I slid into the worn pew after mutual greeting. My husband up front playing guitar, one teen upstairs as a preschool helper for the week. The one teen left in the congregation with me sat rigid, fingers digging into her pant legs and I turned to face her only to see the wide-eyed look of a girl about to burst.
Parenting is always so new – nearly 19 years in and I still don’t feel like I get it. There are so many decisions to make, moments that matter so much; moments in which you questions where you hold you ground, where you map new ground, when to throw in the towel, and when to wring it out. So many moments to wonder what the right move is – or what move will bring your child into love and encourage them – what will help them grow. I looked into those eyes and saw a thin resolve about to break and a scared kiddo who knows we do church as a family, and was feeling the weight of her world crashing down.
I took her shaking hand in mine, gave it a squeeze and whispered that it would be okay to go sit in the empty nursery at the back of the sanctuary – to rock in the chair and to take time to just breathe and be. She nearly sprinted down the aisle. I felt better knowing she had space to process the anxiety wracking her body and mind – the overwhelmed senses heightened by the sudden onset of summer heat, the quickly approaching end of the school year, the unknown of summer break, and so many named and unnamed things in her teenage life.
Bodies handle anxiety in such interesting ways – throwing us into a flight or fight mode for reasons we cannot always explain or even recognize. This has been a slow learning process for me as I grew up in a culture of “grin and bear it” where people deal with their own discomforts by masking them so that they can deal with the situations at hand. While there’s still a time and place for that, I’ve come to realize how important it is for my own kids, and even for myself, to find space to process, to find comfort in our own skin, and then to re-enter a situation with renewed energy and presence.
One of the ongoing struggles in our household centers around the question of “Why do we do church as a family?” and “What if I don’t believe?” – and this has been a sticking point in my decision making process. I don’t want to make my kids do something such that it pushes them away from our family or from church in general. Then we balance these questions along with the knowledge of anxiety and depression present, with the understanding of the importance of practice and habits. I don’t have all of the answers, and I don’t tell my kids they have to believe because I believe this is the whole truth of the whole world, but what I do say is that practice is important and having questions of faith and belief are important and what better way to be able to ask them than to be well-informed and practiced, and have people besides your parents whom you can ask those questions. As a family, church has been our community in this town – the people and the practices have been a safe haven and the reason that we’ve stayed so long, and if my kids grow up and leave home and never attend church again, at least I know they’ve had exposure to these practices, this community, they know the stories and the love that comes from a community of people who is not about a moralistic reading of a story – who recognize that we are a broken people, making decisions that are wrong all the time, that Jesus is the center of those stories that all end in Grace and love and forgiveness, and we’re working hard at being a part of the ongoing story.
That week, as the congregation stood to speak our profession of faith together, my anxious teen scooted back into the pew next to me, whispering that she didn’t want to miss communion. I nearly sobbed. I wouldn’t make her take communion, I would have let her sit in that empty room until every last person had left the church grounds, but she knows the service, and she knows the practices within it – she knows that after profession is communion, and because she knows that table is set as a reminder of the grace given to us, she walked back in.
So, I don’t know what I’m doing in this life, and I don’t know how to handle and manage anxiety consistently, but I believe in the power of practice and routine, and I believe in stories and the importance of questions. Grace and Peace to you all today friends, as you make your moments that matter decisions or are effected by them.