The Astonishment of Redemption

We were late once again to Sacrament Meeting this past Sunday. The usual hangups of getting 4 children 8 and younger  (including 1 grumpy, teething 15 month old) fed and ready for church. Like every other Sunday we were cursing ourselves for not beginning the process earlier, but also like every other Sunday the process included unanticipated surprises like having to change a messy diaper at the last moment, forgetting until we were nearly out the door a key component of the “care package” we take every Sunday to distract our children at least long enough to take the sacrament. It’s always something. Every Sunday. And like every other Sunday for the past several months I was struggling to scrape together enough desire to go in the first place. Our youngest was enough of a handful at this point that any sort of meaningful experience on any level was going to be unlikely. I had probably squeezed every drop of meaningfulness out of being a Hall Wanderer I could, but since neither of us had callings, we could devote all of our time to developing a method of reading scripture while chasing a baby around the building. “Scripture Chase,” I would call it. It has a certain ring to it…..

The week before we had finally broken down and let our two oldest (twins, brother and sister) become Apprentice Hall Wanderers by taking turns during Sacrament Meeting following the baby around in the hall. So I was actually able to listen for once when the entire bishopric took turns speaking. The bishop, of course, spoke last. I scowled as I listened to him announce a new policy for sacrament meetings: in the interest of conforming more closely to principles of sacrament meetings outlined in Elder Hales’ recent conference address the bishopric was asking ward members to arrive 10 minutes early and be seated 5 minutes before the start of the meeting. “We will try our hardest to be seated on the stand at the appropriate time and we hope you will try your hardest to be seated as well.” Oh, will you? I thought bitterly. How magnanimous! What sacrifice! Not only was the 2nd counselor the only one in the bishopric with small children, but since he was in meetings from the early morning on, his wife would be the one to have to struggle alone to have all their small children ready and seated. I couldn’t believe how out of touch these people were.

The bishop went on about how we weren’t reaping the spiritual blessings of sacrament meeting and that establishing an atmosphere of reverence and orderliness to the extent either was possible was essential to obtaining those blessings. I was only becoming more and more irritated. It was often a miracle we came to church at all. Many Sundays since we had our youngest we just told our kids one of us wasn’t feeling well and we just wouldn’t go. The bishop apparently couldn’t see the near-constant sacrifice many of us in the ward were making to come to church. Not to mention the fact that we didn’t have either callings or any close friends in the ward, no genuine connections of any kind. Attending every Sunday is essentially an act of grit and sheer will.

But then, to my surprise, he spent the last 10 full minutes of his talk addressing the families with young children in the ward. He said that he knew what it was like to struggle with his wife to get a family of several young ones ready for church and there on time, and what a battle it often was to be at church with them and get anything social or spiritual out of the meetings. He described young children as “rockets,” that trying to handle them was like trying to handle a live rocket with unlimited fuel. With that in mind, he proposed that the last 4 rows of benches in the chapel (in the middle and on both sides) be left vacant for young families. He asked the families with older children as well as the older folks in the ward to sit closer to the front or take the folding chairs in the back so that the families with little ones could be nearest the exits. He also pleaded with those who no longer had small children to not be judgmental of those who came in late but instead to be grateful and impressed that they had come at all. We were not, he said, a whole people when some were missing. We should be joyful when we see that they have joined us and concerned when we see that they are not there. He still wanted all of us, young families included, to make an effort to be there earlier in order for the sacrament experience to be as worshipful as possible, but he recognized that we were the ones who would find it most difficult to accomplish that and late or not it was far more important that we be present at some point than not at all.

Frankly, I was floored. I’ve often said that one of the most enriching (and humbling) experiences as a human being is to experience when someone shatters our expectations for the better and makes us rethink our judgments. It is, in my opinion,  a revelatory event, something akin to other, more familiar forms of revelation. And even though I’ve experienced it many times it never ceases to astonish. I had to admit to my wife that he had addressed as nearly perfectly as could be expected my silent concerns. Having lived in over two dozen wards, I had never seen a bishop do anything like that. The bishops of my wards had generally been out of touch and even condescending, or extremely passive. I had heard “legends” of other bishops who were quite different but my experiences overall had not been positive. This was an extremely welcome change.

