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.