Preschooler: Church is so quiet and peaceful. There are no worries.
A brief pause…
Preschooler: But sometimes it’s a little boring.
Honesty is a virtue, right?
In all seriousness, how should I respond to my little one’s honesty? (Advice is welcome!) I don’t want to force feed her faith to the point that it becomes a chore instead of a great gift. Nor do I want to place unfair expectations on her. (She’s only 4).
On this particular occasion, I decided to share with her (she’s heard this one before and she’ll hear it again and again) the greatest love story of all time – the one starring Jesus, the action-packed saga that conveys a theme of sacrificial love and redemption found in suffering. Then I told her that we become a part of that story and show our thanks to Christ by going to church, by gathering at his table, and by partaking in the breaking of the bread.
She smiled at all of this and resumed perfecting a doodle she’d been concentrating on when we had our impromptu heart-to-heart.
I know it didn’t completely sink in. Let’s face it: It doesn’t always (ever?) really sink in with me. In fact, there are many, many times when the mystery of it all seems out of my cerebral grasp. Why did Christ have to die to save us? How could anyone love a sorry bunch of humans that much?
Yet, sometimes I expect too much from my children. I forget the path to holiness is not straight or easy. Saints aren’t born perfect. They’re born sinners like the rest of us, and they face the same struggles and weaknesses we do. But they kept at it and they loved Christ with the openness of a child. And that’s just it: My children are very open to discovering their faith. I have to help them along on their journey and not always to be so quick to criticize or to simply jump to unfair conclusions.
I had a lesson in being faithful to my children two Sundays ago. The aforementioned 4-year-old, who was being particularly fidgety and whiny during church, started to cry after Communion. I immediately assumed her tears were the result of her not getting much sleep the night before and in part, I think they were.
I was frustrated that she had boycotted sleep and that now I was suffering for it. I grabbed her arm (resulting in further tears) and steered her toward our pews. I was not the picture of peace. I think I may have even been grimacing. Instead of driving me to compassion, her sniffles irked me.
Then it was my reaction to her sadness irking me. There were a whole lot of irked feelings going on when I should have been feeling renewed. Here I was so close to the Lord, and I was already losing my footing and thinking more about me and how I wished my kids would just be still and not get antsy and just, well, not act like they were 4 and 2. (Thankfully, I cut babies plenty of slack but even so M.E. is the easy one these days since she usually sleeps for most of the celebration.)
When we slid back into our pew, I knelt to pray and put my one free arm around my child. She curled close as silent tears continued to trail down her face. She was doing everything in her power not to make any noise, but the tears would not stop coming. I should have shown her some mercy, but I was craving a peaceful post-Communion prayer and also was way too worried about what others around us were thinking about my child (she’s not always this whiny, I swear!) and my parenting skills (or lack thereof). So, in my vanity, I whispered a bit too harshly, “What’s wrong? Are you just tired? I’m sorry you’re so sad, but please try to pull yourself together.”
Not my best mothering moment.
Her reply came, softly, “I’m crying because I didn’t get blessed at Communion.”
I’ll qualify this with saying I’m fairly confident it wasn’t a manipulative tactic. I strongly suspect my little one was being truthful because there have been other times when she hasn’t been blessed during the Eucharist, and she’s always visibly hurt. As much as Mass can sometimes be boring in her microcosm, there’s a big part of her that wants to be a part of the celebration; she wants a part of that great love story I told her about. With God’s grace and counsel from the Holy Spirit, I pray I can help all my children understand their part in God’s story.
How? By encouraging them. By feeding them bits of faith bite by bite, day by day. By introducing them to the saints. By gently guiding them and being a good teacher who is long on patience and short on lectures. By recognizing that while children are small on the outside, they are filled with great treasures. By always remembering that it isn’t so much what I say but what I do that will leave a lasting impression on the hearts and quite possibly the souls of my children.
I didn’t live up to my expectations on this particular Sunday. I was impatient and too focused on myself and what others thought of me as a mother instead of how my child might be feeling. I knew it as soon as my child whispered through her sniffling why she was sad. Perhaps next time I’ll recognize it sooner and will think before I react.
I would do well to give my children the benefit of the doubt, to be more forgiving of them when they stumble (they certainly forgive me without so much as a second thought when I’m not in top form). My sweet girl may sometimes find all this religious stuff a tad boring, but sometimes she surprises me by so clearly seeing the Truth. I should give her a little more credit. It’s important I recognize that my children’s faith is both real and fragile. Their natural faith can be developed – or destroyed. Careless words and actions can crush their spirits. That’s why I must be careful to not be too harsh and to not expect too much too soon. It’s also why I must approach my children with the same confidence I’d love them to have in God. If I really want to pass down the faith to my children, then I ought to start by having a little more faith in them.