Later, during the combined 5th Sunday meeting,  we were in a room adjacent to the Relief Society room, set apart for parents with young children. There was an intercom in the room which allowed us and the other parents gathered there to listen to the meeting. I’ve hardly attended any 5th Sunday meetings; the room is always too crowded for sitting with our little rocket. Plus, I remembered in my last ward six 5th Sunday meetings in a row devoted to emergency preparedness and another six to reading the entire Preach My Gospel manual. I was prepared for mediocrity on an appalling grand scale. But I was surprised again to hear the bishop continue his earlier address. He wanted the meeting to proceed town hall style–people voicing their concerns and addressing questions to the bishopric. The first one to speak out was an older man. He described his experience as a bishop many years ago (it’s amazing how many old guys never temporally and cognitively advance beyond their years as bishops and stake presidents. It’s like the world essentially stopped the moment they were released and it has never started up again). He recounted that it didn’t matter what time church started, there were always some families who would always arrive 15 minutes late. Late was late, period. Luckily around 7 women in a row responded to him. It was, sincerely, thrilling to listen to. These women nailed the issue down precisely. Some recounted the same horrors we were familiar with, and some were women with older children, remembering those dark days and offering sympathy and encouragement, but also reminding everyone that teenagers were a whole new level of difficulty when it came to church meetings, and to please remember that that dynamic was difficult in its own way. The stake president’s wife (Sister Warner, who lives in our ward) remembered that she and her husband had been married for some time before they had their first child. He was immediately called as a bishop and served the entire time they completed their family. She remembered many Sundays sitting alone with screaming or rowdy children, having given up long ago trying to have a meaningful experience for herself. As a lost cause, she recalled having been reduced, not unironically as a mother, to making sure that others around her could worship and listen by trying to keep her children distracted and quiet. She vowed many times she would never return. Then one Sunday an older woman started bringing treats and toys for her children. She sat with her every Sunday and would constantly tell her how much she loved her children and what a joy it was to engage with them during the meeting. Sister Warner’s voice  trembled as she asserted that that woman had truly saved her life and that she would always remember her with reverence. She pleaded with everyone in the room not just to not judge those who are clearly struggling to come, but to actually be an asset to them, to become, themselves, a reason for these young families to want to attend church. The bishop was also clearly impressed with her words and the meeting ended with a similarly impassioned plea from him.

I reflected later on his comments about wholeness, that we are not whole if we are not all together. An earlier talk in that same sacrament meeting had addressed our own individual brokenness and need for redemption. The two are in fact intimately related. Jana Riess recently wrote an excellent little piece that touches on this theme. This part is particularly relevant:

The LDS Church is a family, not a club. News flash: we don’t get to choose the people in our families. There are likely some folks we feel we could jolly well get along without, or people whose views make us uncomfortable. But even if we don’t understand each other—even if we can’t stand each other—that doesn’t alter the bedrock relationship that exists between us. We are family, period. I’m fine playing the role of the grumpy aunt at the family reunion who points out that the potato salad has been sitting in the sun too long or that we need to stop living in the past. You don’t have to listen to me. But you don’t get to kick me out of the family.

I wonder, in fact, if brokenness is something that is simply a part of the system. We are not whole if some of us are missing, but when are we all actually together? Where is the ward with 100% activity all the time? Where is the human life that that is 100% healed and whole with not the smallest piece missing? Where is the Zion of the scriptures, the community of one heart and mind, with no poor among them? And yet–would we say, then, that it’s all simply a dismal failure? The divine social experiment is just frustratingly forever out of reach?

Well. Maybe. But then there’s this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And thousands upon thousands of other stories written and unwritten, tales of forgiveness, reconciliation, repentance, humility, and, perhaps, above all, the astonishment of redemption through the utterly unanticipated surprise that one’s fellow beings often visit upon us, people whom we have pegged with precision accuracy as the ward gossip or the condescending bishop or the superficial relief society president, or the judgmental brother or sister what’s-her-name. Do such bewildering acts of grace come too infrequently? Probably. And undoubtedly we too often act and think in ways that are all too predictable to others. But when it does come–the replenishing waters of life and joy. And often that’s enough to sustain us for a time. In the end, personal and institutional brokenness are permanent features of our individual and religious lives, to varying degrees. We still work to heal and be healed, and we patch up wounds here, mend shattered relationships there, and it’s never enough, and it’s never going to be enough. By hopefully (maybe more often than we realize because we haven’t been paying attention) every now and then we experience an act of overwhelming grace visited upon us, when we’ve lost our strength, helping us to go on for at least a while longer. Sometimes its a pure act of God. But more often it’s the surprising love of others, acting out of character, extending themselves in vulnerability and openness, inspired by something beyond them yet within them. (Don’t worry, they’re just as surprised by their own behavior as you are). And in those moments we see and experience, always as if for the first time, the authentic glory and majesty of God. Redemption and reconciliation are nothing if not consistently and utterly astonishing.

Comments

  1. This was beautiful. I, too, remember the days of hauling kids to church (5 children born in 5 years, the last twins) and wondering how I would shepherd seven kids to celestial glory, much less Primary. Which was, of course, where I served for a decade. Adult conversation? What?

