Young Mother, Thank You for Showing Up

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A_OliveBefore having a child, no one warned me that it would profoundly change my experience of church.

For the first few months, we hardly made it out on Sundays. But after we got into a routine and started attending relatively regularly again, I was surprised by how different church was.

Not only did it take a hundred times longer to get out of the house, I quickly discovered that even if I was physically there, it was ridiculously hard for me to stay mentally present. It was as if my baby’s attention span (or lack thereof) had rubbed off on me.

When my daughter reached the exploratory stage where being rocked at the back of the sanctuary no longer sufficed, I found myself asking every Sunday, “Why am I even here?”

Either my husband or I would take turns sitting in the nursery while she happily meandered among the toys, ate snacks or pooped herself and we missed out on yet another service.

I could be doing this at home in my PJs! I’d think. Oh, we tried to at least sing some songs and tell a Bible story to the babies, but it all felt so futile.

I wanted so deeply and desperately to meet with God. Of course, I knew God could be met outside of the sanctuary doors too. But I missed the feeling of getting lost in a worship song or challenged by an engaging sermon. After all, God could meet me just as well in my living room at 4 am. I didn’t have to schlep my sorry self to church for that.

What made it worse was that I didn’t get to connect with other people either. After service as everyone mingled over coffee and snacks, I would barely manage to make eye-contact with a someone before my daughter needed something from me. It wasn’t fair to expect anyone to stand around awkwardly waiting for me to wipe the snot off my kid’s face if we hadn’t even gotten past “Hello.”

Week in and week out, I showed up at church feeling emptier and emptier while the question of “Why do I even bother?” grew stronger and stronger.

Then, one night, I had a dream.

I was a beggar who had snuck into a lavish banquet. Keenly aware that I did not belong there and that my disheveled appearance would betray me, I did my best to hide myself among the guests. When it came time to leave, I tried to slip out with a large group.

Just as I was about to make it out the door, I felt two hands firmly grip my shoulders. My heart sank. I’d been busted.

My eyes slowly crept up. The Hostess was looking squarely at me.

“Your presence matters here,” was all she said.

Then I woke up.

Your presence matters here.

These four words echoed deep into my soul for the following days and months.

Dare I believe it?

Could I really believe that my presence – my preoccupied, un-showered, exhausted presence – actually mattered wherever I was?

Could I believe that my coming to church on Sundays to sit there while my child coated the nursery’s toys with her copious amounts of drool really did matter?

As I listened for God, I heard a resounding, “Yes!”

Yes, it matters that you chose to come here of all places on a Sunday morning.

Yes, your physical being, regardless of how polished or clean it looks, matters.

Yes, your presence matters even if you don’t exchange a word with anyone.

And to all these other people who made the effort to come, you are affirming that their presence matters too.

My daughter is now an inquisitive toddler and going to church has become a richer experience again (albeit still different from pre-motherhood). But I often see new mothers struggling at church and I want to wrap them in a hug and tell them, “Thank you for showing up. Your presence matters here.”

 

Image credit: George Ruiz

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Olive Chan
Olive is a friendly introvert and recovering perfectionist. In an ideal day, she would paint, eat chocolate croissants and take lots of naps. But she’s primarily occupied these days with her two lovely little ladies, Alena and Kayla and making sure her husband, Tim, does not have to eat McDonald’s too often. She has co-written two books with Tim and takes breaks from the little people by building websites with their small company, Coracle Marketing. She aspires to be a conduit of grace, rest and beauty in this hurried and chaotic world.
Olive Chan
  • Saskia Wishart

    Hm I love this Olive – the idea that that showing up adds to the diversity of the community. And as a person without children, I love when my mum-friends do make it to church… I often feel for them when they get self conscious about their babies making noises or exploring, and I know it is often a huge effort to get there. I think that adds something much needed to our church, something that feels alive. Plus I love getting to hold their babes, especially as motherhood is so very far from my reality! So yes to this! Their presence enriches church and it does matter.

