Before we left the house this morning, I followed Henry and James around the house with two large blue robot-printed bags and had them choose toys and books for their big adventure. The boys were going to sit with Mommy and Daddy at church today, instead of going to their usual class, because it was Family Worship Sunday.
Henry chose some farm animals to whom he has become quite attached lately. Just yesterday, he conducted a marriage ceremony for two of them, a love-struck horse and cow. So I commended him on his choice this morning, noting church would be a good way to begin their honeymoon.
James, however, was most interested in a container of snack cereal, though he didn’t understand — yet — that later he would be coerced to share his stash with his older brother.
In the end, his robot bag was so heavy that he had to drag it, so slowly, along the ground — all the way through the parking lot, through the lobby, and then through the sanctuary. He refused all offers of help.
When Pastor Gary began his sermon, he asked the congregation to turn to Matthew 22. Henry rummaged through his bag to find his children’s Bible. He looked up at me with a whisper of urgency.
“What page, Daddy?” He was desperately racing through his thick cardboard pages without any clue of where to stop. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that today’s parable didn’t make the colorful cut into his translation. So I led him instead to the page where the cute-looking Samaritan knelt beside the skinny man lying in the dirt, the one with the pink boo-boos on his knees and cheeks.
Sitting with two preschoolers made me feel as though I was on a different page than the pastor for most of the sermon, too. With James on my lap, I was pointing at random objects in another book to focus his attention. Tree. Snake. Flower. Man. He stopped me, though, and reached up and placed his own finger on a tiny bird, which was perched on a very small tree limb, up in the far corner of the page. James has a delightfully unexpected way of looking at the world.
Then came the Great Cereal Conflict. In the end, they resigned themselves to a savage competition. Their little fists repeatedly hammered up and down over the blue plastic container to consume more corn squares than the other. They managed to join forces quickly, however, once they decided to mash their squares into crumbs. United in destruction, they now had a mess to celebrate.
We were grateful for the smiling couple behind us because they dutifully reached down to return all the tiny farm animals which kept slipping through the back of the chairs. Henry and James spent a good deal of time on their tummies going after them, too.
And I can’t recall now if they fought over the crayons. But I do remember Mommy asking them to quiet down as James played a new game with his brother, where James, a little too audibly, asked his big brother to identify which crayon was the bubble gum. Spoiler alert: it was the pink one.
Despite the hurlyburly, I did receive scraps of meat from the sermon. But once the worship began, I was thankful — though not for the distraction of decibels and drums. As the music played, I relished just holding James in my arms. He squeezed tightly around my neck, tossed his curly head back and forth with the music, and laughed while playing monkey games with me, perfectly delighted. Holding a young child has a way of cracking open my spirit a little wider for worship.
After the service ended, the pastor stopped at our seats to chat with us. As we watched the boys scramble to clean up their mess on the floor, my wife confessed she didn’t hear as much as she would have liked from the sermon, aside from its focus on God’s invitation. “That’s all right,” he nodded. “That’s pretty much the thing to get.”
There was one other important focus in his message, which was planted in the parable of the wedding feast, that I picked up on. Our distractions tend to get in the way of our invitations.
For awhile now, my spirit has been recognizing the danger of distractions. There are many in this world. And while we bear a responsibility in keeping them in check, it’s important for me to realize that not all distractions are the same. For example, a distraction which involves a human face urgently trying to find his place on a page is really more of an invitation.
But regardless of the kind of noisy distractions taking place about our heads and feet, God is still merciful enough to reach us in spite of them. In fact, He has a beautiful way of using them to get our attention.