Jenny was angry. Her lips closed tightly in a frown. Her body was noticeably tense. She whispered reprimands to her children in a tone harsh enough for anyone to understand as she moved them toward the church exit. The pastor had said his last amen. As she attempted her hasty exit someone touched her arm and asked, “Are you staying for potluck?”
Jenny stopped in her tracks. Her children resumed their squabbling as Jenny fumbled with excuses.
“The children will be fine,” the woman assured her. “There are other children for them to play with.”
Jenny reluctantly agreed to stay, and towed her two feuding youngsters downstairs to the fellowship hall.
The aroma of entrées, breads, and desserts was calming. The room was alive with people. Conversations and laughter filled the air and mingled with the aroma of the food.
Other children played together, but Jenny’s children, reluctant to play with children they didn’t know, clung to their mother, making it impossible for her to join in conversation with other adults. In the end, Jenny sat at a table alone with her still-quarreling offspring, unable to enjoy her meal. As the children’s boredom grew, so did Jenny’s frustration. When she lost control and smacked her son on the bottom, she decided it was time to retreat. As the three made their way to the door, no one stopped them.
She had tried to make church part of her life before. But her children were too much of a handful. It would’ve been different had they been raised in church, like most of the other children. But her husband hadn’t been religious, and he hadn’t encouraged church attendance. In fact, he’d discouraged it. Her children, now 8 and 10, became bored quickly. Even the books and snacks Jenny brought to church didn’t seem to help.
Now a single parent, Jenny embraced the opportunity to restructure her life. Raised in church, Jenny hoped she could finally get back to a more spiritual life. After today’s disaster that hope was gone.
Rewriting the Story
As the days and weeks passed, Jenny put church out of her mind. The church didn’t seem to miss her; no one from church phoned or dropped by to see why she was absent from services.
If I had been bolder, if I had made a personal effort to come to Jenny’s aid, would her life and the lives of her children have taken a different path?
Her children had been noisy that day as I strained to hear the pastor’s words. I realized the young mother was stressed trying to manage the two bored children. I thought she should show the children she was in charge and teach them some manners.
I don’t remember seeing Jenny in church after that.
After a few weeks I forgot about Jenny. It was easy for me to dismiss Jenny’s situation from my mind. After all, it was her problem.
The newspaper recently carried a story about Jenny and her children, who were in an automobile accident over the weekend. All three were killed.
Why hadn’t I offered to help with her children when she was at church, phoned her and encouraged her when she stopped coming, or taken the time to drive to her home to share with her the latest church news?
Today in church I noticed a young mother with children sitting in the very back pew. The children were restless, making it difficult for those of us sitting near to hear the pastor’s message. I sat for a few minutes and remembered Jenny and her children.
I could complain to the deacon about the noisy children. I could move farther away so I could hear the pastor’s message without being disturbed. Or I could move to the back pew and offer to help the mother with her children.
Carol Wardlow is a registered nurse who writes from St. Joseph, Missouri. This article was published February 9, 2012.