Years ago a friend of ours, Natalie, came to see us on a long weekend. She is a teacher at a school in northern Michigan. At that time our oldest daughter was around 2 and Norah, our youngest, was a happy thought waiting to happen years down the road. When Natalie stopped by, she brought her oldest son and her 2 young twin boys who were less than a year old. We had a great day of playing around the house, eating pizza, and holding the babies.
That afternoon the kids all took naps and we had some quiet time to chat. We asked how school was going, what her husband was up to, etc. At one point the conversation turned to the last time she went to church. She told us she was having a hard time making it each week because her husband was working every weekend, which left her alone to get everyone ready and into church on time.
On the last occasion she made it, she got all the kids in and seated. Not long into the service, however, the kids started to have some trouble. She had a couple of upset babies and a 3-year-old son who was distracting himself by playing on the pews. She told us she got a little frazzled and tried her best to rein everyone in by holding 2 babies and kicking the other one back into place. Eventually the people in front of her turned around and one of them said, “Can’t you control your kids!” As if she weren’t trying. As if she wasn’t clearly having a hard time. As if there could have been nothing easier or more simplistic than to look at your children with a gentle smile and say, “Oh dearest children of mine, do kindly stop your whimpering and fussing and allow the nice people to listen in complete silence.”
Natalie looked at us as her eyes began to fill, even weeks after the fact, and said, “I got the kids together and walked out.” I do not blame her one bit. She was so hurt. After all the effort she went through to get everyone ready and into church on time, by herself, her only thought afterwards was, “You couldn’t turn around and ask, ‘can I help you?’”
I have never forgotten her emotion and sadness in all the years that I have continued to work for the church.
Haven’t we all been part of the scenario in a store, either as a participant or an observer, where a child has a breakdown because you wouldn’t let them hold the bottle of wine you are purchasing, or you wouldn’t buy for them the set of steak knives that they inexplicably desire, or any other of a million things that set kids off for no apparent reason. It’s tough. Sometimes we just continue about our shopping as though the scene were not happening at all. Other times we give a sympathetic or affirming head nod to the parent trying to deal with the situation. Maybe we have even walked away in disgust or thrown a dirty look.
I look at the situations of Natalie or any of the millions of parents in the grocery store scenario and try to remember that I have no idea what is going on in lives of other people. Imagine if the person in front of our friend had turned to ask if they could help with the babies so she could deal with her toddler. Imagine what Natalie’s reaction would have been had someone offered to sit next to her and assist with occupying her oldest son. She would have walked out of church overjoyed by the kindness of the people around her. The feeling of welcoming and acceptance would have meant more to her than anything that could have happened during the service.
When we see someone struggling in church or in our community, let’s remember to look at those around us who may need a small helping hand or word of encouragement. We are making an effort here at Blessed Sacrament to show that anyone is welcome in our community. Let’s show the willingness to welcome everyone with our words and actions both within the pews and in the world around us. From what I have seen in my short time here, we do a tremendous job at our parish events of being the embodiment of Jesus. After all, we may be the only version of Jesus that someone ever meets.