Suffer The Little Children

And they brought to him young children, that he might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them that brought them. Whom when Jesus saw, he was much displeased, and saith to them: Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter into it. And embracing them, and laying his hands upon them, he blessed them.

This incident of Jesus and the children is recounted in Matthew, Luke and Mark and has certainly helped me through many trials of motherhood.  In the past I’ve always quoted them to myself in high outrage after some grouchy curmudgeon has made my family unwelcome somewhere because of our kids.  I should say before I go on, we are a middling family as regards church behaviour.  Everybody stays in their pew and faces forward.  And they aren’t loud.  But my word the squirming!  Mass is one long stream of corrections being meted out amongst the four of them.  Then there’s the behavioural review on the ride home:

 “Next week we expect less squirming, no more asking how much longer it will be, kneel at kneeling time and stand at standing time…” etc etc etc.  

In the kids’ minds this comes down to “were we good enough for donuts?”

“HOW MANY TIMES MUST I TELL YOU YOU SHOULD NOT BE GOOD JUST SO YOU CAN GET DONUTS?!… but yes, yes you were.”  

No saints are we.  Yet my children are not little hellions either.  And really the times I’ve been truly bowled over by horrible people were times the children were blameless.  Like the mass where our 9 month old, just discovering the glory of his own voice, was babbling to himself.  We of course removed him to the vestibule immediately.  Through the doors of the church the faint sounds of bubbly baby laughter could be heard.  A man actually came out to chastise my husband in the vestibule, explaining: “God doesn’t want your baby here, your baby doesn’t want to be here and nobody else wants him here, you are ruining a beautiful and special mass.”  Whaaaaat?   He then left mass entirely despite it only being half done because clearly, his Sunday obligation was removed by the unbearable conditions.  Wow.

So yes, in the past I’ve seen these words as addressed to the meanies that hate kids.  Don’t make families unwelcome. God does, in fact, want them here.  But as I sit here, completely exhausted on a Sunday night, I have begun to see them as addressed also to me, and to other parents.  Since my husband deployed I mark time in Sundays.  Because Sundays are by far the hardest days.  I’m not talking about emotionally.  I’m way WAY to stressed and tired on Sundays to actually feel any kind of soft violin-playing-in-the-background-dreamy-I-miss-my-husband-montage feelings.  I just mean they are practically speaking really really HARD.  I begin thinking on Saturday about how we will possibly accomplish our trip to church.  Sometimes we go to the anticipated mass, because it’s at the best time for baby behaviour and because then the nightmare trip is over.  This is not how I like to think about church.

But there it is, I’ve got one child at that worst possible age where they truly believe if they scream and flail enough you will just give up and take them home.  If only that were true!  Meanwhile I have one child possibly old enough to sit and behave in church without his mother giving him The Look every few seconds, but certainly not old enough to control the other two younger ones.  So it’s all of us in a pew or none of us for now.  Every mass we attempt to enter the church.  Sometimes the baby goes off the moment we walk through the door.  Other times we may make it into a pew for a time.  Sometimes we make it to a pew, sit down and immediately spring up and leave again as the baby goes off just as we exhale.  Anyhow, the final score is ALWAYS Dulcie 1 Mum 0 as we all stand in a row in the back.  It’s much harder for the older children to behave back there.  It doesn’t really feel like they’re in church I think.  Anyhow it’s all disastrous and exhausting and not the least bit prayerful, except for the “Lord, give me strength” that I am praying continuously with, I assure you, deep and sincere fervour.

Why am I doing this?  Why don’t I just leave them all at home with a babysitter and go myself?  I probably will do this on occasion.  I think it would be nice to just bring the eldest and be able to pay attention a little bit for once.  Nothing wrong with leaving a baby at home or in the nursery now and then.  Still, now those words seem to be speaking to me.  I mustn’t hinder my children from coming to Him.  Even if a large part of the hindrance is the children themselves.  I can’t hinder them because they embarrass me or tire me.  I can’t hinder them by leaving them at home and I can’t hinder them by loading them up with handy distractions so that their bodies are at mass but their minds don’t have to be at all.  I can’t hinder them by failing to do my best to teach them how to behave and more importantly how to pray.  I can’t hinder them by using them as an excuse not to go myself.  Suffer the little children, and boy do I suffer.

They probably feel like they’re suffering too sometimes.  Since having children I have become newly grateful to my own parents for knowing that children belonged in church and always including us.  Now, as an adult I feel a strong sense of peace at church, funnily enough even while wrangling a pile of monkeys.  If there is one place where I know I’m home and one time in my life where I know I’m doing what I should be doing and everything is ok it’s Sundays at Mass.  There is one place you will always be welcome, always be loved, always be wanted and that is before Jesus.  Heaven help me I’m going to give that gift to my kids.  And afterwards, if they behave, maybe there will be donuts.

