The church is a body—so the metaphor goes—that works best when all parts are present and accounted for. This means that in every church community, each member has an important role to play. So when my wife and I started attending a new church last year, we dutifully asked the pastor how we could get involved and contribute to the life of our newfound congregation.
I assumed once he discovered that my spiritual cup overfloweth with wisdom, maturity, and humility, he would fast-track my elder nomination and ask me to pinch-hit in the pulpit from time to time. But he had different plans for me: the nursery.
I suppressed an instinctive “thanks, but I’d rather die” and listened as he recalled a lesson his father taught him after he had announced that he had no intention of changing his newborn’s diaper. “You will never truly love this baby unless you serve her,” his father told him. “Indeed, you will never learn to love anyone, including the Lord, if you refuse to serve.”
So, my options were: a) give up on my dreams of lay ministerial superstardom and take my talents to the playroom or b) break up with Jesus. After carefully contemplating the pros and cons of each, I volunteered as tribute.
Things started out rough, but I’ve grown to love it. In an effort to help others going through similar trials and tribulations, then, I offer up the following model, which charts the stages of transitioning to nursery work—a bona fide Gatliff original that totally has nothing to do with anybody named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
Stage 1: Denial. Okay, so maybe spending a Sunday morning disinfecting toy trucks covered in spit-up won’t be so bad. It’s not like these grasping infants with zero understanding of object permanence will wail the entire time their moms are outside of their line of vision, right? Definitely.
Stage 2: Anger. Denial gives way to anger right around the time when the three youngest babies all decide to shriek in dissonant, half-step intervals like a choir of demon-possessed capuchin monkeys. At the core of your anger is fear—fear that the four-year-old who has weighed the merits of potty training and found them wanting will soil her drawers on your watch. The Elisha method is starting to sound more and more reasonable.
Stage 3: Bargaining. There are two types of deals being negotiated here. One is with the ill-tempered cherubs under your charge: although promises of post-church ice cream might be outside of your jurisdiction, drastic measures must be taken when the juveniles begin launching Legos at your face like an army of Orcs trying to breach the walls of Gondor. The other is with God. You reveal your inner turmoil: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Answer: a long time. Back in the sanctuary, the worship leader has been repeating the same phrase for six minutes, and there’s no end in sight.)
Stage 4: Depression. The realization that no one is coming to relieve you from your duties is beginning to sink in. The sermon is running long, and parents will take their time chit-chatting after the service—laughing, no doubt, about the Good Samaritans who are providing free babysitting. Swap your blazer for some sackcloth, and if ashes aren’t at hand, dumping baby powder on your head should adequately express your despair.
Stage 5: Acceptance. In the midst of frantically searching for the stray sheep who has managed to crawl away from the flock and under the Playdough table, a peace that surpasses all understanding falls upon you like a dove. You have successfully denied yourself and taken up your cross for a chaotic, diaper-filled 90 minutes. The crown of glory is yours. Just be sure to wash the snot off of it.