I was kneeling at church last Sunday with five of my little angels surrounding me in the pew (the other was serving at the altar). Two were wrestling (in a modified “we’re-in-church-but-probably-no-one-can-see-us-because-we’re-short” kind of way. Another was poking her sister just to hear her squeal and sister was obliging loudly. Baby’s nose was dripping onto my hand and as I grabbed the toilet paper roll (uncouth, I know) to wipe up, it fell and rolled under the pew leaving a trail several feet long. This was all before Mass had even started. I had been trying to recollect myself and prepare for the Sacred Mysteries. Instead, I felt a welling tide of unsanctified thoughts marching into formation on the tip of my tongue.
Alas, surely I had misunderstood my vocational calling a decade ago! I could almost hear the tolling of the cloister bells and feel silence, holiness, and unquestionable saintliness flowering within my soul! Almost.
In my less strained moments I recognize that God knew what He was doing when He put me on diaper duty. He handed me the key to Heaven in my vocation as wife and mother (although it’s got some pink sticky stuff on it—must have been at the bottom of my purse for a while).
Before I had children, I would spend silent, focused time in prayer. Holy Mass was a sweet time where I could savor and delight in God’s Presence. It was confusing to me at first to find the situation so altered. I was still to get to Heaven but God was allowing a lot of gooey and colorful distractions to complicate my journey to that final goal (kind of like Candyland, now that I think of it).
My initial objections were whiny at best. I figured that God had made the mistake and that He ought to fix it for me. I didn’t think I could be holy if I had to deal with burping babies and clinging toddlers during prayer time. It took a long time for me to realize that my path to holiness must come through my vocation as wife and mother and no other. Much of my prayer time must come during diaper changes and floor washings. Full mid-day prayer must sometimes become brief cries for Heavenly help. My Morning Offering must carry more weight. And Mass must be a continuation of the sacrifice of motherhood. “I’m sorry, Lord. I am so distracted and tired today. Please bless my efforts and make up for my lack. I love you.”
Yes, I could pray more attentively if I left the kids with a sitter during Mass but that is not the path that God has chosen for me. I said “yes” to motherhood and it is from perseverance in this vocation that I will be sanctified. Holiness for me is through the little ones (oh, and the handsome guy I exchanged rings with, too).
A priest at my parish recently told me that there are many young mothers in my community who stay home with little ones on Sundays, considering it to be the obvious response to the loud, wet, embarrassing challenges we parents all face. It really is a shame. Haven’t they seen my kids? We sit right up front every week. I guess they weren’t there two weeks ago when my darling three- year old daughter belched like a trucker during the petitions. Maybe we scared them off. Honestly, if we all show up together, no single person will stick out!
As a result of this new information and a bit of self-reflection, I am inclined to issue a friendly challenge to all of you moms (and dads) who share my struggles… because we really do need to support and encourage one another on this journey.
#1 ATTEND MASS WITH EVERY MEMBER OF YOUR HOUSEHOLD EVERY SUNDAY.
Exceptions should be rare. Mass should not be viewed as “optional” even for little ones. If mom and dad are not faithful to this commitment, the children will get the wrong message loud and clear. Our example in this regard cannot be overestimated. We need to walk this road as a family, in spite of the challenges, because we belong here together. Making Mass optional for little ones and adults or “dividing forces” may seem easier in the short run but may create a childhood church experience equivalent to an errand to the beauty shop or (shudder) the BMV. The power of seeing a dad at prayer is mighty.
#2 INSIST THAT SMALL CHILDREN BE PRESENT IN CHURCH DURING MASS.
I know every objection to this so don’t even bother! I’m well aware of the dangers of elastic skirts and toddlers. I’ve had screamers who want to “eat too!” during Communion. But they must grow to know and love the things of their faith and grow accustomed to being in the Presence of God and His people. Our best effort will not turn our children into perfect angels but we must persevere with them anyway. The humbling moments that we endure with blushing cheeks will bear fruit which will overshadow the embarrassments over time… and even bless them with humor!
I recall taking my first baby to Mass on Sundays in spite of his repeated efforts to embarrass me into staying home. There was the time he spit up loudly into his great-grandmother’s purse (the one time I was grateful for her failing eyesight). And the time he filled his diaper (so loudly that it echoed) in the middle of Father’s homily. The times they all screamed and threw up and fell down. Changing babies in my Easter best on muddy floors… or in the car. Nursing while perched carefully on the edge of a toilet because there was nowhere else to go. A nose bloodied on a pew bench. And most recently, a loud “Jesus is dead!” from a toddler pointing to the crucifix. I could fill a book and I’m sure you have your own stories.
I remember whispering to my 2-year olds during the consecration, “Jesus! There’s Jesus!” only to find later that I had convinced every one of them that Fr. McManomon was indeed “Jesus!” We are a work in progress.
We attended a Mass recently where I was as troublesome as the children can be (actually worse because I should know better). Something funny happened (I refuse to divulge the source of my hilarity) and I laughed until the tears rolled down my face. I was silent but with shaking shoulders and mortified that I was apparently unable to stop. The kids thought it was a hoot and I prayed desperately to the Holy Spirit to help me regain my composure.
It dawned on me later that my own vocationally related distractions help me to understand so much better the challenges my children face at Mass. It is in many ways a gift that allows me to reach for a hand and say, “Yeah, this can be tough—let’s work on this together.” That means toughing it out even when the baby room seems so much easier. Leave the baby room for the nursing infants and temporary emergencies. Hang out on the edges of the church. Haunt empty pews. Tour the pictures and statuary—anything to stay in church. And when we do go out, make it as brief as possible.
It’s only an hour. I can do it! Heaven help me! Your turn, Daddy. Did I miss the Gospel? Stop taking off your shoes! Don’t lick the floor! Humility. Humility. Humility.
Thank God for my wonderful children and the thousands of daily opportunities to grow closer to Him through this hilarious and beautiful journey. May your own journey bring you ever closer to Jesus and provide the generations to come with an abundance of laughter.
Copyright 2011 Melody Lyons