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8 Comments

Filed under Motherhood, Our Family, Religious Ramblings

8 responses to “Suffer The Little Children

  1. Deb Durocher

    Hmmm. I have been thinking about this a lot since I read it Cait. Mind you – I am coming from the perspective of a non-church goer (as an adult) and a non-supporter of organized religion. So in other words – from a place that is likely irrelevant. However, if I did believe in God (not sure I do) – I don’t think a God I believed in – would expect the little children – to come to him. I would expect him (assuming it is a him) to come to them – wherever they are. So, if you choose to add some peace to your Sunday, but spending some quality time at church with your older son – and leave your little ones at home with a babysitter until they are old enough to enjoy the experience – my kind of God would think that was perfectly okay. I think your kids are visited every day by my kind of God – in the love they share for you and each other. They don’t need to go anywhere to experience that. My (somewhat irreverent I suppose) – two cents……
    Keep writing – you are incredibly talented.

    • Not sure how comment replies work in terms of notifying the original commenter but I have written this and then two little extras underneath. I know what you mean Deb, and I can definitely see this would be the way I think many if not most non church goers would read it. And the God I believe in doesn’t make children or anyone come to him. Nor is he remote and expecting us to do all the work. Rather he is always waiting and calling for them with arms wide open. I can leave the kids at home and sometimes do. Definitely sometimes I need some quiet time with that God who has been waiting for me at church for as long as I can possibly remember. However if I were to always leave them at home, because they were inconvenient to me, because they are distracting and tiring sometimes, I’d be robbing them of something I treasure about my religion and my childhood. They don’t dislike going to church. They dislike being still for an hour sometimes 🙂 for sure! But church with Mum or better yet with Mum and Dad and their siblings is a part of our Sunday that is very special to all of us, both as a time of togetherness with God and with each other. My point wasn’t that I need to force them to go, but that sometimes I need remember how important it is to take them. I don’t know if it’s something that can be explained to someone not from a similar religion, but that’s the best I can think of to explain it.

      • Upon reflection I think it would be the line where I said they might think they were suffering too that gave the wrong impression. I was just being a bit flippant but perhaps it was ill chosen. To be clear, babies don’t particularly love Sundays always. Around 18 months when they are just itching to explore and chat it’s definitely tough for them. But other than that, while my kids don’t necessarily behave exactly how I would want them to behave. They enjoy our Sundays. It’s ME who wishes they’d be perfect Right Now and not in a few years and God who says, relax Mom, they’re just children being children.

      • Oh and you’re absolutely right that they encounter God every day and one of the ways is exactly as you say, in loving and being loved. My God doesn’t live only in a Church and only interact with us on Sundays. But that being said, the special encounter we have with Him there and then is important to us too, and a great gift. Sorry for three comments. Hope you don’t think it’s because I’m offended or trying to be pushy. I appreciate your comments because I do like to know how these things read to people who don’t entirely share my worldview. It’s constructive and good conversation is always a good thing 🙂

  2. Deb Durocher

    Hello! Absolutely appreciate the additional context. I have not been a practicing Catholic since I was 15, so certainly things will have changed since then. Happily it sounds like they have! Your kids are very lucky to have parents that are as thoughtful about these challenges as you and Mike obviously are. They sound like amazing small people – I hope we get to meet them some time! XXXOOO Deb

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  4. Stephanie

    I just read this on Catholic Exchange and wanted to comment.
    This time will pass! With 4 children born in 5.5 years, we had our hands full also, BUT my husband was with me and not deployed like yours. I recall the 30 minute mark at Mass, typically at the Consecration, when the behavior started to need discipline, and I was mortified this was happening at that special time. And when there were announcements at the end of Mass, they seemed to go on and on and I kept wishing they would end so we could leave in peace (or the recessional song had 6 verses!). Even having to sit in the middle of a row, and not an end, was a cause of stress for me. But this is a short time when you look back, and God wants your children there, and they need to be there. Keep it up! Even if more babies come, the older ones get ‘older’ and more helpful. Some things I learned: don’t correct every wrong behavior and keep looking ahead with minimal interaction, and tell your older children to do the same; see if sitting up closer to the altar works better (or not) for keeping their attention; take minimal things for them – maybe a soft book for baby/toddlers and missal for older ones, and nothing else as that becomes a distraction in itself; consider going to a daily Mass also as it is shorter and they get used to the sights and sounds and just going and being in God’s presence is lovely!

    • Thanks for the encouragement! Yes we learned with our first that the fewer things we brought the better it went. We started out with toys and snacks and now… Babies can fiddle with Daddy’s watch and that’s about it 🙂 I like the advice about less correction and more modelling of focus. I will keep that in mind!

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