    • olivechan

      Thank you for such affirmation, Saskia! It’s so good to hear another perspective. Would that we always remind each other that our presence matters, regardless of what life circumstances we find ourselves in! Blessings to you.

  • Anne-Marie

    Olive, hello! 🙂 so glad to see you, and your beautiful babe, here today. And square between the eyes on the showing up and mattering thing. I especially like, ‘And to all these other people who made the effort to come, you are affirming that their presence matters too.’ Thank you.

    • olivechan

      Thank you for your kind words, Anne-Marie! So glad you are part of this community. I have a small confession: the photo isn’t of me (could very well be though!). 🙂

      • Anne-Marie

        Oh goodness! It didn’t look like you but I thought you might be weary from nursing all night (like I was) still thankful to ‘see’ you here again!

  • Brandi-Lee

    Thanks for this! I have been there. Sometimes, I still am. It’s good to hear others have been in the same place and season! Yay, I’m not crazy! 😉

    • olivechan

      You are so not crazy! And so not alone either. Thanks for reading and reassuring me that I’m not crazy too, Brandi-Lee. 🙂

  • Stefanie

    This is so beautiful, Olive! I bet more people than you know were moved by your committed presence – seeing you get your family there week after week even though you had your hands full. Seeing others show up even when it’s hard can be an inspiration.

    • olivechan

      Thanks Stefanie! I guess sometimes we are so caught up in our struggles that we fail to see that we can still be inspiring to others in the midst of it.

  • Beautiful, Olive. Reading through this, I can’t help but think, our presence matters everywhere, because we carry the Spirit with us. Our presence does matter in church, and it also matters in hospitals, workplaces, and in those moments when we choose to be present rather than zone out or get on our phones.

    • So so true.

    • olivechan

      Thank you, Michaela. Your last line there, “when we choose to be present rather than zone out or get on our phones”… so challenging and true!

  • cjdeboer

    Such a simple but essential and beautiful message, Olive. Thank you for sharing your heart and reminding us that no matter what season we may find ourselves in, our presence matters.

    • olivechan

      Thank you, Claire. I think it’s hardest to believe and remember in seasons of winter. But it’s still just as true.

  • Those words “Your presence matters here” have been ringing through my spirit ever since I first read this post. If we could truly all grasp that and live from that place. Beautiful.

    • olivechan

      Yes! If we could truly all grasp that truth and live from that place! What freedom. Thank you for your encouragement to all of us that our voice and presence matters here at SheLoves, Idelette.

  • Molly

    Olive, this was a wonderful message and your transparency touched hearts. I posted it on my Face Book page and got numerous responses. One that I enjoyed reading was from a friend in Sweden. She said in Sweden this would apply to dads also. I thought that was great!
    God bless and thanks.

    • olivechan

      Thank you for reading, Molly. And for sharing this with your friends. Blessings to you!

  • Dear Olive,

    Thank you for sharing this. I struggle with “why am I even here?” from the perspective of a single person–walking in alone, sitting alone, feeling awkward standing in the foyer with a cup of coffee while everyone seems to have someone else to talk to, kids to pick up, other families to to chat with–I can listen to the teaching (and I love to) but I really am so HUNGRY for communion with people at church. I struggle with why to show up–I can meet with God, yes, but if I am not meeting with people, why not just listen to the sermons on itunes?

    Thank you for sharing that presence matters.

    • olivechan

      Oh Jana, I so hear your struggle. There certainly are so many situations where we doubt that our presence matters. Thanks for sharing your heart.
      You matter. And your presence matters. Xoxo

    • Saskia Wishart

      Oh I so get that going to church alone, and asking “why am I even here?” That was me for almost three years when I lived in Cape Town… Keep on girl!

  • Beautiful reminder, Olive! (And maybe time to update the bio?) <3

    • olivechan

      Thanks Bekka. Yes, I do need to update the bio – I have two daughters now! 🙂

  • pastordt

    Just beautiful, Olive. And so true. Your presence is valued here. So much.

    • olivechan

      Thank you!