I saw you there last weekend in the pew near us. Your 2-year-old child was testing her boundaries during the priest’s sermon. You did everything you could. You had carefully packed Cheerios in a spill-proof container. You had books and quiet toys and a diaper bag full of tricks. But, on this day, nothing seemed to work. She cried. She wanted to leave the pew and run out the door. I saw the look on your face, and I remembered just a few years back when I was in your shoes.
The first time we brought our tiny newborn baby to church, I was terrified of any peep he might make. Little did I know that the newborn stage was easy in church. Fast forward a few years later when our 2-year-old threw his toy car, hitting the man in front of us, during the packed Christmas Eve Mass. A few more years later, and our little blessings, ages 1, 2 and 6, made every Sunday Mass feel like a wrestling match we could not win. I seldom heard a word of the priest’s carefully planned message. As the end of Mass neared, our pew looked like a litter-strewn football stadium after the big game.
I dreaded each Sunday Mass, and I remembered thinking, “Why do we even bother?” I don’t hear one word of Mass, the kids certainly can’t be getting anything out of this. I lobbied for a reserved seat for families with young children in the back of church. My daughter’s Godmother even went to bat for us helping me with the cause. The priest suggested we sit in the front, and maybe the kids would behave! I tried it a few times, and it did not work until they were a little older, but I do admire the families I see today who are able to pull off the front pew with as many as six little ones!
I know my close friends struggled as well. We laugh now about the son of one of my best friends who yelled, “Don’t spank me, dad,” as his father was lugging him out of church down the center aisle.
But, now my children have reached the age of reason (well somewhat), and at ages 10, 11 and 15, they can finally sit quietly during Mass (as long as they are strategically sitting with parents between them to prevent the sister germs from spreading to the brothers). And, I see the families enduring the wrestling matches now, and I just want them to know that their efforts are well worth the time.
I hope you see in my eyes and in the eyes of the entire congregation a sense of welcome and understanding. If you receive any glares, don’t take offense because the people glaring are the ones who most need to be in church so that their hearts may be open and loving again. Because what a blessing it is to have the sound of babies, toddlers and young children echoing throughout church! It gives hope that a family of believers will continue into the future. The temptation to stop joining in your family of believers just because of the short-lived weekly wrestling match may turn into a habit if you let it.
So from a mother on the other side of the wrestling match, I tell you there is hope! Bring those little ones to church, and let them sing!