Baby Dedications for the Rest of Us

At most churches I’ve attended, Mother’s Day is for baby dedications, that time-honored Russian roulette of trying to guess which kid will scream bloody murder while the pastor prays for their life and faith and peaceful upbringing.

As a single person watching from the pews, this is prime time to either A. join the obligatory cooing when adorable pictures of the dedicatees go up on the screen, B. try to rank how much sleep each participating mother got the night before, or C. remember to call Mom after the service and/or take her out to brunch along with half of America (with sincere apologies for all those years I overcooked toast and undercooked eggs and passed if off as “breakfast in bed”).

While none of those are bad things, they might be missing the point, because we still have a role to play, even if we aren’t the ones onstage breaking into a cold sweat because the grandparents are in the front row taking dozens of pictures of Junior spitting up during the pastor’s message.

Whether you’ve never had kids or have already made it through the kids-in-the-house stage or are still in the trenches of parenthood, there’s something you can bring to the little ones making their Sunday-morning debut.

Most churches have some way of including the observing members in the dedication. Whether they ask the congregation to repeat vows or say “amen” or just be reminded that they are part of the raising of these little kiddos, there’s a sense that we’re all in this together. Sometimes those requirements are spelled out, sometime they’re a vague commitment to join in community with the parents and children.

If that’s the case, here’s the fine print, just so you know what you might be agreeing to just by showing up on Mother’s Day, kind of like those terms-and-conditions boxes that hardly anyone reads before checking.

If you follow through on the promise you make at baby dedications, congratulations! You’ve signed up for a lifetime of tiny moments of secondhand parenthood, with all its joys and frustrations and moments of cluelessness.

You’ve agreed to do your best to model holiness in front of dozen of little eyes and ears. That means holding back angry words, choosing love, giving out of right motives…and humbly asking forgiveness when you fail in all those areas (as you’re basically guaranteed to do).

You’re telling parents that their kids aren’t just optional add-ons to the church, but that they matter. You’ll pray for their parenting when needed and be one in an army of comforters and babysitters and fix-it-guys and casserole-makers to be there with practical help in the hard times. You will greet and worship with and high-five and speak to the younger members of the church like they’re your little brothers and sisters (even if the highest spiritual plane you can bring the conversation to is dinosaurs and ice cream flavors). You’ll use your unique gifts to make a difference in their lives and in their parents’ lives wherever you can for as long as God puts them in your life.

If you live like you mean this, you will care about hundreds of young lives and sometimes wonder if it’s worth the emotional energy. You will give without the expectation of getting anything in return. You will speak up when you could just look away. You will pour hours and months and years of your life into serving kids who will shove a gluestick in your hair, like another Sunday School teacher more than you (and tell you so), hurt someone you care about, or leave the church and never come back.

Here’s the thing, though: you don’t get a family—a real, beautiful, stuck-with-each-other sort of family—without sacrifice.

There’s a lot of happiness when making room in your already-crowded life to love other people’s kids, don’t get me wrong. But it takes a reprioritizing, a setting aside of preferences, a long patience and a Holy-Spirit-empowered selflessness.

I’m not there yet…but I want to be. I’ve watched the lives of other believers who have loved recklessly outside of their own family lines to become aunts and uncles and grandparents to kids not their own. I’ve seen a special kind of beauty there that I want, because it reflects the love of Jesus.

So the next time a little red-faced child is making a joyful noise to the whole church, feel free to chuckle. But don’t forget to say “Welcome to the family”…and mean it.

5 comments

  1. Have you been to an Orthodox baptism for infants when a crowd of people is there? Messy stuff. The kids are part of the family, and getting annoyed with them for popping some artificial bubble of piety is a sure sign that one is not there for the worship of the people of God, but for the elevation of the microtones of one’s subjectivity. Darn kid! Why did you spill my cup! I was so full of the best feelings, and you ruined it!

    1. Your description is spot-on, Gregory. It’s funny how much we value order and routine and control, especially in a public church service context…and babies/toddlers don’t at all. Always helps me think about priorities!

  2. As someone who has gotten to be on the other side and had 2 babies dedicated, it is very beautiful and holy to stand up and have the church body promise to help you raise your child. I know a lot of families who stop attending church when their kids are little because it’s hard and noisy and feels embarrassing. It’s beautiful when it feels like kids are just accepted as part of the family.

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