It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost…

…Matthew 18:14

As longtime readers of this blog and my writing know, I’m a big advocate of including children in worship. But lately – as in for the past six months or so – I’ve either dreaded bringing my 2-year-old to Mass or simply avoided bringing her. My other girls both went through a difficult period in Mass, but it was brief and wasn’t nearly as embarrassing. They didn’t, for example, poop in their pants, attempt to scale the holy water font, or throw a tantrum when I told them I couldn’t nurse them.

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I could not figure out a way to go to Mass without bringing the whole gang with me due to my husband’s work schedule. So I loaded up the kiddos, packed along an arsenal of religious-themed books, and prayed that God would reward me for my noble efforts and not make Mass too traumatic.

Everything started out okay. Mary Elizabeth wasn’t too antsy or too loud, and Thomas was snuggled against my chest and snoozing peacefully. Then sweet Madeline whose intentions are almost always good asked Mary Elizabeth if she wanted to draw. Madeline had taken it upon herself to pack her own Mass survival kit, but she didn’t follow my rules of only bringing books to flip through*. She had crayons and little figures to play with stashed in her purse. I whispered, “Don’t give M.E. any crayons. You know how she is with crayons.”

Since you don’t know how she is with crayons, I’ll fill you in: Mary Elizabeth writes on just about everything but paper: her skin, her sister’s skin, toys, walls, clothes, counters. She prefers to work with more creative mediums rather than coloring on anything remotely related to pulp. I did not want her adding her graffiti to the pews or in the hymnals. I’m her mom so I appreciate the genius in her scribbles, but I doubt others would share my feelings.

Madeline apologized. “Oh, right,” she said. “Sorry.”

Then, “Here, M.E.. Play with some figures,” she whispered in her most nurturing voice.

“But we don’t play in Mass,” I hissed back.

“SCREEEECHHH,” M.E. screeched as 4-year-old Rachel tried to take one of the figures out of her hands.

“We don’t fight in church either,” I said.

Thomas woke up and grinned. Thank you, God, for that precious grin.

M.E. was now saying she was hungry and thirsty. Thomas cooed what sounded like, “Hi!”

“Thomas just said, ‘Hi!’” M.E. yelled.

“Shhhhh….” I said.

College kids were everywhere since we live in a college town, and I wanted to set a good example: To show them what a gift these noisy kids are. But I wasn’t feeling it. At all. This was no longer a Holy Day of Obligation. There was nothing holy about it. At that moment, Mass with four young children simply felt like a cumbersome obligation.

Yet, I kept thinking about a recent post over at Rosetta Stone. (I know I should have been paying more attention to Mass, but it was enough for me to be thinking about anything besides strangling my toddler.) Michelle wrote that, “Nothing compares to a three-year-old boy. Nothing.” I’m not going to start comparing who is harder – girls or boys. I loved what someone wrote after an older post of mine that wherever you’re at and whatever you’ve been given is probably the hardest for you. If God is trying to prune us and sanctify us through the vocation of parenthood, then it makes sense that He gives us just the kind of children we need – the kind that will push our buttons and throw us down to our knees and force us to realize that we cannot, absolutely cannot, do this on our own. We need Him. We need to keep a constant dialogue open with God throughout our days. Even when we find ourselves questioning everything about God – whether we’ll ever have a personal relationship with Him, whether He even really exists or cares deeply, profoundly about us and our children – we have to keep talking. We don’t have to pray like others pray. We have to pray as we pray. Sometimes we have to simply show up – and stay put once we’ve arrived even if every part of us is screaming to just go, escape, get the heck out of there before you or your child really loses it.

Will a three-year-old boy drive me further to the edge than my spunky M.E.? Time will tell. We’ll see soon enough now that I have a little man in our midst who will grow into that incomparable three-year-old boy, but right now, for me, nothing compares to a still-nursing-spirited-impish-two-year-old-girl. I ended up in the bathroom for a big part of Mass with said child just trying to keep her quiet. I didn’t want to bring her outside as we often do because then she thinks it’s playtime so why not scream for Mommy’s Milk? You may not get to nurse, but you’ll get to frolic outside. Woo-hoo!

As I sat breathing in a strong disinfectant and only hearing the murmur of the priest and unable to hear his Homily much at all, I thought that maybe I should just gather the kids and leave. What was the point?

Then I remembered more of Michelle’s wisdom: “Don’t quit. Retreat, yes. Surrender, never.”

