This past Sunday, we walked into mass 10 minutes late.

We did the awkward “thank you” wave to the couple who had to slide further into the pew to make room for our family of five.

I helped the kids take off their coats before lifting my 2-year-old onto her dad’s lap and handing hymnals to my 4- and 7-year-olds.

Once everyone was set, I took a deep breath and settled into my own portion of the pew. It’s typically the moment that my first prayer is to ask God to allow me to enjoy mass without one of my three kids making a scene—but in this one, I thanked Him instead.

I thanked Him for bringing us there. I thanked Him for helping me push past that inner voice that for weeks had been telling me the stress of getting through mass with three young kids wasn’t worth it.

But this week felt different, and I wanted Him to know I felt the gratitude.

When the final song played, I recognized what a beautiful mass it was. My oldest had been intent on her prayers, my middle man loved reading his “Story of Christmas” book, and my toddler brought smiles to the people around her with her peekaboo antics around my shoulder. I was even able to be present enough to spend several minutes with my eyes closed in prayer.

As we turned to exit the pew at the end of mass, an older man who had been sitting behind us put a hand on my shoulder.

“Your children did so well in mass today,” he said.

They were eight words that hit my ears, and caused a lump to form in my throat.

It had been a while since we’d been to mass.

Over the last couple of years, I have been struggling with taking our young kids there. There were so many Sundays when I couldn’t focus on anything besides what the people around us were thinking as a toddler melted down, or as my son climbed under the pews and touched people’s feet, or as my daughter had a screaming match with her little sister over a book right before I noticed the feet-toucher was now escaping down the aisle. 

I specifically remember a Christmas Eve mass when the oldest was four, and our new baby was just three weeks old. All three of them wanted me, were hanging on me, and were using their voices to let everyone know they were unhappy that they had to share me.

I simply sat there and cried. 

I was exhausted. I felt guilty our scene was interrupting the prayers of the people around me and was frustrated that I couldn’t focus on my own. But mainly, I wondered when God was going to hear me and give me the peace I so desperately needed when I was within His walls.

It got to the point that my anxiety and my fear of judgement couldn’t handle it anymore, and I justified not going to mass as much. My mind couldn’t even be focused on what I was there to do anyway, so what was the point?

But as the Sundays passed, the empty feeling of not being close to God was strong. I felt lost and imbalanced, and knew I had to find a way to keep fighting to get there.

Eventually, I embraced that going to church wasn’t about perfection, or worrying about what people thought. 

It was about showing up. It was about trying. It was about the act of choosing to get in that pew and use those tough moments of wrangling my kids in it as a reminder of why I needed God in my life.

Why I need His patience. Why I need His grace. Why I need Him to show me the areas I need to grow.

So when that man laid his hand on my shoulder this week, I knew God was using him to put an exclamation point on his message, and show me that He had heard my prayer all these years when I thought He hadn’t. 

When I thought He wasn’t paying attention to my cry for help as I chased my 3-year-old down the aisle with all eyes on me. When I questioned why I couldn’t feel His presence as I walked my kicking-and-screaming toddler to the cry room for the second time.

He was there all along, and was going to answer my prayer all along, but He knew I needed MORE than just some peaceful moments in mass.

He knew I needed to work on my patience. He knew I needed to stop caring about what others thought and instead focus on my own faith and my own family. He knew I needed reminded that I can’t just show up for Him when it’s easy, and that I have to fight even in the tougher seasons of life.

So this week, when He saw me not say “just forget it” when we were walking out of the house late . . . when He recognized I wasn’t concerned about what the congregation thought of our tardy entrance . . . when He heard my prayer of thanks at the beginning of mass . . . when He saw me choosing to show up and be open to the experience . . . 

He knew I heard his bigger message, and that it was time to show me He had heard mine all along, too.

And while I know the kids won’t always be on their holiest of behaviors at mass, and I won’t always be perfect in fighting that Sunday morning temptation to sleep in, I do know God is with me all the way.

Ready to help me learn, and ready to help me grow in ways I didn’t realize I needed.

All on His own time, and within His own plan.

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Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, speaker and photographer who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. Through her work, she aims to empower people to overcome their fears and insecurities and live their truth. She and her husband raise their three children in Pittsburgh, PA.