Tonight, I read a story from the Huffington Post on Facebook called, "Dear Parents with Young Children in Church" and I loved it. I thought about the number of times Adam has made noise in church and I've tried all sorts of tricks to quiet him (keeping his mouth full of food is a good one!) and I also thought about the number of times he wouldn't be "shushed" - primal scream during the sermon anyone?
Yup, I'm the mother of that child.
But as the article continued, I felt a little bit sad because it said:
"I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the crinkling of pretzel bags and the growing pile of crumbs, I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to share peace with someone she's never met. I hear a little boy slurping (quite loudly) every last drop of his communion wine out of the cup, determined not to miss a drop of Jesus. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the sanctuary. I hear the echos of "Amens" just a few seconds after the rest of the community says it together. I watch a boy just learning to read try to sound out the words in the worship book or count his way to Hymn 672. Even on weeks when I can't see my own children learning because, well, it's one of mornings, I can see your children learning." (Huffington Post)
The reason I felt sad was because, as the mother of a child with autism, I wondered if this was really true for him. When Adam is in church, is he really learning? Is he really building the foundation of faith? Or is he just reacting to an unfamiliar environment while reminding me that he doesn't acquire social skills in the same way that other children learn them?
I "reshared" the article anyway, because actually I think it's very important - children are and should be welcome in church, even (or especially) with the noise and chaos that follows in their wake. But I still felt a little sad and I couldn't quite shake the reasons for that.
A little while later, it was bath and bedtime and as Adam happily recited the alphabet with his little foam bath letters, and then the numbers 1-10 before diving around in the water to pair up numbers and make 11-20, I watched him and I couldn't help but smile with sheer love for him. Once dressed in soft fluffy pjs and snuggled up in bed, we read the current favourite, "Charlie Cook's Favourite Book" by Julia Donaldson and then, as he lay sleepily on his pillow, I softly sang the hymn from Compline, otherwise known as Night Prayer. The words are ancient but the tune is soft and mellow so it makes a perfect lullaby:
Before the ending of the day
Creator of the world we pray
That you with steadfast love would keep
Your watch around us while we sleep
From evil dreams defend our sight
From fears and terrors of the night
Tread underfoot our deadly foe
That we no sinful thought may know
Oh Father that we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ your only Son
And Holy Spirit by whose breath
Our souls are raised to life from death
But then, I heard a small thread of humming. I turned my head and saw Adam staring at the ceiling, sleepily sucking on Dumbles. And I realised that as I sang, he was humming along with me. He didn't quite have all of the notes right, and when I stopped singing, he stopped too - but when I started again, so did he.
The Compline Hymn was written in the seventh century - this means that, although the words have been modernised over the years, the hymn itself is around 1,400 years old. And my three year old son, who struggles to communicate, to understand the world around him and to even begin to understand it, can hum it.
Next time I wonder if it really makes any difference when I take my little boy to church, or make elements of faith a daily part of my routine, remind me of this moment won't you?