When I was born to my parents – late in life, folks used to like to say – they had a college freshman, a high school student and one in seventh grade.
Daddy was strict and unyielding. One disapproving look cast from his green eyes would not only straighten me up quick but would break my heart. I’d grieve for days because I had troubled him. Mama, too, could draw a line and dare me to cross it.
“I ain’t puttin’ up with no foolishness now,” she’d warn sternly. “You hear me?”
This “no foolishness” rule pertained, above all else, to church.
“We go to worship God Almighty and you will be respectful in the House of the Lord,” Daddy lectured. You would have thought that by the time I arrived – after raising three to their teenage years – that they would have slacked off a bit. But, no. I had to be just as quiet and respectful as the three who preceded me.
And, I was.
I remember being 3 or 4 years old and sitting quietly in Mama’s lap throughout church. She had a square, gold, powder compact. It shimmered beautifully, and I was captivated by it. She gave it to me on Sunday – I never had a cracker or cookie in church – and I was quite happy to turn it in my hands until the final “Amen.”
Here’s another thing that was clearly understood between my toddler self and my parents: No getting up and going out of the church during service. You went to the bathroom before church started, then you held it if you had to. Of course, the little country churches of my childhood did not have indoor plumbing. We had outhouses, and going to those required stomping through the woods to get to them.
I was a college sophomore before I ever stood up during a sermon and slipped out to the bathroom (it was indoors). I was visiting my boyfriend’s church – Pentecostal – and the service was in its third hour. I was miserable. And, as you probably recall, as a teenager, you never wanted to excuse yourself to go to the bathroom when you were on a date. Finally, I had no choice. I leaned over and whispered that I’d be right back. As an entire church watched, probably grateful for a distraction from the long-winded preacher, I arose, dressed in a dark green velvet Victorian suit and a cream colored, ruffled blouse. Proud of how I looked when I dressed, I was regretful that the beautiful outfit I worked for weeks to buy, was so fetching. It drew further attention to me.
Never have I been more embarrassed than I was on that walk from the pew toward the door.
In those days, I wasn’t the exception as a child. It was the rule. “Children are to be seen and not heard,” I was often instructed. Other parents made their kids toe the line, too.
These days, children can be loud and disruptive in church. Recently, I had had a trying week and was looking forward to the peace of a Sunday service. We sat on the second bench. One little girl, however, ran and squealed through the church house during the entire sermon. She ran between the pews, the altar and the preacher, who fought to overcome the distraction, seven or eight times. When we left church, I was tremendously shaken, not comforted.
Years ago, a toddler sitting near me in church kept squirming despite his mother’s admonishments. When he whispered loudly to his sister, he crossed the line. His mother snatched him up, crawled out of the pew and started out. He was bawling loudly, scared for what was coming. As she got halfway toward the church door, he wailed desperately.
“Y’all pray for meeee!”
Even the preacher had to stop and laugh.
Thank God for parents like that.