease -- the burdens of our shameful thoughts, words, and deeds and the fears of things we cannot control but only dread.  Rest is the outcome of faith that cannot see tomorrow but knows the good and gracious will of God witnessed in Christ our Savior will not and cannot disappoint us.

The child sprawled out in the pew blissfully sleeping away or dozing in the arms of the parent has exactly this -- rest.  The arms of mom or dad become the arms of our Savior who gathers His lambs in His arms and carries them home.  Perhaps we object so to these sleepy children because we do not know such rest and we doubt the wisdom and power of the Lord and of His grace to answer the dreads and wounds of our mortal lives.  In any case, these children witness what it is that we seek from the Lord -- such clear consciences that we can sleep in peace and such rest that we know real refreshment of heart, mind, and body as a result.

I well recall one of our members who came to church after a twelve hour shift and a long commute at the end of that shift.  There was hardly a Sunday in which sleep did not over take them at one point in the Divine Service or another.  Some might have said "Go home, sleep, this is doing you no good...." but not me.  The worship of the sleepy belongs with the rest of us who are wide awake.  I am not advocating napping during church (at least for adults) but I certainly get why children would feel safe, secure, and comfortable in the liturgy.  It is the safest and most secure place for us all.  Hopefully we all grow ever more comfortable in the rhythm of the ordinary, punctuated by the changes of the pericopes and the variable parts of the Divine Service, within the beat of the church year, with the goal of a clear conscience and perfect peace.


ErnestO said...

Sleeping Saints are by far more desired than those who walk out of church during the sermon. I would pray that upon reaching the exit door the last sign we would all read would say "You are entering the Mission Field"

David Gray said...

Very good pastor. It reminded me of this bit by Doug Wilson:

Many of you are here as parents of little ones and, in some cases, many little ones. For you, the worship of the Lord is a far more arduous task that it is for the rest of us. All of us are engaged in the work of worshipping the Lord, but you are carrying young ones in your arms as you perform the same labor that we do.

The work includes great things, like keeping everyone in fellowship throughout the whole service, and trivial things, like finding your place in the psalter. The work is daunting, and it is sometimes easy to forget why you are doing it. There are three things for you to keep in mind as you continue

The first is that while you sometimes need to be reminded why you are doing this, God knows exactly why you are doing it. Do not grow weary in doing good. God sees, and your labor in the Lord will bear good fruit. Your labor is before the Lord—He sees, and He rejoices. When you need to be reminded, there is one who can always remind you. You are here with your little ones because God calls you to worship Him together with all the children He has given you.

This means, secondly, that God receives, as true worship, every distracted shush, every spilled cup of wine, every dropped hymnal, and every time you have to take your child out to have a little word with him. You are not taken away from true worship by these things, but farther into true worship than most of are privileged to go. If Christian discipleship consists of “my life for yours,” what is worshiping with four to seven little ones?

Third, do not think of this time as the time of distraction, but rather as a time of fruitful planting, and trust God to be kind. He will bestow a time of fruitful harvest. The sun is hot and the soil is hard—but it will all come back to you, thirty, sixty and a hundred fold.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

I'm with you 100% on this. When I have had families with small children, I encourage them to sit up front, rather than in the back of the church. I realize I take great risk by doing this; I risk the wrath of Mrs. Longevityhere, but I take my chances. When serving a barrio church in Tucson some 10 years ago I was 4 miles from the Air National Guard Base where they trained F-16 pilots for NATO countries. The take-off protocol; put them as this monster sound from the afterburners kicking in. Over time I got where I could preach over that sound and that made preaching over children all the more fun.

We also have a desikgnated "meltdown area" where parents can take their beautiful children to recast their meltdowns into quiet expectation. I encourage families to bring all of the children up to the Holy Eucharist receptiuon for a blessing. I have witnessed haLf asleep children toddling from the pew so they don't miss their blessing.

Children in church are a huge blessing!

Kirk Skeptic said...

Nurseries were brought to us by Billy Sunday and other baptistic revivalists, who deny that children of believers are part and parcel fo the covenant community. Those of us still unig the KJV have seen no references tonurseries during Moses' giving of the law, Ezra's covenant renewal, or Jesus ministerijng to multitudes; I suppose those verese are only in the oldr and hence more relieable manuscripts.

Janis Williams said...

The children hear far more than we give them cedit for; even asleep. I have seen two children undeniably asleep carry on a cogent conversation between themselves. Ears do not close when eyes do.

Thanks so much for the words about bedime prayers. Jokingly, one of the best cures for insomnia is either to 1. read Levitius, or 2. pray. Seriously, is there any better occupation in which to be employed before we sleep? As sleep is the metaphor for death in Scripture, what better way to die? The martyrs of our time have been seen to die uttering prayers to Jesus; even if we die in our sleep, would it not be blessed to fall asleep in prayer?

Anonymous said...

As a kid I attended Lutheran school. My parents didn't attend church most of the time, but I begged to go. So my dad would drive me to church and drop me off. I always loved to sit in the balcony. I remember being so sleepy that I used to daydream about laying down on the pew and going to sleep. I don't remember most of what was said except for the recitation of the liturgy and singing the hymns. But I wanted to be there. As a little kid (twice a week), and to this day.


JL said...

On my journey from Evangelicalism to Lutheranism, I would often attend evening worship services at the Lutheran church with my children. Invariably, my son (5-7 years old during this time) would fall peacefully asleep next to me. I remember apologizing to the pastor numerous times, and he would without fail say something like: "I'm so glad he feels so at peace that he's able to rest in Lord's house." It was so refreshing! Like a previous poster said, the attitude toward children is so different in Lutheran churches than what we experienced in Baptist churches. Here, in our Lutheran church, they are viewed and treated as fellow children of God, as they should be!