When M.E. appeared settled down a bit, I bravely returned to the pew. I held my head high. I wanted to squeeze her into submission. Instead, I lavished her with love and patience. Madeline apologized again for giving her crayons and figures.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You were trying to help. You’re a great big sister.”

She smiled. Thomas kept smiling as well. He was hamming it up for two college guys kneeling behind us. They couldn’t help smiling back.

“M.E. pooped,” Rae whispered.

Not even a bum explosion was enough to make me surrender.

When it was time for Communion, my gang and I shuffled forward. They all received a blessing, and I got a taste of peace.

Back in our pew, I glanced down and noticed that M.E. had taken off her shoes and socks, so she had marched to the altar barefoot. Great, I thought, now I really look like the “old lady in the shoe who had so many children she didn’t know what to do.”

We survived Mass. I put M.E.’s shoes back on, and Madeline helped me gather all of our belongings. As we were leaving, a college girl crouched down and started talking to the girls asking them questions and smiling at them. Then she looked at me and said, “They were so good!”

Huh?

Maybe my vanity – my desire to look like I have it all together all of the time – blinds me to how well we’re all coping in Mass or otherwise. I don’t know. What I do know is I was grateful I stuck it out and didn’t surrender. As we were walking past a Marian shrine, Madeline asked, “Mommy, can we go say a prayer to Mary?”

My three girls, including Stinky Bum, knelt in front of Mary and looked up at her. The moment didn’t last long. Soon they were running around, screeching again, but I knew that we’d all received plenty of graces that day. What if I’d left? I would have been angry, resentful. We wouldn’t have stopped to say hello to Mary. My kids might have associated that day at Mass with anger and disappointment.

Later I was perusing a collection of Advent reflections written by Mother Teresa that our church had passed out for free, and the very first one I opened to said this:

“Let us bring the children to Mass. Do your best to get them there. If you have to run [after] for a child, do so. God in his infinite mercy may give light and grace to that child’s soul because of the trouble you took. Never lose sight of the mercy of God. Take the trouble to help the children to love the Mass, to know the meaning of the Mass, to join in the Mass through simple prayers and hymns. Be careful of the attitude you take while minding the children during Mass. Do not correct loudly. Keep your hands joined. Join in the prayers and singing. The children will do exactly what you do.”

Tears pricked behind my eyes. It is trouble taking kids to Mass sometimes. It’s downright stressful at times. Likewise, not everyone is going to dole out the kind of mercy God so freely gives. There will be raised eyebrows. There will be people who tell parents that we should not bring small children to church. An older woman recently talked about how more parents should spank when children misbehave in Mass because that’s what happened to her when she was young and she sat silently and would never move because she knew she’d get a whooping. Getting a whooping after worship? That just doesn’t jive with me. Maybe I’m a softy (others say I’m too hard on my kids), but I don’t want to make my kids behave in church out of fear. I want them to worship out of love.

I’ve had people comment after articles or blog posts I’ve written about bringing children to the table of the Lord say that kids don’t belong in Church and that it’s selfish and distracting to bring them. One fellow mother said parents should opt for a spiritual communion rather than attending Mass when the kids are little. Yet, if God’s plan for my family is to have little ones underfoot for a long time, then does that mean I stay away from Mass for years? What’s really selfish of me is to make it a habit of always leaving the children at home, to deny myself the opportunity to grow in grace and in patience by keeping my children in line in a loving way and by showing them that here is Love itself. I’m speaking for myself here, so please don’t feel judged if you’ve prayerfully decided to avoid taking certain children to Mass. I get it. I completely get it. I still won’t be taking M.E. every Sunday, but I do need to take her more frequently and to not worry so much about what others think of us.

I also have to remember that there will also be people like that young woman after Mass who encourage me. And there will be the Mother of all Mothers waiting to draw my children near. The children will do exactly what you do. Be firm but gentle. Fall on your knees and beg for the graces to keep bringing these small souls to the Lord. Not one of these little ones will be lost if it’s up to God. Personify love. Personify God.

Oh, and keep a sense of humor when your child imitates the Franciscan brothers at your church and approaches the Lord with naked feet.

*Please note: I am not judging you if you bring other items to Mass to keep your children’s fidgety minds, bodies, and hands busy. I’ve just found that books with spiritual images work well in Mass. I do occasionally allow my older child to draw, but she’s only allowed to create religious images. She’s drawn some pretty neat pictures of Jesus on the cross and Mary during Mass. These “rules” are what work for us.

