Sunday, August 29, 2010


:the work (and worship) of the people

Today at church, we had an instructional liturgy.  This was great, as it allowed our family (new to Anglicanism) to learn why we do what we do each Sunday morning.  Throughout the service, the verger explained portions of the service to us.  I learned a lot, but one thing that stuck with me was something the rector said: that liturgy is the work of the people.  It's not the work of the staff, the vestry, the "people in funny clothes" as he said.  It's my job as a part of worship to work out my salvation (with fear and trembling).  Now, I must confess that this process of working it out is not easy - or pretty.  In fact, I was brought face to face with just how messy it is this morning.

Before leaving for service this morning, I was reading in the current Bible study I'm doing.  The study is called Breaking Free and my hope is that this study will show me the things in my life and in my heart that keep me from experiencing God's freedom in my daily life.  So this morning, I was making notes about some of the things I've realized take me captive.  The first was one I've known for a while: fear.  I am afraid of many things on a daily basis.  A simple question to a stranger can cause anxiety, especially if I fear the question will elicit a less than favorable response.  Fear of conflict occupies a very large space in the miasma of fear in my heart.  The other thing that I've recently been acutely aware of is my fear of what other people think of me. 
Kids being kids, part one - a picture worth framing
Friday evening, J had a fantasy football draft, so the girls and I went to Cheekwood to see the Chihuly exhibit at night (OK, they're young, it was more like Chihuly at dusk).  We're accustomed to being at Cheekwood on a weekday when there are few other people there and most of those people are families similar to ours.  That's not the demographics of Chihuly at Night on a Friday.  Instead of moms dressed in skirts, t-shirts and sandals, there were silver haired dames in starched linen pants.  Instead of children roaming the lawns, there were couples picnicking.  And they were picnicking on blankets, using fiesta ware and stemware, not Chinet and Solo cups. 
Chihuly at Dusk - It really is stunning
There's nothing wrong with any of that, but it made me more tense than I normally am during a Cheekwood trip.  One thing I love about Cheekwood is letting my children roam free.  B especially loves investigating plants up close, chasing down squirrels, picking up frogs and leaping over streams.  This doesn't pair well with the Friday night crowd.  Nor does it pair well with a mom who is fearful that those who see my children behaving like (gasp!) children will judge me and find me lacking as a mom.  I left Cheekwood embarrassed at how my daughters had behaved and ashamed of myself for feeling that way.

Kids being kids, part two - climbing on an old garden door

The night at Cheekwood followed close on the heels of another difficult parenting moment.  B had a rough night Wednesday and her behavior was, in fact, so poor that J and I decided to cancel a portion of her birthday party.  Just days before, we sent out invitations for her friends to join us for dinner, bowling and a sleep-over.  But her behavior left us feeling like a big consequence was necessary and cutting the birthday party short felt like the right repercussion.  I hated telling the parents that dinner and bowling were still on, but the sleepover was no longer on the agenda.  Their responses were uniformly supportive.  One mom even told me she admired my willingness to make the hard decision.  But I hated to do it. I hated to disappoint B.  I hated to change our plans.  I hated for these other parents to know I have a daughter who misbehaves.  (Crazy, right?  Like their children never misbehave?  I know, but rational thoughts don't apply to these fears of mine.)

And then came this morning.  J wasn't feeling well, so he stayed home from church.  It was only after we arrived that I realized how challenging this would make my morning: instructional liturgy means no Sunday School for the children. Even 6 year old K was expected to attend service with me.  I took a deep breath and plunged ahead.  I led the three girls to the area where we normally sit, but B said, "I want to sit closer."  Since B is generally the most challenging of my daughters when it comes to church, I figured it was wise to follow her lead.  Where did she lead us?  To the front row.  Not a row near the front.  The first row in the sanctuary.  As we sat down, I leaned over to B and whispered, "Since you want to sit in the very front, I expect you to be on your best behavior."  "OK," she replied.  Easier said than done.  I didn't keep count of the number of times I had to ask B or K to change their behavior, but I did note in my journal during the service:

Doing the work of our salvation is not easy.  Knowing that others' opinions of me are too important is one thing - being broken of this is another as I stand/sit in the front row and watch my daughters sit, stand and squirm in front of the body of Christ.  Pride is ugly and it lives in me.