    Now mine are all teens and we sit with younger families with my grandma bag of toys. When a young mother gathers up her little ones alone because dad had to work and I see them making sure they’ve got everything when the meeting is only 20 minutes in, I follow her out and ask to hold the baby. Sometimes she cries. Sometimes we don’t hear the speakers.

    Love is the truest doctrine of the church. Maybe if we felt it coming our way more often, we would be inspired to extend it as well and it would smooth over the rough places in our testimonies. What a great bishop you have. I’m glad.

    15 months is the hardest time. I’m sure you already know that, but … just sayin.

  2. Loved this–brought tears to my eyes. My husband is deployed and I have 3 children aged 7 to 2. Sacrament meeting is a 2-parent job, but there is just one right now. My youngest can rarely make it through the meeting, and the older kids are too young to leave unsupervised when I have to take him out. A family with teenagers sits with me every single week and helps entertain the kids. It is the kindness and grace of these ward members that lets me attend sacrament meeting at all.

  3. That was exactly what I needed to read this evening. Thanks so much. There’s hope for me yet.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Jacob. Thank you so much.

  5. I have a bit of a different perspective to offer. I go to Church to try like anything to get something out of it because I am trying to hang on despite problems with Church Administration. I am unable to filter out background noise and so for the past few weeks have tried sitting all over the place in order to be able to hear to no avail. There are children who literally talk through the entire Sacrament Meeting–even the blessing and passing of the sacrament. This is entirely unacceptable. I cannot bring myself to have tender feelings for the type of parents who will sit there letting their children ramble on so no one around them can hear.

    When I was growing up I went to a Catholic Church with insane acoustics, and you could hear a pin drop. If talking was not coming from up at the altar there was no talking. I cannot believe that Catholic children simply know how to be quiet more than Mormon children so the problem lies in the indulgence and attitude of the parents. Now, I know not all parents are like this, but they are certainly not few and far between either. A ward being whole doesn’t only depend on the young families, it depends on everyone. I simply want the same respect that I extend to others.

    My father was there, but for all intents and purposes absent. My mother raised all 6 of us (born within less than 7 years–no twins) essentially by herself and she never had as much trouble as a great deal of “young families” in The Church seem to have. Sure, unexpected things happen, but in my experience more often than not a serious lack of preparation and/or discipline is the real culprit. Theoretically I am against barring children from Sacrament Meeting, but honestly, every single Sunday I find myself at least partially advocating for it–with some families more than others.

  6. Beautiful – simply and purely beautiful. I will be sharing this with my wonderful Bishop – and with as many others as I can.

  7. Beautifully written. Thank you.

  8. Beautiful. Thank you.

  9. This is lovely, lovely stuff. Moments of grace. They’re all we have, but how sweet and healing they are.

  10. Awesome. But it gets better. When one person learns to forgive, repent or reconcile, we all benefit. That knowledge becomes part of who we are as a group. Look up Sheldrake’s “Formative Causation” for an explanation of this kind of inheritance. People think they are into their own thing, but it’s actually all one big thing.

  11. KaralynZ says:

    I’ll admit one of the reasons I haven’t been going to church is because I won’t get anything out of it. When I’ve gone it’s been an hour and a half of sitting trying not to get bored or frustrated keeping the toddler quiet.

    EOR – Plenty of churches have a sunday school for children during the main worship service the way we have primary during class times. Why can’t the LDS Church do that?

    I mean other than the normal, OMG CHANGE? WE CAN’T CHANGE THIS IS THE WAY IT’S ALWAYS BEEN DONE psychosis that is oh-so-rampant in leadership. Our ward no longer shares a building with other wards now and instead of meeting at 9am we meet at 10am and I seriously thought that the sky might fall down around us.

  12. I think this post describes perfectly why we can’t limit the only worship service we have each week to those who can sit quietly in intense silence. Yes, there often is too much noise due to the attendance of children, but I’ll take that over too much silence due to the lack of children – for both obvious and subtle reasons.

    Atonement only can occur with individuals and groups who are broken – and I don’t want perfection in any way to be a requirement or expectation of communal worship.

    I’m positive there were weeks where my family would have been the ones some people were praying wouldn’t have attended church that week – especially when I was teaching Seminary in another branch and my wife was struggling to handle our three young children without me. I’ve seen the deep, deep pain and harm caused by caustic statements and blatantly disapproving looks. I thank God for the memnbers who, largely because of their own struggles with their own children, understood my wife’s situation and reached out in charity to ease her burden and heal her in a very real, practical, important, profound way.