Enter the Conversation...

21 Responses to “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost…”
  1. Mark S. says:

    Thank you, Kate, for this beautiful, yes beautiful, experience. I have 3 grown ones now but I remember Masses like yours and young families bring children to Mass in our parish. How great a blessing it is for all of us even though I know it feels like a load of trouble sometimes. We who share membership in the Body of Christ are enriched when little ones come and share the burdens with you as much as you are willing to let us. May God bless you and your family always.

  2. Julie says:

    Just what I needed to hear today! Thank you Kate!

  3. Nicole says:

    I remember writing about a trying time at Mass–it always seems that those times are the ones when someone will come up to our family and comment on how beautiful and well-behaved the children are. I wish I had a copy of that Advent collection! And your rules sound pretty good. I think if we’re ready to tighten up a bit; some similar rules would probably bear fruit for us.
    Nicole recently posted..A Ray of Sonshine in a Worldly World

  4. Melissa says:

    Just what I needed to hear! I too have a very spirited little girl. Our pastor always says that he welcomes cries or lively children at Mass because it means someone chose life. I hope you all are having a blessed Advent!

  5. I echo the above. Definitely what I needed today when I can honestly say I was not at my best or even least best. Your Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception sounded a lot like mine. I usually take my two youngest, 4 and almost 2 to daily mass Thursdays, it is a shorter mass so we can usually get through it, though I always hold my breath and seem to do much reminding and giving directed stares that speak words throughout the mass, especially when they can’t make it 30 minutes without having an emergency potty situation. I always leave feeling like we shouldn’t have come, that we are a distraction to the childless crowd that is there for a nice, quiet daily mass. But to my surprise no matter how I find that my children utterly were a distraction, people, particularly the elderly, stop by our pew as I am gathering our things and smile, saying what a great job they did and how they are very precious. They always run up to the priest and give him a high five after mass and I often realize that I don’t see their beauty as I am trying to make them act perfect and that the presence of our children at mass is the most beautiful reminder of God’s love and our love in return. On Sunday, various people have come up to my husband when not in his presence and said what a delight it is to see me and the girls at mass on Thursdays. So now, when I have a zillion reasons not to attend on Thursday, I actually go because I feel that they are expecting us. Perhaps they are just being nice, or perhaps they know a lot more than I do. I will go with the latter.

  6. Even though my children are older I can so relate to this experience. Most husband has been on the altar for most of the last 7 years. He was just ordained as a Deacon this past June but he started the program when my youngest was just 1 year old. As the wife of a future deacon I had very high standards for the kids. Mind you they do not live up to those standards, even at 13, 11, and 7 I get I want to sit next to mom and she hugged me too hard at the sign of peace. Then my husband will hear me snap my fingers and he will know that the kids have gotten in trouble. Our only relief now is that my husband was reassigned to the Cathedral and most people do not know us, but when we sit with other families who have more kids and they are quiet I bow my head in shame.
    As for your son, my son was number 3 and has been the easiest by far all around not just during mass. (Though he did flirt with all the Grandmas around us).
    Lisa @Granola Catholic recently posted..7 Quick Takes

  7. Vanessa says:

    This is one of the most encouraging posts I have read in a long time. Thank you for writing this! I have a two year old and a 4 month old. My two year old is a handful at Mass…especially the times I have to go by myself due to my husband’s work schedule. What a great challenge you have given me….to grow in grace and patience with my children and teach them to love the Mass. Thank you again!

  8. Katherine says:

    Beautiful.

    I have to admit, as I was reading, I wasn’t half so frustrated with M.E. as I would have been with her older sister. We don’t allow crayons or toys in Mass either and bringing them would have been a capital offense for me. But, regardless, it doesn’t change the truth that, even when our kids exasperate us, we need to be a light for them to follow. Thank you so much for such a beautifully reflective and encouraging post. Little ones are so not easy. It is posts like this that keep me reading blogs. Motherhood can be a challenge sometimes and encouragement like this can make a big difference in how we handle those challenges. God Bless you.

  9. Liz says:

    Inspiring as always. :)

  10. I am 100% of the opinion that children can only learn to love and respect the Mass if they go to Mass. Our third child is our most difficult and I thought the day would never come that we could sit with him peacefully during Mass. We opted to allow him to play with cars and eat granola bars (except during the consecration) just so he would be quiet and not distract the other parishioners. Now, at the age of 4.5, he has suddenly outgrown his ridiculous antics and sat through a two and a half hour Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe last week. Two and a half hours! Not a single book, nor toy, nor beverage, nor snack. It was an Advent miracle!

