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