  13. EOR, Remarks like yours are exactly what keep families like mine out of Church. Ban children from sacrament? I have four boys, a couple of teenagers, all with an assortment of disabilities. You wouldn’t be able to tell they were disabled except for a large scar on one of the teenagers head from recent brain surgery. I’ve raised them as best I could, but it is very likely that my seven year old would be one of those talking through the entire meeting, disrupting your sacrament. So we don’t go. It isn’t the only reason, but it’s one of the primary ones. My family does not fit, and rather than make the experience uncomfortable for everyone else, we choose to stay home. If the accounts of Jesus teachings and actions are true, then our dysfunctional home would have been one of the places he would have chosen to dine, to visit, to associate with. I find it so sad that by removing the weakest among us, we also remove Jesus who sought out the weak, disabled, sinful, and imperfect.

  14. But Ray I am willing to bet you will take it because you can either drown out the noise or concentrate through it. I have no problem with children, and I don’t expect them to be as quiet as church mice, but where do the rights of these families end and my rights begin? I want to hear what is being said. Otherwise what is the point of being there?

  15. Ruth, my comments come after I have had enough. I should never be able to express my frustration so you can express yours? I said I am against banning children from sacrament meeting so please do not mistepresent my post.

  16. Here are some of the things I hear people say in church at my ward:

    “I love you even if your son is autistic, and to show you, I choose to sit right beside you every week.”
    “Your husband is in the stake presidency, and you look lonely. I’m glad you came today.”
    “Your daughter’s surgery went well, I see, and the cleft doesn’t really show anymore. How are you doing?”

    I can’t remember the last time I heard a new doctrine preached in Sacrament Meeting. Taking 7 kids to church alone every week because my husband was either in the bishopric or inactive taught me to find my spiritual education midweek and to enjoy the boon of fellowship when I could get it. I don’t expect to be taught something in church. I expect to give something. And yet I always come away filled. How does that work?

  17. “But Ray I am willing to bet you will take it because you can either drown out the noise or concentrate through it.”

    You’d be wrong, EOR. I’m willing to take it because I want to take it, even when I can’t hear what’s being said – because I believe passionately in the concept I think this post is teaching.

    I understand the frustration you are expressing – on a personal level based on my own experiences. I really do. I just look at it differently, despite my own past frustrations. I simply had a change of heart many years ago. It really isn’t more complicated than that.

  18. Fred Madeup Name says:

    Here I was just last Sunday bemoaning to my wife (in the hall during second hour) why I bother coming to church at all. I nearly never make it to the sacrament meeting on time to actually partake of the point of that meeting and feel ostracized and like I have to leave Sunday School halfway way through, if not sooner, because the 15 month old wont leave the plugs in wall alone and spends a bunch of his time banging on the chapel door because he wants to follow his mother and sister down to the primary wing not sit with Daddy and nicely play with his toys. Not to mention the menace he is during priesthood opening exercises.

    Then you come out with this. I really hope that other bishoprics take a hint from this one and

  19. EOR, I didn’t say anything about not allowing you to express your frustrations. I feel your frustrations are valid, and in no way said that mine were more important than yours. Like yourself, there is nothing I would love more than be able to listen to an inspired sacrament meeting address. The article was appropriately titled and gives me hope. The Bishop was obviously Inspired and tried to take into account all the members of his flock. How cool is that?! I understand that you have difficulty having tender feeling toward those that you perceive disrupt your meeting. But you don’t know their situation, and it is unkind, hurtful, and untrue to conclude it has to do with endulgent parenting.
    Bonnie, I really love your words and insights, You have a spirit of love and understanding that is comforting. But what do I do when I give all I can, all I have, and come home emptier than when I left?

  20. As I said in #12, I love this post for both obvious and subtle reasons. With regard to silencing disquieting voices in our congretions and meetings:

    In his wonderful talk, “Concern for the One”, Elder Wirthlin identified three reasons some people stop attending church – two of them being weary and being different. He put the responsibility of changing those conditions and/or changing the collective expectations / views of those conditions on those who are not weary or different. He said a fully beautiful orchestra and orchestral sound is valued by God.

    I think the Bishop in this post truly was trying to value all in his congregation by recognizing openly and directly the difficulty they have in blending in with the overall “sound” of the congregation – that he was recognizing a portion of his orchestral section that struggles to be and feel valued for the sounds they produce. He was begging the piccolos, if you will, to pipe down a bit (and even stop playing their piccolos temporarily, if necessary) and help the oboes and trombones and bagpipes to be heard – and, more specifically, encouraging the adults to value the sounds of the recorders and kazoos being played by the children in the very beginning stages of their future adult participation.

