Several years ago, when our kids were still pretty young and wiggly, we had a particularly bad Sunday in worship. They rattled papers, squirmed, and dropped more than one Matchbox car.
We were still fairly new to the community, so we were especially uncomfortable to be the family causing such a disruption in church. My husband and I cringed our way through, our convictions about how important it is to have our kids in worship taking a beating.
After the service, an older woman who I knew, but not well, approached us rather purposefully. I tensed a bit, thinking I knew exactly what was coming.
She surprised me, though. Instead of some genteel passive aggressive comment, or an outright rebuke, she reached out to me, put her hand on my arm, and said “I am so glad y’all are here today.” Caught off guard, I stammered something about being sorry for being so unruly…And she laughed.
Then she surprised me again. She looked at me, with tears in her kind eyes, and she said, “Honey, I can remember a time when it was too quiet in here. You keep coming back, and don’t you worry. Y’all can bother me anytime.”
Some of the most significant moments of my life of faith have come in those times when I have felt the gentle cinching of that tie that binds. This was one of those moments for me. Our kids are older now. They are more likely to walk in late, roll their eyes, or get an inexplicable case of the giggles than they are to drop Matchbox cars. But there is space for that, too. And, because our church has made an ongoing commitment to bother with children in worship, there are always kids bouncing in the pews in our church, thanks be to God. This can be pretty disrputive. But so be it. Surely God is pleased by a sanctuary pulsing with life- colored pencils, baby dolls, the occasional stray shoe, and the generations gathered together. It’s not perfect, and it is certainly not a monument to 20th century American cultural Christianity. But it is faithful, and beautiful.
Of course, this is about more than the worship life of a family or a congregation. This posture, this willingness to be bothered, is about how we who seek to follow Jesus interact in the world. Because the God we meet in scripture and out in the world is not only willing to be bothered, but desires above all else to be in relationship with us.
So, yes, God, bother me anytime. Don’t let my plans or my ideas about what is best or appropriate carry the day. Unsettle me as you see fit. When you’ve got a better idea, show it to me. Grant me enough grace to hold my own expectations lightly, and enough openness that I can see your goodness every day in this land of the living.
Rev. Elizabeth Cole Goodrich is a minister-at-large in the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley and a co-owner of Thank You Books, a general interest, independent bookstore opening in Birmingham, AL this fall. She is a member of the second Birmingham Macedonian Ministry cohort, and she and her family worship at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham.