It gets embarrassing. My children like to play when Sabbath school is over and my wife likes to talk. She leads one of the children's programs at our church and always seems to be busy. That means we usually make a not-soquiet entry to the worship service well after the welcome. Not only have we been late recently, but within minutes of our arrival in church my children are either begging for food, asking if it is time to go home yet, giggling at the people in the row behind, making noises during prayer or asking to go to the bathroom. But today was going to be different! Today we were going to be on time. And today the children would be models of good behaviour. People who usually groaned when we arrived, and muttered darkly when we sat close by, would be so impressed that they would compliment us on our beautifully mannered children. "Hurry up, kids. Church is about to start," I said in a firm, fatherly voice. No reaction. Clearly I would have to be more creative. I reminded myself that children are just like horses, and carrots work better than sticks! "You'll miss the children's story," I warned, without showing all my cards at once. And then, pulling out the biggest gun in my arsenal I said sadly, "And you won't be able to have a biscuit." It worked instantly. "Story. Quick. The story is starting," Zoey said worriedly, looking cute in her little denim dress. "Urry, urry," Zachy shouted with all the urgency a three-year-old could muster. "Bye," Caleb called to his friends as he climbed down reluctantly from a tree. He is already seven and more interested in friends, so he wasn't exactly hurrying. Even so, within minutes we were seated in church like a perfect family and not only that, we were actually early! The biscuits worked beautifully as the welcome came and went. Prayer followed as my children munched contentedly.
Then it was over. With horror I realised that Zachary had somehow sprinkled crumbs onto the immaculate hairdo of an older lady in front of us. That didn't worry him, however. He was demanding another biscuit from the empty packet at my feet. Then, while I was trying to delicately extract Zach's crumbs without the owner of the hair noticing, Zoey burst into tears. The people opposite started staring and my wife was pretending she could actually hear what the speaker was saying. My dream run was over, but I wasn't ready to give up just yet. "Oh Zoey," I whispered impatiently. "Stop straight away or I will have to take you outside!" She knows what that means and would normally have calmed down quickly. However her little shoulders bobbed up and down as she continued to sob brokenly. "Do you want a biscuit, Zoey?" I asked helplessly, concluding that she had realised there were none left and kicking myself for eating the last two when I thought no-one was watching. "No." "What's wrong, Darling?" I asked again, wondering if she had bitten her tongue or hurt herself somehow. "Daddy ..." she sobbed. "Tell me." "Daddy, the man went past." "What man?" I looked around to no avail. She really was being quite exasperating, but somehow I remained calm. Sitting in church with 500 saints is not the place to lose it! Little tears trickled down Zoey's cheeks, however her crying eased. Then, eyes downcast, she held out her hand and unclenched her small fingers, revealing several silver coins. "Daddy, the man didn't let me put my offering in. I wanted to give it to Jesus!" As she burst into a fresh round of tears I suddenly understood. While I had been preoccupied with crumbs, she had been looking forward to giving her offering. For some reason the deacon collecting from our aisle had not seen her small, outstretched hand, and he had unknowingly passed her by.
A few moments later, after reassuring my tearful little girl, I spotted a deacon sitting nearby and at my suggestion Zoey ran over and gave him her money. When she returned she was grinning from ear to ear.
I don't remember much about the sermon that day. I don't remember cleaning up the crumbs on the carpet. I don't remember having to take the kids to the bathroom. And I don't know what others thought of my children or me.
What I do remember is being completely humbled by a little girl in a pretty denim dress, with crumbs on her lips and tear-streaked cheeks.
"Daddy," she may well have asked me, "do you feel sad when you can't give to Jesus?" Don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully. 2 Corinthians 9:7. Brad Watson is a lecturer in international development at Avondale College and lives in Cooranbong, New South Wales.