As many mothers do when their young ones run toward them, I scooped up my four-year-old son. Together we enact this move on a nearly daily basis, but this time, my lifting him into my arms was out of the ordinary. This time my son had wiggled out of his seat in order to make a beeline toward me as I was leading the confession and absolution of sins. My son is still learning what it means to have a mom as a pastor; I am still learning how to handle the stress of these unpredictable experiences in which my roles as mom and minister collide. We are learning together.
In the moment that my son wiggled his way down to the floor and stood beside me, I felt afraid that his actions might be interpreted as a commotion. He held my hand and mirrored my actions as I turned to face the altar and the congregation. That seemed innocent enough. But then he began offering nonsensical words as I read the official words of absolution from our hymnal. I felt as though I was dedicating an enormous amount of energy to being both a loving mother and responsible pastor, all the while hoping that none of my parishioners would sense my anxiety or grumble about having been distracted during worship.
But then I had the blessing of seeing what everyone else saw during those moments. One of our church members shared with me the photo she had taken as my son and I led worship in tandem. When I saw what had happened from my church member’s perspective, all the stress I’d felt melted away. It was replaced by joy that my son felt comfortable enough to participate in worship with me and gratitude that my congregation had welcomed a little child to lead them.
As I have taken more time to reflect on this photo, I am reminded of all the ways my son forgives me, even though he may not realize it. He has forgiven me time and time again for my mistakes: for the times I have yelled, for the times I have been too tired to follow his routine, for the times I have hidden myself in the pantry or bathroom just long enough to take a breath and a break, even if that meant leaving him outside the door crying. He offers his forgiveness every time he wraps his arms around me, every time he gives me a hug, every time he grabs my hand or brings me a book to read. Every time he hears “I love you” and responds with “I love you, too.” Every time.
My son’s words of absolution might have been gibberish, but that doesn’t mean they were any less real. My son teaches me how to forgive, and now this treasured photo reminds me to forgive myself. They both help me to remember why we say words of absolution in the first place: In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.