This past Friday, I went to Mass without any of my kids. It was amazing listening to God with my eyes closed. As far as I can recall, this is the first time I have gone to Mass sans children since I had my first baby eleven and a half years ago.
My kids are always with me- except for the evenings I teach at the local college or the times when the big girls have their extra-curricular activities of ballet, choir and Shakespeare. I think this is a good thing. We generally get along well, and the children are complimented on their behavior. But still- I cannot close my eyes while praying in church. With four children, there is always someone to supervise, instruct, help or admonish. My relationship with God is not one-on-one as it was before I had children; it is a group relationship with my beloved children distracting me from keeping my gaze on Christ.
Mothers have a huge task in raising their children to be good citizens here on earth and future members of the heavenly choir. In fact, this is an impossible task without massive amounts of grace from God. We are supposed to be leading these children to Christ while suffering from sleep deprivation and perhaps being in a dark spiritual place. Yes, we moms can and should find the spiritual in cleaning the floor, looking at a sunset, or praying a decade of the rosary while changing a load of laundry. These are beautiful expressions of faith, but there is something to be said for being able to pray during the Divine Liturgy with one's eyes closed every so often. I would never want to leave my children in a church nursery; they are members of the church as well. I want them close while we participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. There is never an easy time to introduce a child to the Liturgy, so one might as well start at the beginning. But again, it was wonderful to be able to focus on God at church! I should do it more often, perhaps once a month.
When I became Catholic when I was twelve, it quickly became my habit to either pray with my eyes closed or keep my head buried in the music book. I didn't what to be tempted into judging the parishioners coming up for the Eucharist. Yes, maybe she is wearing a tube top. Maybe that is the boy I saw smoking a cigarette of dubious origins on the bus. Maybe I know that she yells at her kids. But right then after I have received the Eucharist, it was none of my business. Closing my eyes helped me focus on the reason for being in church. I am not proud that I have not been to Mass alone in 11 years. This means I have not had a retreat of any kind and that I am probably 'driving on fumes' when it comes to my personal spiritual life.
Having a personal relationship with Christ is a challenge for mothers. We mothers tend to go around in a pack. Is it even possible to get to confession without our dear littles coming along? Yes, yes, yes- this is simply a phase in life and one must find the spiritual in changing diapers, but this phase can go on for two decades and then- with God's grace- the grandchildren come along. It is so important for moms to take care of their spiritual lives as much as they care for their kids'- if not, she might become like a clanging cymbal. The children are watching; they don't pray with their eyes closed. They are watching momma.