    I have heard beginners learning to play the bagpipes, and it’s awful. However, one of the most beautiful sounds I have heard in my life is a group of bagpipes played expertly – by a group of high school students who were killing my eardrums only months previously. Again, God bless those who are willing to put up with a bit of a racket, knowing or merely hoping that those making the racket one day will fine tune their instruments and blend in more harmoniously with the rest of the adult musicians. May we never make someone feel like they can’t worship with us if they don’t play a piccolo perfectly – that they must remain silent if that is the case. That goes for adults, children and the adults who struggle to help children learn to play instruments of their own.

  21. Yep. Wow.

  22. Thank you, Ray.

  23. in my experience more often than not a serious lack of preparation and/or discipline is the real culprit. Theoretically I am against barring children from Sacrament Meeting, but honestly, every single Sunday I find myself at least partially advocating for it

    The arrogance of the childless. “suffer them to come unto me”, right? Not if you had your way. Thankfully, you don’t.

  24. This is a lovely post, and I enjoyed Ray’s comments too. Thank you.

  25. Mommie Dearest says:

    EOR, I don’t have an easy response for you. Your frustrations are valid, and well articulated. It’s good for the many and varied powers that be, from ward administration to the beleaguered parents, who actually (sort of) control what happens in your meeting, to hear your concerns. It would be even better that they should struggle to address them. But never to the point of excluding children. There are infinite reasons why all children (of all ages) should be welcome in sacrament meeting, beginning with the command of the Lord that we should suffer them to come. You’re in a bitter place right now, and I sincerely hope that you work your way out of it. Someday you’ll be in another bitter place, and then another, and each time that will eventually and inevitably change, just as the bitter condition of the parents of small children changes, and I hope there is a period of peace for all of you.

    I’m in a particularly bitter swamp myself right now,and I hope I can navigate through it. I’m the only member left attending in my family, and church is lonely. Our ward isn’t over-populated by noisy youngsters anymore, so that isn’t a problem for me. I sit by myself with my memories, and a lot of them are good. I’m really glad that my children were never banned from sitting with me during the sacrament. It was almost never easy, and every single week I was alone with them, but I managed to keep them mostly quiet and peaceful during the sacrament and speakers. It was a lot of work to teach them week by week, especially when they were very young. I don’t remember taking them out a lot, I tried to avoid that. Mostly what I remember now is that they eventually (slowly) learned that there were to be no distractions, toys, drawing pencils, or such during the sacrament itself. Instead they sat beside me with my arm around them, or on my lap if they were small enough, I’d rub an arm or back, kind of bathing in this quiet love that I hope they were able to feel. I hope they remember this too. After the young men took their seats, a few noiseless things could come out, but they had to try to listen, and let me listen, and through the years sacrament meeting remained a quiet battle between the worldly and the spirit that I fought in behalf of, and sometimes with, my children, and I’m grateful for the generous indulgence of those around us. I never been able to let them know how much they helped me just by being patient with us while we struggled. Maybe someone will read this and it will help them.

  26. Folks here seem to be under the impression that a peep puts me off. There is no way to describe the audio onslaught I have to face every Sunday. These are not parents of disabled children, these are not parents who try everything they can to keep their precious angels quiet, these are parents who sit there and because *they* can tune their children out assume everyone else can and should. If people want to make me out to be some child-hater that’s fine, but my original comment (when actually read all the way through) speaks for itself. Children are an important part of a ward, Sacrament Meeting is an important exercise for them, as it is for me. It was my impression that this post was a call for a ward to be whole. I am as much a part of the equation as the young families of noisy children are. The difference is that I cannot simply decide to hear over the racket. I have no authority to tell these children to pipe down, or to teach them reverence for the sacrament. That job lies with their parents.

  27. Kristine says:

    EOR–I think the point people are trying to make is that most parents are doing the best that they can, even though it may not be obvious to you. In my experience, parents who truly don’t care about their children’s behavior in church are a rare exception to the rule. (But I don’t have _your_ experience, and I’m willing to grant that you may live in a ward full of exceptionally lackadaisical parents.)

    One thing that would really help is if some attention were given to actually addressing the needs of the children in the service–if we did something, _anything_ to engage the children for a few minutes so that they could actually feel like there was something in Sacrament Meeting that pertained to them. I don’t know why we don’t ask one speaker to be sure to include a story children can enjoy, or sing Primary songs as rest hymns sometimes–asking children to just sit still and be quiet for an hour (well before that is an age-appropriate skill) just doesn’t seem like what Christ would have had in mind when he invited the children to come to him.

  28. Researcher says:

    EOR, it’s probably good that you’re bringing up that point of view, because it’s allowing the point of view to be discussed in detail.

