We have all been there. The sheer exhaustion and sigh of relief as the priest says, “The Mass is ended.” I am not sure who is more elated: me or the toddlers who have been trying to escape out of the pew for the past hour. Leaving Church feeling more defeated than uplifted. Wondering if wrestling and correcting little ones while gritting your teeth actually fulfills your Sunday obligation or just gives you all the more reason to go to Confession or ask Father to give a quick absolution on your way out the door. Knowing in your heart that Mass is never a waste of time, but wondering in your mind if it would have been better just to stay home with the younger ones.
It took me a few years to understand the challenge of going to Mass with little ones. When we first adopted our older sons, they behaved angelically at Mass from the beginning and still do today. It wasn’t until number four came along that began the real game changer. I realized quickly what my friend refers to “sweating it through in the pew.” Literally sweating while trying to maintain sanity and not disrupt the others in the pews wanting a prayerful experience.
For as often as the glares come from across the aisle there will be times where people will compliment my children on behaving so well in Mass. In my mind, I am thinking, “Are you kidding? Did you see the circus we just put on?” The reality as mothers is we are much more conscious of our children’s decibel level and behavior than almost anybody else in the pews. We worry about the glares we might get or the people in front or behind us who aren’t able to fully enter into worship because of our children. We are our own worst critics. There have been days leaving church that I have commented to my husband about how much of a disaster the past hour was and his reply is usually, “Really, I thought it went pretty well.”
I will never forget the Sunday when my husband was out of town and I had to fly solo with the four kiddos. Things started off well, but somewhere around the First Reading I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of my 3-year-old taking off her shoe and smacking her older brother with it. I am not sure when the meltdown happened, but the one-year-old had had it and was in hysterics flailing his limbs. I took the younger two out with me and we ended up staying there the rest of Mass. So incredibly grateful for speakers, so I could still feel like I was participating. Every time I tried to re-enter the one-year-old let me know of his disapproval in an epic fashion.
We were waiting to join the communion line as it made its way towards the back of church when the 3-year-old had a potty emergency. When we came out I quickly hustled back into the church, only to see the priest giving Communion to the last person. The thought flashed in my mind of running down the long aisle with my one-year-old in a football hold screaming the entire way in an attempt to flag down the priest so I could still receive Jesus. Instead, I turned around feeling completely and entirely defeated. I felt tears streaming down my cheeks; the one thing my heart longed so much to receive – the Eucharist — I was not able to. I sent my husband a text once we got back to the van telling him about the train wreck and looking for reassurance that somewhere in that 60 minutes I still received grace.
Each family is different, but my husband and I have made the commitment to go to Mass every Sunday as a family with all four children. Not every Sunday is easy and I wonder if I even remember anything that was said or “got anything out of it.” The reality is it is not about me “getting” anything from Mass; it is about me going to Mass to give God His due honor and glory — and that includes bringing my four children along, no matter what the behavior on any given Sunday. Bringing them because in it there is unseen grace for me and for them. Allowing them to partake in the greatest form of prayer, exposing them to Christ truly present in the Eucharist and to witness the greatest miracle.
Developing something that is habitual so without hesitation they know as they become teenagers, college students, and enter their own vocation, that Mass is always a must. Hoping to instill in them the importance and privilege Mass is, so there is never a hesitation or question whether to wake up Sunday morning and go when Mom and Dad aren’t watching.
The beauty is no matter how disastrous the past hour may have appeared, the faith of little ones is something to behold. It may seem as if they are completely distracted and more of a distraction then learning anything, but what they absorb the sounds, sights, and smells in just being present is more than we realize. My 3-year-old has developed the habit of looking toward the front of Church whenever the bells are rung at Consecration. Amid the constant movement, seeing them kneel for a brief moment or two in imitation of you, folding their hands and bowing their heads in prayer. Returning home and the one-year-old singing “Alleluia” wherever he goes, whether while playing or when we are grocery shopping. The desire to set up Mass and play Church with all of the dolls and stuffed animals in the house, repeating a few of the responses they remember. Entering a church and hearing the one-year-old say “Jesus” and blow a kiss towards the Crucifix.
It is most certain they are receiving grace upon grace that we cannot comprehend. Their hearts are being turned toward Jesus and he is speaking to them in ways we do not hear. We are assisting them in living the Baptismal promises we made on their behalf and allowing them to be in the presence of heaven touching earth.
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14