MaryBeth Eberhard ponders our need to model both good behavior at Mass and a good attitude about attending Mass for our children.
Do you have a child who hates going to Mass on Sunday? Do you dread sounding the “One hour till we leave for Mass alarm” because of the grumbling? Is there moping, grumbling, or sighing? Does the car ride feel like you are going to a funeral rather than to a celebration? In the interest of not sounding like an infomercial, let me explain. You are not walking alone. While the particular child rotates, this scene is an often-weekly event for me and many others and I am learning that perseverance, patience, and prayer are the keys to successfully navigating this stage of parenting.
This last Sunday, I woke up to a glimpse of fall’s arrival. The temperature had dropped and the brightness of summer was dimmed just a shade. At 5:30 AM, I quietly walked through the house, turning off the AC, opening the windows to let this manna pour into my home. You can picture me like Maria from The Sound of Music standing on my front porch with my hot cup of tea, in my robe, and my arms outstretched, spinning, singing, “the hills are alive!” My husband came out shaking his head at my antics and wrapped his arms around me and we enjoyed the gift God had given us. We prayed. We talked and then our children started to wake.
As they come down for a morning hug and their cereal, many of them plan out their morning knowing it is Sunday and Mass will be at 11 AM. We need to leave at 10:30 so I told them to plan their showers, clothing, and so on. There is, however, always at least one (please Lord, let it just be one …) who needs to sleep later, stayed up with a sibling watching a movie or read a book too late, or for whom Mass is just a struggle that the gentle reminder of our expectations can change the blissful fall morning into a winter storm in less than five minutes.
It only takes one person, and to be honest sometimes that person can be me—perhaps not as dramatic as a teenager, but if I dread Mass because of the conflict rather than anticipate the joy of worship, everyone’s spirits follow. When my heart is joyful and my spirit reflects that joy, they often look at me with wonder before, during and after Mass. What does she have that makes her so joyful? It is Jesus, children. Jesus!
So, what do we do? How do we stay committed to bringing our kids to Mass and raising them in the faith which we profess to be true? I don’t know if there is one right answer to this, and I always enjoy a good fleshing out of a difficult parenting moment, so perhaps this will stir up a good conversation. In our home we deal with this in different ways with different age groups. For the younger kids, there is an incredible book called King of the Golden City. It is typically used for first Communion preparation, but seriously I read it at least once a year. Its analogies are simple but very solid reminders of God’s desire to truly know us and love us. In the book, the main character’s largest enemy is Self. Self is the part of us that would rather sleep in, stay warm, do our its thing, and resist order. In the end, when we cave to Self, we are unhappy and feel regret and shame. Satan desires these moments. So in our family, we use this story with the younger kids typically up to the preteen years, altering our words of course, to offer compassion for the moment of wrestling.
With my youngest, I sit by her bed and say, “It sounds as if there is a battle to be had here. How can I help?” To those kids in between, when I remember to be patient (and there are many times I forget this and it goes south very quickly …), I might say, “Hey love, I know this is a struggle and your faith journey is just that a journey, but regardless, there are lessons to be learned here and I think it would really serve you well to think about what they are and what your response should be.”
As my young adult children grow, I want to tell you it is all roses because we have taught all these beautiful lessons over the years, but the truth is there are still moments of battle. I wonder if priests struggle? My gut says it is likely, because I know myself. I know that there are mornings, being quite vulnerable and honest, where I either don’t want to have to push through the challenge of everyone’s emotions or I am battling my own selfishness. So how do we handle the older ones? We support, we listen, and we live our life by example. Which means, we get ourselves to church.
Now this example is for those not under my roof. When I am joined at Mass by one of my young adult children, my smile radiates across the pew. I want to reflect not only the welcome that Jesus has for them in coming to receive Him and rest in His presence and worship Him, but also the Joy that doing all this together gives to my heart. My children know that they can skip the birthday presents or Mother’s Day gifts to instead just give Momma a beautiful Mass and her heart is overflowing with gratitude. I want to celebrate their good choices.
A priest friend of mine spoke at Mass the other day about the parental duty to get your kids to Mass and he was right in everything he said. The writer in me wanted to add one more thing, because I love a good addendum … remember to celebrate. Celebrate Mass. Celebrate their yeses as they throw on their polo and khakis (even if they have been in the laundry basket)! Celebrate the ones who come willingly, with open hearts. Celebrate the ones who come out of obedience and love. Celebrate the ones who are in the pews! Encourage them to persevere. Share your own struggle with Self and how you overcome that temptation.
What we live out by example—how we approach Mass, our body language in Mass, how we worship—will reflect its importance to our children. I find comfort and encouragement to persevere in this endeavor through Saint Augustine who shares, "Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you." May God be with us all on this journey!
Copyright 2022 MaryBeth Eberhard
Images: copyright 2015, 2018, 2019 Holy Cross Family Ministries, all rights reserved.
About the Author
MaryBeth Eberhard spends most of her time laughing as she and her husband parent and school their eight children. She has both a biological son and an adopted daughter who have a rare neuromuscular condition called arthrogryposis and writes frequently about the life experiences of a large family and special needs. Read more of her work at MaryBethEberhard.com.