Mass with three children under four years old is challenging. Every. Single. Time. It's challenging whether I have two or three extra adults to help me and it's challenging when it's just Michael and me and it's sometimes all-but-unbearable when I am by myself.
So, there is this beautiful family that attend daily mass at my parish. The momma takes all nine children to mass, by herself, every single day. The oldest is maybe fourteen. And I think I have seen her in the back with a sweet, (very) mildly fussy baby perhaps five times in all the time I've known her. Her children all sit quietly in the pew and fold their little hands and cross their little arms when they go to communion. They sit in the front. They talk sweetly to my kids and ooh and aah gently over my new baby as they march out of the church afterwards and pile into their big van. And about six seconds after they all get in the van, they are suddenly driving away, and it takes me about eight minutes to pack my three little ones up and get going.
I sit in the back and look wistfully at the back of that momma's head when I am at morning mass. I wonder how she does it. I wonder what I'm doing wrong. I wonder when things will get better. I wonder if her oldest kids ever decided to slap the snot out of their infant sister curled up sleeping in the sling in their mother's arms, just for fun, while in line for communion. I wonder what her discipline is like at home if her kids are so good in public. I wonder if her kids are so good at mass because she takes them every day.
Lately, though, I have felt God gently telling my heart to stop looking at the back of those nine little heads and to start returning my gaze to Him on the cross.
And when I do that, I feel pitifully weak and wonderfully fierce at the same time. Weak, because I don't think I can make it another two minutes without bursting into tears of frustration in front of all these people. Fierce, because I know that bringing my children before the Lord in this way is bold and necessary to form their hearts and souls in Christ, especially in a day and age in which so much fights to drag them away from Him. And--so help me God--I will do all that I can to fight for their hearts and souls in the name of the Lord who loves them, who has a plan and a mission for them, and who wants to be with them for all eternity.
I wanted to share a few links of blog posts I've run across lately that are written to parents of young children. I'm copying an excerpt of the one that encouraged me the most lately (read: brought me to tears:)
Dear Parents with Young Children in Church:Here are a couple of other posts by Jennifer and Steve that have encouraged me in this young-mother-of-young-children stage. Oh and this, and this, and this by mom-of-seven Melody. Oh, and please, PLEASE go and read Kendra's explanation of why ten is the magic number and also all of the things she wishes she had known then.
You are doing something really, really important. I know it’s not easy. I see you with your arms overflowing, and I know you came to church already tired. Parenting is tiring. Really tiring.
I watch you bounce and sway trying to keep the baby quiet, juggling the infant carseat and the diaper bag as you find a seat. I see you wince as your child cries. I see you anxiously pull things out of your bag of tricks to try to quiet them.
And I see you with your toddler and your preschooler. I watch you cringe when your little girl asks an innocent question in a voice that might not be an inside voice let alone a church whisper. I hear the exasperation in your voice as you beg your child to just sit, to be quiet as you feel everyone’s eyes on you. Not everyone is looking, but I know it feels that way.
I know you’re wondering, is this worth it? Why do I bother? I know you often leave church more exhausted than fulfilled. But what you are doing is so important.When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn’t about Bible Study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together.When you are here, I have hope that these pews won’t be empty in ten years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship.I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it’s too late. They are learning that worship is important.
Enjoy, and if you are blessed enough to be walking alongside me right now as a mother of small children, I hope so very much that you will be encouraged by the mercy and grace of God.:)
There is so much more rambling I could do on this topic, like how I can't compare myself to that family of nine, and how I have the opportunity to offer up my struggles at mass for special intentions, and how things are going to be so much easier when my older children have cheerful and willing helping hands.
However, my darling, wonderful little sister Rivers is making me go take a hot bath with some of her homemade bath salts...lavender-vanilla I think. And I think I shall let her drag me away now...