Liza Abouharb, the Maronite Mum, reflects on a story parents are all too familiar with… Mass with young children
I could sit here and start writing chronicles on how hard it was to achieve my obligatory attendance to Church on the most important week of the Liturgical Calendar.
I can sit here and complain about the 5 laps we needed to do to find parking and all the stress that each lap brought to my heart thinking that I’ll be losing a good spot to sit calmly with my family at Mass inside the Church… then I accepted the fact that I would be sitting outside on the side of the Church… but once we parked, walked for 5 minutes pushing a pram or carrying a toddler I noticed that there was no space whatsoever and not even a chair for any member of my family to sit on… I could not see the Altar, nor the priest… and furthermost, I could not have a glance of the most important person for whom I was doing all this: JESUS CHRIST present in the Eucharist.
I can sit here and complain. Far out, I can sit and cry, to be quite honest… but, you know what? It is ok to feel a bit overwhelmed about everything, and cry about it as long as you offer your tears to Our Lord.
But, do you know what else? I had to do it and make sure my kids knew how important going to Mass was for us (their parents) so they know what is important in life. I cannot encourage a teenager to go to Church if they didn’t step a foot in Church when they were younger.
As parents we know routine is all that matters for kids. We make such an effort to put them to bed at a set time, to make sure they eat all their veggies, and their proteins. We make sure they wear a hat in the sun and a jumper in the cold. We make sure they drink plenty of water no matter what the weather is. You also make the effort to get them ready for school or for going out to get some groceries or just shopping. So why is it SO hard with Church?
“You make the effort to get them ready for school or for going out to get some groceries or just shopping. So why is it SO hard with Church?”
You are tired, mamma, I know…. Oh! Trust me, I KNOW. And God -who sees your heart- knows too.
When I was single and childless I once read a meme that said “whoever said ‘easy like Sunday morning’ never had to get the children ready for Church”. I laughed back then and kept scrolling on my feed…
Three kids later (all under 5 years old -a baby included-) and I don’t laugh with the “funny” laugh anymore when it pops up… I actually smirked and rolled my eyes all at the same time while a feeling of emptiness and overwhelming hits my heart.
You’ve probably seen me at Church without knowing it was me or I am sure you’ve seen that struggled family with little ones trying to calm their children’s tantrums like trying to put down several fires at the same time. When one kid is settled the other one gets triggered, then the third child cries and 30 seconds later you have half your family outside the church and the other half inside the church. Generally the loudest crying kid ends up outside…
Church is back in silence. Solemnities and hymns continue.
A nervous smile shows on your face while someone near you looks at you disparagingly, making you feel even worse but then you find that other person that smiles at you caringly in compassion.
Oh I used to be that last person… smiling saying “oh how cute, it happens, don’t worry”… but now that the roles have switched I am the person who thinks:
“Oh My God how embarrassing”
“When will they be quiet at Church?!”
“Why are they acting like that today?!”
“Ahhh must have been because she didn’t eat breakfast properly, next week I’ll make sure she does”
“I wonder how my husband is doing outside?
“Is that our son crying?”
“What time is it? Oh almost done thank God!”
So after 5 minutes trying to calm yourself down and started focusing back into what is happening on the Altar you realised the Abouna or Priest starts with the Consecration of the Eucharist and when you are about to close your eyes to pray in respect, THAT is the moment your 4 years old chooses to ask you: “Mum, where is daddy?”
“He is coming, don’t worry”- I said while looking at the Altar again… but my daughter continues: “I can’t see him mummy, where is daddy?”…
Agggh… I replied again:
“He is outside, he is coming soon”.
She wasn’t having it: “Can I go outside too, mum?”
“No, not now, shhh“… I said. Wrong call: her eyes watering, her lips shaking… I knew it! She was about to cry and make another scene in the middle of the Consecration.
We went outside too.
“There is daddy, mumma!!!!!” She screamed smiling while she ran happily towards her father -who was carrying a sleeping baby- while he smiles back at her, and my other daughter just stands there next to him like a glue…
I don’t remember ONE word from Mass. I didn’t even LOOK at Jesus. I couldn’t even take the Eucharist but I forced myself to take my kids into the line to -at least- get the blessing of the Eucharist in their heads. That is the ONLY thing I achieved and it wasn’t possible in all the Masses, specially the ones from Holy Week.
I have been pushing myself to get to church on time because I believe it is important for my children to get used to God’s presence, the Church, the sense of Community, the rite, all parts of the Mass. I don’t remember missing one Sunday Mass in my childhood so I really want that memory for my kids too… but, oh God, how hard it is!! It is such a stressful situation that every time, after Mass, while driving back home, I think to myself with hopeless tears: “is it even worth it?!”… “what am I accomplishing here?!“
I don’t remember missing one Sunday Mass in my childhood so I really want that memory for my kids too… but, oh God, how hard it is!
The surge of the Covid19 Pandemic didn’t help and since the restrictions eased up I am trying my best to get to Church and go through the motions every time over and over again… although I know I would be putting out little fires everywhere, something inside my heart tells me I have to. “I HAVE to” but why? Why at this age? Maybe I can just leave them somewhere just for that hour… but no, no, no, something in my heart tells me to take them.
A few days ago another meme or reflection of a quote that was attributed to St. Francis de Sales popped up in my feed which stated “If your (sic) distracted throughout the entire Rosary and you fight off the distractions and finished the Rosary, then you’ve done a good Rosary.”
Read that again and let it sink in…
I felt my answer was somewhere in this quote so, does fighting every single distraction at Mass for a whole hour makes me achieve something? I still can’t understand what St. Francis is trying to tell us, to tell ME… but then, I stumble with this quote of his:
“If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.”
Wow… this answers the question of what is the point of ME going to Church if I don’t feel the connection with God for the whole hour like I used to. But I do try. I bring myself to His Presence every time I can so, really, St. Francis has comforted me by telling me that I am not wasting my time because God IS watching my steps, hearing my thoughts and hugging me while my hearts dwells in stress. He knows I am looking after the little ones HE loves and HE put under our care.
And the kids? What am I doing FOR them when I take them to Church?
Jesus answers that question. 3 apostles wrote almost the same words: Matthew 19:14, Luke 18:16 and Mark 10:14 when they said:
“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:14.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:14.
The disciples rebuked them. Jesus’ friends REBUKED the fathers, mothers, uncles or aunties who were trying to get their kids blessed (haven’t you felt rebuked by other people who criticised you -with their looks, lips or just by not giving a hand- in the middle of your child’s tantrum?)
But you know what St. Mark tells us about Jesus feelings towards them? That “He was indignant“. INDIGNANT. You don’t hear about this “anger” of Jesus too often. But HE was angry about the injustice towards the whole situation. He had a reason: he said to let the children go to Him, and then He blessed them.
When you become a father or mother, you know your life is not only about you anymore but about your children. Motherhood is my new Ministry. My children are my new mission in life, so if the ONLY thing I achieved at Church is to get a blessing for my children then I have achieved a lot. Not only for them but for Jesus, because this sentence tells me a lot about Him and I know that by the priest’s hands blessing my kids it’s Jesus himself who places a blessing on my kids, hence, my heart no longer dwells in stress but in the calmness of God’s love, protection and peace.
There is popular saying that goes like this: “If you don’t hear crying, the Church is dying.”
I always say it: we are raising the next generation of Catholic Saints… and that itself is an amazing task that God Himself has placed on our shoulders.
Trust me, HE knows what He’s doing, open your arms, smile and embrace the noises your kids do in the House of the Lord, they mean the House is open and growing.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8
Praised be the Lord!
God bless you,
Liza, a Maronite Mum
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