    A few random thoughts:

    1) Parents do realize that their children are making noise. Some of the noise may have to do with the culture in the ward. It sounds like yours may be fairly permissive and might benefit from some direct instruction, like that mentioned in the OP.

    2) You say the children are normal. You don’t know that. How can you tell if a child has a sensory processing disorder by looking at him? A child with sensory processing disorder, if hushed, may very well stand up on the bench and yell, “I — HATE — CHURCH.” (Ask me how I know.) Better to allow a low level of noise and fidgeting. (That’s just one example of why a child might be making noise in church.)

    3) How to get to church on time with small children: get everything ready the night before (gas in car; clothes set out and ironed; diaper bags, snacks, quiet activities, tithing check, things for church callings collected and set by front door; bathe the children; set the table for breakfast) and plan to be there fifteen minutes to half an hour ahead of time. When I had small children, I made a checklist of all those items and followed it religiously every Saturday night. For a number of years, I was the organist, and even with small children, if you plan ahead, you can be there early, despite the melt-downs, diaper blow-outs, unexpected wardrobe emergencies, etc.

    4) A few years ago I wasn’t getting anything out of church. Then I read one of Ray’s blog posts. He recommended praying before church that you will be able to meet someone’s needs, so I did that, and had a remarkable experience. I still sometimes pray about that on the way to church, and although it’s not ever as dramatic as it was the first time, it always works, and it makes church a richer, more rewarding experience.

  29. Kristine, and Researcher I am humbled by your comments. When I go back on 5/20 I am going to ask the bishop what I can do to make this situation better for everyone. I don’t like to feel helpless anyway so a good brainstorming session or project will be good for me. Thank you for the reminders.

  30. Researcher, I’m glad that post helped you. I was moved deeply when my friend shared his story with me, and I’m grateful for the reminder – since I actually hadn’t thought of it in a long time.

    EOR, if you’re interested, here are the title and link:

    “Someone Needs You Every Day” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2009/12/someone-needs-you-every-single-day.html)

  31. Kristine says:

    EOR–that’s for sure the bravest, best comment of the week. We can all do better, and it’s nicer to do it together.

  32. Awesome.

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    That was beautiful, Jacob, thank you.

  34. Jacob. Your post demonstrates that you don’t need to tiredly apply post-modern or basic feminist theory or be snarky and/or passively negative in order to convey your brilliance. It reminded me of the importance of perspective and intention. Thank you!

  35. I agree with Kristine’s #27. It would be helpful–and not remotely incompatible with the purpose of sacrament meeting–to engage the children in the congregation. We say we want them there, but only if we can pretend they’re not there, i.e. address the entire meeting to the adults.

    Wonderful post, Jacob.

  36. From the OP: “Do such bewildering acts of grace come too infrequently?”
    Or do we just fail to recognize them as they come much more frequently and we fail to see?

    Reasearcher: Excellent comment.

    I agree that you cannot know just from looking at a family or a noisy child why that child is being noisy. As a mother of small children I try to avoid judging parents who I think “could” keep their children quiet.

    We have very strict rules about our children’s sacrament meeting “distractions” as we do not want to teach them to “distract” themselves in sacrament meeting – however, the stress of having a father who is gone for weeks at a time is hard on little children. Even in the best of circumstances, you can rarely expect perfect behavior from children, even “older” children. Add in martial stress, an illness or death in the family, or a recent move, or a favorite toy that was broken just prior to sacrament meeting, and you have a hysterical child on your hands.

    Even if the child is “normal” there are so many unseen things that can be affecting a child’s actions, and trust me when I say that there is often absolutely nothing a mother/father can do other than simply let the child feel the emotion they are feeling in the moment. I have felt so helpless in sacrament meeting when my husband is gone and I know that is why my children are acting up, but I am so afraid of the people around me judging my parenting skills because I am “letting” my children be noisy, when in reality they just miss their daddy. My children and I need love and compassion, not someone judging us.

    And so I try not to judge parents of “noisy” children, even though I myself believe that we can and should teach our children reverence. We just have no clue what those families are going through, we have no idea what their home life is like. We have no idea what heart ache is in those little hearts.

    “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” I would amend this line to say, “In the noisy child is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” Children can also act up because they are so happy they don’t know what to do with themselves.

    For example, two Sundays ago my husband was scheduled to return home from a 3 week long trip. His flight was arriving right after our 3 hour block. My children were SO excited to pick up “Papai” that they put up a HUGE stink about going to sacrament meeting, then to primary, etc. They knew we were getting him “after Church” and so they wanted Church to be done with “RIGHT NOW” so they could go get him. Someone who was looking at my children probably just saw belligerent children who hate Church. But they were just excited to go get their daddy after being separated from him for 3 weeks. They LOVE their daddy, and miss him intensely when he is absent.

