(WNS)--I confess I was surprised when I stumbled across a Barna survey that examines how having children influences parents’ relationships with churches, because the results are at odds with what preserves my own sanity. Apparently having children does not draw nearly as many people into church as I would have thought.

If I’m being completely honest (and why not try that once in a while, at least during the Lenten season?), I’ll admit that having children is, more often than not, the only reason I’m in church.

I understand that this makes me a bad Christian. Or is perhaps proof of my poor faith, or my introversion, or just my desire to wallow in bed the one day I don’t have to get up for anything, the one day my children miraculously stay in their own beds and sleep like normal people are supposed to do.

But I go to church, often only because I am dragging them with me, and often because if I don’t draw close to the liturgy and the Cross and the blessing, I may well go stark-raving mad. And if that happens, no reasonable person who has also been a parent can deny the likelihood that these children are at least partly to blame.

It’s ironic, I think, that my children are one of the primary reasons I often feel so tired that I’d rather skip church, yet they are the same reason I drag myself up (often with a good kick in the rear from my wife) and take them. Then there is the dressing and the combing of unruly hair and the carping about why a second bowl of some sugary cereal isn’t a privilege on Sundays.

The kids are difficult to get ready, too.

And then we are driving, and then we are there, usually late, at which point I immediately repent and resolve to get up extra early next Sunday. But people are gracious, at least in this church, and they make room, and the old women beam at my four boys, which raises yet another irony—without them I likely wouldn’t be late, but I think it’s only because I have them that my lateness is tolerable.

Some Sundays everyone is peaceful, but other Sundays I endure several successive requests for bathroom visits, and hissed complaints about brothers, and a 3-year-old who is never satisfied unless he is in my arms, or standing on the back of the pew in front of us, or crawling about like a commando beneath the pews. It can be a spectacle, having these children in church, and I hope I’m forgiven when I think a long bath and a mimosa might have better enhanced my holiness.

But I take them, and afterward I am always glad that I did, and more often than not, though I am always convinced it won’t happen this time, God reaches me, too. We draw close to one another in church, and for a time we are (relatively) silent, and we hear the Good News, which is that love has overcome despair, salvation has overcome death.

And even the likes of this tired, darkened heart, as I survey my sons when they don’t know I am watching them, finds peace.

Tony Woodlief writes for WORLD Magazine, where this article first appeared.