Yet the key to breaking this bondage of fear in my heart was contained right there in the service:  "The Lord is my helper.  What can man do to me?"  So I'll keep preparing my heart to know more of what God wants for me and I'll keep trying to respond to his promptings.  I'll keep hoping to break free of bonds that should not enslave me.  I'll try to remind myself that my daughters are children - whether at Cheekwood or St. Bartholomew's.  And it's OK for them to act like children.  If I want them to be who they are, I shouldn't expect anything less.

Kids being kids, part three - inspecting the water lilies


Anonymous said...

Shannon, have you guys begun attending an Episcopal church? I am Episcopalian. Not by birth but from too many years at church camp. I love the ritual and liturgy. Unfortunately, David doesn't like the formaility, so we haven't attended together. The Episcopal church's progressive views make it one of the few denominations with which I can align myself in good conscience.-Christine

Jo Ellen Werking Weedman said...

This is wonderful. Micah was also not feeling well this morning so I had a very similar experience! Too bad we didn't know--we could have tag teamed!
For what it's worth, I've been meaning to send you a note to tell you how thankful I was for your girls Monday at ballet sign-ups. They were so kind to my smaller girls. Emmaline even commented that she's not so nervous anymore after being with your girls.
I don't think you're alone on this journey of what others think of your parenting and your girls. You at least have one fellow traveler :)

Anonymous said...

Feeling similarly about AD's behavior on a regular basis. We had a similar church experience that came with the same "if this is where you want to sit, then..." warning. By the end of the service P was feeling mortified. A kind old man approached that had been behind us, and I was thinking "oh no". He actually had many kind things to say about how well my children had done at church. Wow! My fear really had given me a much more negative perspective. But I guess that is part of why we go to St. Ann's. Many moms attend with babies strapped to them, and nobody complains about the noises :)

WordGirl said...

Christine - we have been attending an Episcopalian church for several months now. It's a beautiful church and its warmth completely negates any formality (in my mind). We're very much enjoying it.

Jo Ellen - Thx for the sweet words about my girls. So glad they made Emmaline more relaxed about starting dance. Here's hoping others see the good in them as they learn to grow into who they were made to be. And that I just see THEM instead of worrying about all the rest.

aimee Guest said...

thanks for your honesty shannon. I think we all need to be more honest, that was what was behind my whole goal a while back with the imperfect momma's club. in all of the years that i've known you it's only in this last year or two that i've known about any of your insecurities-before that i would have thought you felt complete confidence in everything-I think we do that a lot with other moms-assuming that they don't fear and we do. i think i'm going to do so much damage to J if I care about what anyone thinks of anything she does. she already has the fear of what other people think of her-depending on others to give her her self-worth, she needs to feel 100 percent supported and loved by me-harder said than done with some of her antics. the book i've been reading has been helping me understand her and understand how the way we give consequences or rebuke affect her in such a different way that M.

Marjie said...

Love your honesty and your reflections.
As the wife of the rector at St. B's, I can tell you, when our kids were growing up, they pretty much did it all: flying leaps off the steps coming back from communion, floating tinsel over a floor register during the sermon, using the offertory plate to catch sunbeams to redirect into mom's face as she sang in the choir. Somehow, they all turned out. And I guess we did too.

WordGirl said...

Aimee - I find it shocking that you would have thought I was confident as a mom until recent revelations. Isn't it funny how different our exterior and interior worlds can be?

Marjie - I love this encouragement - that your kids turned out OK and that we will, too. Just praying I learn to relax and enjoy the ride!