    Every mother fights a unique battle for the soul of each of her children. If we can remember that, we’ll all be able to lift each other up during these ‘hard years’.
    Dwija {House Unseen} recently posted..7 Quick Takes Friday: Inappropriate toddlers and my 2 seconds of fame

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Kate,
    Wonderful post! And just as a word of encouragement, I too have an easy boy. He’s always been easier than the three girls:). Although, our fifth is a five month old boy so who knows what he’ll be like!:-)

  12. ViolinMama says:

    Hey! I posted this pretty much as my status on the Feast of the Immaculate conception, and Kris posted there the link to Michelle’s blog, which I so needed. I luckily knew being there mattered with my 3 kiddos, but you do feel like A Holy Day of Obligation becomes a Parental Day of Obligation lol. So, reading Michele’s post, and now this one…makes me so grateful to the Body of Christ for welcoming my children. That goes for those who don’t welcome our wiggly children to Mass, since as you told us once, the Body of Christ and the community of saints believe for others when they don’t or can’t believe.

    That goes for the woman who glared at me across the aisle during the Penance service (I did not know her) at hearing Valiant whisper loudly at the high ceiling of the church. She glared before Valiant or Gift REALLY let loose lol!

    Love you! Bless you!!
    ViolinMama recently posted..Our session yesterday.

  13. The Lord has blessed you with a deep love for Him that is fueled all the more by your love for your husband and children. He has always known how best to sanctify, purify, and test you. God knew what He was doing when He made children so downright adorable, because He knew they would test every single one of our virtues, morals, ethics, and ideas. My husband and I usually smile, even laugh when we hear a little one chattering or cooing during Mass. Jesus wants the little children to come to Him, even the stinky ones;) Others might not understand or be able to appreciate your challenges when it comes to taking young children to Mass, but certainly the Mother of God understands your plight and dearly loves each one of you.
    Trisha Niermeyer Potter @ Prints of Grace recently posted..7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 29)

  14. Kris says:

    Don’t you just love the comment by the college student? We are always convinced that our kids are WAY worse than they really are. Sometimes we need to look through the eyes of others. And remember how we would look on a mother in the same situation – not with condemnation, but with love and a spirit of solidarity and “been there, done that!”

  15. Sheila says:

    Oh, that feast day was a cross for us, too. We went together to the 7 a.m. Mass, figuring it would be the shortest and still leave time for my husband to get to work on time.

    We walk in and it’s an Extraordinary Form. With all the bells and whistles, except none of that peace-inspiring chanting by the choir. You could have heard a pin drop. There were other kids there, but no babies or toddlers. I wanted to ask, “Why did we not get the memo that this was going to be the super-long, super-quiet Mass?!” We got some stares. Meanwhile the guy behind us had a cold, but didn’t want to cough, so he kept clearing his throat over and over. I found it kind of annoying, but tried to tune it out. But my toddler started IMITATING it! The poor guy must have noticed, because he went out into the vestibule. I felt awful.

    We dashed out as soon as communion was over, which I did feel bad about, but it had been almost an hour already, the toddler was going nuts, and my husband was late for work. >sigh< That was the most obligatory-feeling day of obligation ever.
    Sheila recently posted..Sometimes, I’m frankly terrified

  16. Maggie says:

    As a first-time mother to a toddler who has discovered his voice during Mass I REALLY appreciate this post! Joe goes from pointing excitedly to a statue of Jesus to biting me and my husband! I don’t think I’ve paid attention to a homily in about 2 months!
    Maggie recently posted..Be Kind. Be Compassionate.

  17. Kathy says:

    If you really want to teach your little children how to behave at Mass so they are respectfully quiet for others present, take them to Adoration or just to the church when no one else except Jesus in the Holy Tabernacle is there. Several of these teaching sessions with time spent in front of Jesus, who is just as real for the little ones there as He is at Mass, will reap great benefits when they are brought to Mass. You can even instruct the children about the Mass in the quiet church much better than you can when you want to be assisting at Mass yourself and are distracted by worries of your children disturbing others.

  18. Jennifer G. says:

    Thanks for those encouraging words. :)

  19. MamabearJD says:

    Thank you. Thank you for this post! I’ve been struggling to get us all there!

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