I walked into the Sunday evening Mass a few weeks ago with quite the ragtag group of little boys. I had been in and out of the house all day and got home just in time to change out of my weekend workout clothes for Mass. So I paid a little less attention as to what exactly my boys were wearing. As I parked the van and we joined hands to walk across the parking lot, I realized one had stains from his earlier snack all down his pants. Another one was wearing a shirt that he had obviously outgrown, evidenced by the faint line of stomach sticking out from the bottom. And the third had his shoes proudly on the wrong feet. I won’t even mention the combination of plaids, stripes, and old Halloween socks that they had put together when told to “go and put on something nice for Mass.” Looking at them as we walked into church, I hung my head a little. I felt so unprepared.
As we walked into the main part of the church, one of the four-year-olds whispered loudly, “Can I have my cereal yet?” I shushed him as we tried discreetly to file into a pew. Sitting down, he whispered again, “Now, Mommy?” I sighed as I quickly pushed small bags of cereal into the boys’ hands, thinking in response to a question no one had actually asked, I know, I know—they are getting too old for this. Finally feeling everyone was settled, I turned my attention to the opening song and tried to prepare my heart for Mass. It wasn’t long before I noticed a scuffling next to me in the pew. One brother was leaning hard on the other brother as they both tried to stifle their laughter. “Get away from one another!” I hissed as my eyes darted quickly to those in the pews around me.
Mass with little ones can be so uncomfortable sometimes, and I wonder if I am distracting from the experience of those around me by bringing them at all. But then one will try to imitate my movements by kneeling next to me, or another will strain his neck to see what’s happening up on the altar, and I feel like I have a privileged front-row seat as they begin to figure it all out. In between begging for pens and shoving cereal in his mouth last week, one of my four-year-olds paused and said, “Mommy, did you know Jesus died for us?” I breathed in that moment and thought, Let me hold onto this.
As a parent, I can often get swept up in the details, particularly during a stressful time of year like this one. I can start to focus on all the things going wrong, like misfitting shirts and stained paints, instead of more precious moments, like when I paused to see all three of my sons watching me with wonder in their eyes as I walked up that Sunday to receive the Body of Christ.
It is so difficult to remember that life is not about perfection. Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, once said:
We will never win the Olympics of humanity, racing for perfection, but we can walk together in hope, celebrating that we are loved in our brokenness: helping each other, growing in trust, living in thanksgiving, learning to forgive, opening up to others and welcoming them, and striving to bring peace and hope to the world.
My prayer for all of us this holiday season is that we may walk together—as our imperfect human selves—moving ever forward in hope.