Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mass with My Boy: A Reason for Prayer, Trust and Reaching Out

The other day a piece called “Four Tips for Surviving (and enjoying!) Church Services with Your Children” caught my attention.   To be honest, any tips others are willing to share about how to make church a more prayerful and reverent experience even with young children in the pew are of high interest to me.  When such strategies include ideas for helping unique kids make it through Mass with greater ease, they become doubly attention-grabbing.  Thus, I dove into the article and its comments.

I Am Not Alone
One comment, in particular, moved me It was from a man named Brian who explained that “my wife and I face the unpalatable scenario of worshiping separately alternative weeks. I have pondered quitting church altogether but I love the Lord. I’m lost and hurting and the trouble is that (our son with autism) is more than I can handle most days and I have endured a river of stress and sorrow.”   As I read his comment, my heart both sang and cried.  It sang because I could sense the Holy Spirit working in this man even through his struggles.  It cried because I empathized with his pain and share some of it.
I have mentioned here, but have not fully shared before, how difficult Mass can be with my children.  My eldest son has been reasonable at Mass for the past few weeks, but let’s just say many folks that don’t know my husband and my name know our son's name.  Indeed, over the years, our oldest boy has been known to call out, to put his fingers over his ears and to complain loudly at the “alleluia” chorus, to escape our pew, to run up to the altar and even to run a lap around the inside of the church with an usher and parent trying to head him off, as he goes for the door. 

Challenging can be an understatement when it comes to our family making it through Mass with peace and prayer.  Yet, we persist in going every week, and, in doing so, I remain confident that we are all receiving grace as I trust that God will draw straight even with the crooked lines our boy runs through the church with at times.
It Isn't Always Easy, But It IS Always Blessed
Trust me, even with great faith in God's grace, participating in Mass through the years has been arduous at times and we have tried many strategies to make Mass more meaningful, or at least more tolerable, with our eldest child (and his siblings, who are more reasonable, but sometimes tempted to follow Brother's suit).  Nibbles of food, coloring, small toys and fidgets, books, hugs and squeezes, using a Time Timer, taking children to the back, taking them outdoors, ignoring our eldest, allowing him to see me cry…  Some of these strategies have “worked” for a minute, an hour, a few weeks.  Others have not worked at all.  Nothing to date has completely and consistently quelled our seemingly Mass-adverse boy.
Thus, there have times when I have wanted to give up.  There have been those when Mass has been more frustrating and divisive for my husband and I than it has been prayerful.  And, occasionally – very occasionally – there have been weeks when I have gone to Mass alone or taken only my younger children.  But, that never lasts more than a week or so.
Why? Because I whole-heartedly believe that my oldest son needs to be at Mass, even if it appears that he does not get anything out of it and that he "takes away" from others around us being able to participate fully.  For, when push comes to shove (sometimes literally), the Lord never fails lets me know my choice is on target.  He gives me just the right fortification I need to keep and to practice faith.  

Through the smile and support of a family member, friend or stranger, through conversations overheard between my son and daughter, through a week of respite when my son actually stays calm… the Lord helps me to remain strong in my commitment to grow in faith with my children
My Hope in Sharing
Part of that commitment, as I see it for myself, is to testify – to share parts our story in order to inform, encourage and, perhaps, inspire others. So, today, I take a leap of faith by explaining this all here, and, as I do, I hope that:
  • local parishioners and clergy who have helped and encourage my family during our tougher weeks at Mass will understand how much their smiles, comments and even quick-catches-of-my-son are appreciated.
  • those who are inclined to offer only judgmental looks or well-intentioned, but not helpful advice, will chew on some food for thought:  Sometimes a “poorly disciplined” child at Mass is actually one who is coming to terms with the unique neurological profile that God created him or her with and the child’s parents are trying to do the same.  Be gentle.
  • clergy and lay people at every church may be convicted to provide extra support and encouragement for families with uniquely-wired kids and “invisible” disabilities.   Welcome such families; encourage them to keep coming back; even offer accommodations as needed when possible.
  • others parents challenged by less-than-quietly reverent children will know that you are not alone.  You may feel you are, but you are not.  There are others, like us, who understand your challenges.  Plus, there God, who gifted you with your child and also offers you the grace to best parent him or her, is always present.