    Let’s get to know the people in our ward with the “noisiest” children and perhaps we will learn that there is more to those families than we think.

  37. Buster B. says:

    Children should be neither seen nor heard.

  38. Chad Too says:

    As a former executive secretary (ward, stake, multiple tours of duty) who is maybe more familiar with the behind-the-scenes working within the Church, might I suggest that in every LDS chapel I’m aware of there is a system designed to assist the hearing impaired that (often wirelessly) broadcasts the system audio of the chapel to the entire church building. They are hardly ever used, but they are there. If the ancillary noise in the chapel is too much for some, these wireless receivers coupled with a pair of noise-cancelling earphones ought to at least help isolate the podium microphone for them.

  39. Deeply moving, Jacob.

  40. I’m only just old enough to remember when Primary had its own Sacrament meeting – is there anyone older who can recall the days before the big block and the reasons given as to why we moved to a Sacrament with the whole family?

  41. Kristine says:

    It was Jr. Sunday School, Frank, and Primary was on weekdays. The consolidated schedule was to cut down on the amount of traveling to church people had to do.

  42. Kevin Barney says:

    Frank, I was a little boy pre-block. I don’t remember the specifics, but as I recall actual Primary was on a weekday (ours was Saturday mornings). Sunday morning was Junior Sunday School, which was for the children and at which the sacrament was given. I think the men had a priesthood meeting at the same time, and the women maybe Relief Society; not sure about that part. Then you would go home for lunch and maybe an afternoon nap. Sacrament meeting was all by itself in the early evening; as I recall, ours was like at 5:30 p.m. And you would still get home in time to watch the Wonderful World of Disney!

  43. Reese Dixon says:

    Beautiful Jacob. Thanks for including me.

  44. Chris Gordon says:

    Wow. The story of the comments has been a brilliant one. Voting Jana (34) for best backhanded compliment of the post. EOR, I love you and the “you’s” in my ward. I read and hear of hurt feelings and wish we smiled more, were less inclined to feeling put out about anything, and that we were all more eager to sit somewhere else and next to someone new week after week.

  45. lindberg says:

    EOR, I second Chad Too’s recommendation (#38) that you look into the wireless reciever option. All the church buildings I know of keep at least two wireless receivers + earphone sets in the library. They’re very easy to use — just plug in the earphone and adjust the volume. The receivers have standard 1/8″ jacks, so you can plug in your own headphones as desired. It’s really amazing what a difference they make in being able to hear and fucus on the speaker.

  46. lindberg says:

    *focus

  47. Awesome Jacob.

  48. Yes, I will look into those. I think that might be a good solution as well. Thank you.

  49. Buster B – most disappointing. Methinks YOU should be neither seen nor heard.

  50. CS Eric says:

    It’s funny how we all read the same post and can come up with different reactions. As I read the OP, what I saw was a leader who unexpectedly recognized and addressed a very personal need. I was reminded of my experience last Sunday at stake conference. Nobody takes roll there, and so unless you see someone there, you don’t know whether they came or not. I was reluctant to go, and since I am by myself now, I got to make that choice for myself. Earlier in the week was the one-year anniversary of my wife’s death, and I wasn’t much in the mood to go to a meeting I really wasn’t required to attend.

    I talked myself into going, and sat there for the whole two hours until the Stake President, who spoke last, gave the two-minute version of his prepared remarks, since the time was all gone. In the last two minutes of stake conference, the Stake President told me what I needed to hear, and gave me some of the comfort I desperately needed in my grief. I experienced that “overwhelming grace” described in the OP, giving me the strength to go on a little longer.

  51. it's a series of tubes says:

    It’s possible that Buster B. was true to his “principles”, and was a silent and invisible child. On the other hand, it’s also possible that he is a colossal douche..

  52. Kristine says:

    Or that he was kidding, folks.

  53. Or just a troll.

  54. Mark B. says:

    Back in the olden days, our Sunday schedule in the Provo 8th Ward was: priesthood meeting at 9:00 a.m., Sunday school (8 years old and up) and junior Sunday school at 10:30, ending just before noon–both began with opening exercises which included the sacrament, talks (2.5 minutes each) and music–including the practice hymn for the senior Sunday school, and then sacrament meeting at 5:00 p.m. Primary was Tuesday or Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. and Mutual was one of those two days at 7:30.

  55. Re: Buster B. – he obviously attended the Milford Academy.

    “You can always tell a Milford man.” – L. Bluth

  56. Kristine says:

    But you can’t tell him anything!

