When our children were younger, they were phenomenally popular with various women in the church — important women, you know, deaconesses, and wives of commanders and the management branch, a section of the priestly Pentagon none of us in my family were allowed into because we perversely never attended Sunday School.
(If you’ve always wanted to be a deaconess but aren’t yet, be aware that Sunday School attendance is a hidden, but mandatory, requirement. My college friend years ago was allowed be the Deaconess of Windows because of her acceptable attendance rate, although she hit a glass ceiling, or, er, window, when it came to progressing to the highly coveted upper dais of leadership: the Deaconess of Baby Showers.)
But back to the women who loved my children: they, the Deaconess set, allowed my urchins to play with theirs because mine, the urchins, knew how to do chores and clean bedrooms.
Now in our household, there was a rule: no friends over until your chores were done, and while the bedrooms didn’t have to be pristine (we eat off plates in the dining room, not off the carpet in the bedrooms), the essential work had to be done before playtime began.
But in the Deaconess set, the rules were different: upon arriving over to “play,” our children were told that the Deaconess’s Exemplary Child was not allowed to do anything until he/she had cleaned the bedroom, mown the lawn, or mucked out the horse stall (and yes, this one is real).
Obviously unable to admit the truth to themselves, the Deaconess set was smart enough to see that my kids worked and theirs didn’t, and if the bedroom was going to get cleaned, the lawn mown, or the horse stall mucked, then it was going to take a lot of work from one of my urchins before this was done.
And danged if my kids didn’t always fall into it.
“Why didn’t you call us to pick you up?” we asked afterwards.
“Because that would have been rude,” they always replied. “I was their guest.”
Even now I hit my head on the desk, over and over again, at the thought of it all.
Later, now that the kids are grown, they have told us that one reason they complied was because of us — knowing of our lowly status in the mop of saints, they were concerned that the relationships we had with the parents of their friends (many of whom were actually decent friends, with just clueless progenitors) would be endangered if they did not comply.
“True friendships are stronger than that,” we told them.
Well, so now our kids know, and they have years of work experience cleaning other people’s bedrooms and mowing other people’s lawns, and the Deaconess set lives on.
For years, I actually sort of wanted to be a deaconess, because, like my college friend, I know how to throw a fun baby shower with games that don’t bore or embarrass other people, but I have moved on; my kids have grown up; and the tenuous relationships we had with the parents of our children’s friends, are long gone.
But I have some advice for the Deaconess set, concerning other people’s children:
- When you invite a child over to play with your child, do not put the guest child to work.
- If you need a good example for your own child, don’t rely upon another person’s child.
- Any child invited into your home is just that, a child, and especially if he/she has been raised in a church environment, he has had pressed upon him the importance of respecting his elders. Do not abuse that sense of conscience.
- Kids’ rooms do not have to look like army barracks, and the strength of their Christianity, or yours, is not dependent upon the cleanliness of your house.
And finally, and most importantly, this one to all of us: we have more to learn from children than they have to learn from us, because “. . . anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)
I think that maxim is asking for trust, humility, dependency, and love, which, fortunately, are attributes we can all seek to achieve, whether or not we are deaconesses (or attend Sunday School).