Monday, November 28, 2016

Being Present in Mass Despite the Chaos

Photo Credit: Ben White

Each year on Thanksgiving, I wake up, get the turkey ready, and then I run off to morning mass - by myself. It is the only day of the year I intentionally attend mass alone. But I need it.

The rest of the year I am in mass with my little ones. Currently ranging in age from 4 - 13, my little ones are at times quiet and respectful during the service. No scratch that.  They are, most of the time quiet, but we are still working on the respectful part. When my oldest alter serves he is definitely quiet and respectful. The rest of the time... well it isn't always pretty. But I digress.  Despite attending mass weekly and during the school year twice a week, they struggle to get through the mass. They act like a bunch of children.  Which they are.  When the big ones were little ones, I used to to dream about the time when they would all sit quietly and listen attentively. I don't know if that time will ever come.

Here are the two truths - they are the only two things Mom's need to know about surviving mass with children.

1) You aren't at mass for your children's benefit. You are there for YOUR benefit and YOUR relationship with God. Sure it helps to set a good example. But you are His daughter and He has requested your presence.

2) Jesus said "let the children come to me".  God wants them there, present, with you.

I have read countless pieces of advice and given a little advice of my own, on how to survive mass with children. Top tips include having special 'quiet' toys or books for mass time or leaving them in childcare, taking children out of pews, keeping children in pews, sitting close to the front, standing far in the back, whispering and threatening and kissing and, well, spanking. I have found that the best influence on behavior for my children was just time. Once they started kindergarten at our parish school, and start attending mass weekly with their class, they really seemed to get the hang of it. I know that is not super comforting to the mama of a 15 month old. Sorry.

Although The Baby still likes to pretend she is sleeping and thus she can't participate, and my older boys just can't seems to keep their hands to themselves, I can say we have graduated to a stage in family life that we can survive mass without turning red in anger (or embarrassment), or having to pull children out of the pews. Most weeks. It isn't because of any magic parenting voodoo I perform. Quiet the opposite. I mentally check out to what is going on besides me and mentally check into what is going on before me. Because even once the children can sit in the pews, they are still super distracting. So I had to carve out special time and lay down some ground rules.

My older children have learned NOT to interrupt the Homily to ask mommy about what is for lunch (or whatever). They do NOT interrupt me when I am kneeling in prayer. And that is pretty much it.

"Are you more important than Jesus? Because you are interrupting and we were just talking"

"Did Jesus ask you to ask me that? Because I am pretty sure he inspired the priest to give us this homily and now I am missing it? Wait your turn."

Now every family is different and we can't check out mentally the whole mass, but having these two times as really sacred times in mass, when I can really be present, makes the rest of the mass much easier. I do the readings before we come because I get them sent to my email In-Box via Blessed is She each morning. I have already taken a few minutes to read and reflect before I even get out of bed. If I miss a little of the responsorial psalm because I am separating the boys (already!), then that is less of a big deal. If I have to take The Baby to the bathroom during the offering I am fine with that. If someone has kicked off her shoes, whatever, I really don't care. In the grand scheme of things it isn't worth getting worked up over.

I am here for Jesus & Jesus wants us (even the kids) to be here.

So relax. Take a deep breath. Go over the readings before you arrive. If you attend mass with a spouse talk about carving out your special time during mass when you really expect the children (and spouse) to not interrupt your time with God. With a little intentionality maybe you can learn to become really present in mass despite the commotions around you.

Thanks for stopping by!

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