  57. Thanks for the kind words everyone. Best part about posting something, especially since there’s never a guarantee anyone will respond positively :)

    Bonnie, our first two are twins (xx/xy). Almost until they were in Nursery we both held one while standing in the hall or foyer all three hours (the story of those first two years is a series of multiple harrowing and hellish tales). My wife was, truly, much more rigid about trying to attend no matter what. It was a cause of substantial marital discord (she’s much more circumspect now and flexible now and I am, I hope, a little more mature).

    Good comments about disorderly children all around. I’m frankly (blandly, I know) sympathetic to everyone’s views on the children-in-sacrament-meeting experience. There’s no way around the fact that it can be a test of endurance all the way around. I’m grateful for those who have been patient with my children, though we try (maybe a little too hard sometimes) to help them to be reverent.

    Jana (#34): I actually like feminist theory. And I enjoy the occasional snark :) But of course I don’t need either one to be brilliant! Thank you for pointing that out ;)

  58. Jacob: mine are xx/xy too, but being last they almost killed me. I suggest your way for anyone who’s considering. I stood for 7 years by the wall beside our pew. It was my spot. I perfected a snap that signaled imminent destruction and a fierce hairy eyeball with x-ray precision. One time I snapped and pointed down the row and the dad in the row behind patted his squirmy son and pointed at me. The toddler looked at me, his eyes turned to saucers, and he was still, kind of like a cornered mouse. Obviously, in the intervening years, grandparenthood has destroyed my evil powers.

  59. Chris Gordon says:

    Bonnie, regarding your evil powers, that’s as it should be. Grandparents’ evil powers usually involve undermining those of their children. :)

  60. My mother employed the finger-snap of death, but that is while she was on the phone.

  61. He described young children as “rockets,” that trying to handle them was like trying to handle a live rocket with unlimited fuel. With that in mind, he proposed that the last 4 rows of benches in the chapel (in the middle and on both sides) be left vacant for young families. He asked the families with older children as well as the older folks in the ward to sit closer to the front or take the folding chairs in the back so that the families with little ones could be nearest the exits. He also pleaded with those who no longer had small children to not be judgmental of those who came in late but instead to be grateful and impressed that they had come at all.

    Easy enough to forget sometimes. Thank you for the reminder.

    CS Eric — I am glad you received what you needed.

    Bonnie and Ray — enjoyed your comments.

  62. Our general rules about kids in Church:

    Rule 1: Treats and games after the sacrament. (You can sit still for a few minutes.)

    Rule 2: If you want a kid disliking Church, take him/her there and make their life miserable scolding and punishing. (Teens will just have to decide for themselves.)

    Rule 3: If you have to go out you sit in an empty room for 15 minutes with Dad trying to ignore you. (Nicer on the bench with treats and games.)

    If you go to Church to meditate, the Mormon Church is the wrong church. Try the Catholics who are experts in meditation on the mystic nature of Deity. Mormonism is Dagobah.

  63. I was catholic for 15 years. Didn’t work out.

  64. #50 – CS Eric, thanks for sharing that experience. It’s good to hear from you again.

  65. I’m only up to comment 36 and need to go to bed, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the finest bloggernacle posts and ensuing comments that I’ve ever read pertaining to the pragmatics of sacrament meeting. And all of this reconciliation happening in a discussion about the very ordinance we perform as a direct reminder of the atonement. Masterful, and that goes for many of the comments, Ray, Bonnie, Ruth, etc. My eyes were opened by reading your words tonight. God bless BCC!

  66. Thanks.

  67. I have a bit of an opposite problem… I spent around 10 years in a singles’ ward and find the quality of family ward sacrament meeting talks to be less than what I am used to, even after 2 years. Making faces at and playing with the kids around me are the only thing I can find of value besides the actual sacrament a lot of the time. It did take a long time to get used to the noise, as single’s wards are so very quite. When I attended a singles’ ward I missed the kids and am now so glad they are all around me.

  68. Daniel F. Smith says:

    EOR- I can understand what you were saying in your original comment. Yes, in my experience, there are young parents, who do allow their kids to act out during Sacrament Meeting. I have prayed to make myself more understanding of those whose kids yell and scream, and on a practical level, I’ve taken to sitting in the very front row in the Chapel.

  69. 68 Daniel me as well. When I go back on 5/20 I am going to ask the Bishop for those headsets too and like I said earlier what I can do to help. Maybe a parent needs some help I don’t know. I am not sure what I can do but maybe if I bring some toys from home it will distract them?

  70. EOR, just make sure they make really loud animal sounds. (insert smiley emoticon)

  71. I thought it would be okay to play my Yo Gabba Gabba CDs :)

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