I’m CSPC Deacon Steve Jessen, and this is how I’m living deeply.
In 1980, I became a single dad. In 1981, I became a single dad with full custody of my children. My initial feelings of elation quickly turned to anxiety. I was young and overwhelmed. What did I know about caring for a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old full-time, on my own? Sensing the need for help in any way available, I asked my boss’s wife, ‘Do you know of a church with a good children’s program?’ Her answer: CSPC. Not long after that, I began taking my kids to the nursery. Kelly, my 4-year-old daughter, plugged in quickly. Chris, my 2-year-old son, was a different story. He’d been a preemie who needed lifesaving surgery when he was just 7 days old, and he was still dealing with effects from that. Chris was seemingly sick all the time, and he was very delayed developmentally. But God provided just what Chris (and I) needed: Helen and Reese, an older couple who served weekly in the 2-year-old room. They took a real interest in Chris and became almost like grandparents to him. They liked him so much, they asked to let him stay in their room until he turned 6 and entered kindergarten! The benefits of having my kids at CSPC were obvious, but it would be a while before I realized my own need to be there, too. At first, I would drop the kids off and have two free hours to go get groceries or whatever. Then one day a couple said, ‘How about you come to Sunday school with us?’ From that point on, I started going to Sunday school (a class Dr. Matt Prince led for years and years) and attending worship. I wasn’t quite a Christian yet. I’d always believed in God- I just didn’t want to surrender or submit. Finally, thanks to much seed planted at CSPC, I got saved in the mid-1980s when I took my then-first grade daughter to the Billy Graham movie, ‘The Prodigal.’ The film really spoke to me- I knew it was time for me to come home. And the way the Lord led me there started with taking my kids to the children’s program at CSPC.
I was very happy single and thought I’d stay that way. But God had other plans. At the invitation of a friend, Michele started coming to a CSPC singles group I was part of. She and I formed a special connection and started hanging out. We bonded at a deeper level as Michele cared for me incredibly well amid the crisis of an adoption placement gone bad in 2002; we married later that year. Between us, we had 14 grandkids, but none in town. So we decided if we couldn’t be grandparents to our grandchildren, maybe we could be ‘bonus grandparents’ to other folks’ grandkids. In 2017, we started living that out in a significant way. Month after month during the baptisms, Michele and I had said ‘We will’ when asked to help parents raise their children, but never followed through. Then, during a session meeting in 2017, Andrew Keasling encouraged the officers to consider serving in the nursery. I was convicted. Michele and I have been serving continuously since, volunteering once a month (until recently, it had been twice a month) in the 11-to-19-month-olds nursery. A huge reason we do it is because I know, from my own experience, how much it blesses young parents. I know the kids won’t remember me, but some of the parents just might. After all, I still remember Helen and Reese (and others who cared for my kids) all these years later. They provided a safe place with a caring atmosphere where I knew my kids were loved and provided for, which allowed me time for worship and fellowship with friends. Now, I’m the one with the time & capacity to support the next generation of young parents. I think the key is to view their kids as you’d view your grandkids. No one says, about their grandkids, ‘Oh, I hate spending time with them. They’re so moody and ornery.’ Children are precious in God’s sight, and serving in the nursery helps you better learn to see them through God’s eyes. I’d encourage anyone my age to consider helping in the nursery. You don’t need to worry about ‘not knowing how to do it,’ (a common fear)- you just show up and do it. That’s all that’s needed. It’s not a burden, but a source of great joy.
Serving in the nursery is genuinely a joy, but in some ways it’s still not easy. I wish I could say I always have a good attitude about serving, but unfortunately, I don’t. For those moments, Michele and I remember the passage in Matthew 19 where Jesus rebukes those who hinder little children from coming to Him. That portion of Scripture has convicted us and anchored us to the ministry of serving ‘the least of these.’ No, it’s not fun when little kids are throwing tantrums. It can test your patience. But then again, I whine and throw fits, too, and I’m a lot older. When you’re working in the nursery, those episodes (and they will come!) are an opportunity for growth in Christ-likeness. You’re never too old to keep growing in sanctification. God is growing all of us as long as we have breath, even when we’re older. Nursery service is a wonderful way to experience that! So, to sum up, we serve to become sanctified, but also for a whole bunch of other good reasons: 1) Because others faithfully served when I really, really needed them. 2) To encourage young families and to help provide a loving environment for their little ones. (Side note: What better way for older folks like us to briefly connect with and welcome some of our church’s younger families?) 3) To spend time with folks we’ve known for years. (Being in the nursery is a terrific way to catch up with others who serve!) 4) Because Jesus loves children and we want to love like Jesus. If I profess to be His follower, I will love children, too, and not just from a distance. I think one well-worn quote expresses it well: ‘Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.’