You know the family. The one whose kids are being loud, dropping books, and eating noisily. The ones who you look at and think "I would NEVER let my children behave like that!" This particular family at my church was a woman with 3 or 4 small children and a baby.
I remember one day after Mass she asked me "How do you do it? How are your children so well behaved?"
I bit back a harsh "Because I discipline them" and simply shrugged, "oh, just lots and lots of practice!"
In the car I was smugly ranting about her children's misbehavior when my husband interrupted me. He reminded me of the time I had to leave Mass in tears because Rafael's two-year old tantrums were more than I could handle. I had forgotten about that. The guilt in distracting others from Mass and the embarrassment of being unable to control a completely irrational toddler who was acting out with kicks and screams.
After my husbands gentle reminder I started seeing this mother in a new light. I noticed the way she tried to engage them in Mass by explaining what was going on. Before I had been so annoyed by the urgent quiet whispers. Now I was inspired by her patience and obvious devotion.
I started to realize that just teaching my kids to behave during Mass wasn't enough. Bribery with donuts and threats of punishment, while effective, weren't teaching my children to truly LOVE Jesus and to LOVE the celebration of the Eucharist. I slowly started to incorporate her methods - quietly explaining certain parts of Mass when the children were getting fidgety or antsy. Before I would bribe them with donuts or threaten them with punishments. While effective for a time, blind obedience does not necessarily equate to them building their own spirituality and faith lives.
We developed a friendship of sorts. We were always both so busy herding children that we never had time for anything other than a few short pleasantries after Mass. But the exchanges were always genuine. I didn't know her situation or why she came to Mass on her own. One day she commented on my kids not having any toys or books and I shared that we had done it in the past and it always ended in the kids dropping books loudly or fighting over toys, or a million other tiny distractions. The next week she came without her usual bag of distractions and her children behaved beautifully.
Today she came to Mass with her husband. After Mass she gave me a huge hug and when she pulled away there were tears in her eyes. Her husband had been deployed and was back for a short furlough to move them all to England that week. We didn't even know each other, not really. But God put us in each others lives, however briefly, for a reason. I inspired her to expect more from her children and she inspired me to take the needle from my eye and instill a love for Jesus in my children.
I know I am not perfect; nobody is. But we ALL get caught up in thinking we are doing one particular part of life "right" and that others are doing it "wrong". This kind of thinking keeps us bogged down in inconsequential details when we really should be imitating Jesus and acting with kindness and compassion. I pray I continue to keep this lesson close to my heart!
Thanks for reading!