If you don't regularly attend Mass with a toddler, then you probably have a fantastic spiritual life. You probably arrive to church on time or even early. You get to listen to the readings and homily. You don't just spout out responses from rote memory instead of a place of true spiritual understanding. You get to attend Mass without carrying Cheerios, an extra diaper and some sort of book about Jesus that you hope is interesting enough to keep someone's attention for an hour.

Or, maybe you do struggle with this stuff, because, well, we are all human and it happens.

Regardless of the reason, I think we all occasionally find ourselves in Mass thinking about anything but Mass. And, because this season of my life means that this happens to me more often than not, I have had to come up with a few ways to participate in Mass the best I can in hopes of providing some sort of example for my kids. After all, Matthew 19:14, right?

So, what do I do?

Pray for Passers-By

Communion is a hard time for us in Mass. Some people are sitting, some are kneeling, some people are getting up to walk in line. Some people sing, some are silent in prayer, and this is all incredibly distracting for a toddler - and therefore, me.

So, while I am looking around, I try to notice the people in the church. I look at their faces, their children, their emotions, and I simply ask God to bless them. If this is the only prayer I can manage during this time, then darn it, I'm doing it.

Repeat "Thank You" and "Help"

But, you know, that's not the only prayer I can manage. Sometimes I find myself just repeating the words "thank you" or "help". I might even just list my joys and concerns in litany fashion. The Lord knows my heart, and he knows what I need. I know my prayers are often feeble, but thankfully He is there to take care of the rest.

Go By the Book

I love when churches provide missals. I am already a visual learner, so I have a hard time focusing without something in front of my face. Having the readings in front of me gives me a guide to follow along with. I can also use it with my kids and run my fingers along the words as they are read. This works about 40% of the time... If the church I am visiting does not provide missals, there are other options: bring your own, download one on your phone (I am seeing this more and more), or read the readings ahead of time or afterwards.

What Are Your Tricks?

So, while I am in a time of my life where church is more about teaching another person how to behave and how to pray the Mass, I am not able to really immerse myself the way I tried to before children. These simple things might seem insubstantial, but they make all the difference in my experience.

What tricks do you have for participating in Mass when it seems impossible?

Copyright 2013 Jenna Hines