Be Encouraged
I wish I could close here by offering some concrete tips for parents like Brian and me, but I have yet to hit upon a mix of strategies that consistently works.  Thus, in closing, I would simply like to suggest three things that keep me going:
Prayer, trust and reaching out.
I encourage everyone to keep doing all three. 
God will send His ears, eyes, hands and thoughts through the Spirit working in you and others as you need them (even if not with the speed you might desire them).  Trust your faith and trust the fact that your child is exactly the gift God meant for him or her to be.  He will grant you the grace to best keep opening that gift to the world and to Him.  You are sanctified even as you struggle.
Know that I am praying with you and alongside you and that I lift up each of us – parents, siblings, fellow parishioners, clergy and the special children who struggle to worship as we do – in prayer. May a series of Spirit-led moments bring each us greater peace.


 If a child in your life seems mass-averse, how do you handle it? 

Please feel free to share your challenges, successes, frustrations and joys regarding special needs children and Mass participation. 


Elisa said...

Thank you for sharing your story and compassion in this post. My youngest has also covered her ears during mass at times and other times complained loudly about wanting to go home. She also pulls my hands apart when I pray sometimes. Even so, we persist in attending mass, and I even take her to adoration on occasion. In fact, the last time we attended Children's Adoration, she started running around the church, so we went outside where she could run around the courtyard.

God gives each of us unique challenges and gifts. For some, those challenges include learning to appreciate the peace of mass, and for others, learning to focus on the mass despite distractions.

Martianne said...


It is good to hear another mom describing what I know so well. I love the way you put it: God gives each of us unique challenges and gifts. For some, those challenges include learning to appreciate the peace of mass, and for others, learning to focus on the mass despite distractions.

Mama Pickles said...

My son too has trouble dealing with sensory overload at Mass. We actually don't attend Mass at the parish we live in anymore. The people there were not understand at all. We returned to the parish I grew up in and they are so amazingly open and welcoming. My son has visual processing issues which require us to sit in the front pew, but this puts us way to close to the organ. My son already has a pair of sound dampening muff that we use at school or out in the community so we decided to try using them at Mass. I explained to the pastor why my son was wearing them and he had no problems with it. Wow. What a difference. Of course he still has problems sitting for long periods of time. Before Mass we stop in the coat room and jump up and down 15 times. Sometimes we have to leave during Mass. We go jump and return to our pew. A few parishioners have said something to me, but I just explain why my son acts the way he does. One lady after she learned about my son's issues goes out of her way to find us and compliment him if he has done well. I can only hope our new pastor this summer continues to be this open and welcoming to people with disabilities. But we still do have Sundays that are beyond horrible and make me wish we had just stayed home in bed.

Mama Pickles said...

Oh, I forgot. The blog Is There Zuccini in This? posts weekly coloring pages that go along with the week's gospel reading. I print those and bring them with for both of my sons to color during Mass.

Martianne said...

Ooo. Mama Pickles. Thank you for the link. That will really help.

Tommy, Melissa, Gregory said...

Oh my gosh! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I got your comment and not only to I get to read you on SPD blog I now see yours and will follow. And I think we're both Christians which is just awesome! Lets be in touch. Hugs.


Karen said...

I know I have shared with you the comment made to me - in front of the whole church during Mass - by our former priest: "Sit back down with that baby! You are doing what you are supposed to do: bring the children to God. Everyone else will have to grow up and learn to focus around the noise"

Embarrasing moment to be sure, but one that stuck with me for 18 years.

We have brought all 6 of our children to Mass from the Sunday after they were born to when they become old enough to get there on their own. Sometimes not easy ("is he done talking yet?" "THIS IS BORING (usually yelled during consecration!)) and sometimes funny: such as when my son started singing the Alleluia during the consecration and then loudly proclaimed: I AM SINGING TO GOD! when we tried to quiet him. A good lesson, I thought.

Our job as parents is to bring our children to God. And the corollary job is to encourage those parents who are having a tough time doing that.

Many times I will say something to a parent about how nice their child was during Mass, or offer encouragement for a parent of a loud child. We have all felt discouraged at one time or another, sometimes, as our children get older, we forget - we were there too!

Thanks for the reminder to encourage other parents!

Blessings and prayers for you

Laura said...

Martianne, thank you! Thank you for this very heartfelt post.

We have two sons who live with autism. Mass often times feels like a chore. It is good to know that other parents continue to not only persevere, but to do so with a joyful heart.

I also teach religious ed to my sons and 6 other children with special needs. I will be passing this along to their parents.

God keep you,

Martianne said...

Karen~Thank you for your story, thoughts, support and prayers.

Laura~So glad this was helpful to you and that you know others it might be of interest to. Kudos to you about the religious ed class you teach. I may be reaching out to you for some pointers in the years to come and would welcome a guest post here if you ever want to share.


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