Christmas Eve Mass was a disaster this year. At least it seemed that way. With my husband and two oldest children involved with the music at Mass, I was left on my own to manage a six-year-old, four-year-old, and two-year-old.
I should have known that things would get messy when, upon pulling into the church parking lot, my two-year-old promptly got out of the van and climbed to the very top of the nearby school play equipment. She may have been able to shimmy up a climbing wall in her Christmas finery, but her mischievous smile and gleeful chortles mocked the limitations of my high heels and slim-skirted dress. Fortunately, by the grace of God, she decided to come down on her own and walk with us to the church.
The pews were crowded and the air was stuffy, but the altar was beautiful and a sacred joy was present. We settled in and, aside from the expected wiggles of excitement, we did pretty well for awhile. But, of course, the wiggles escalated and so did my children’s voices. I finally had to take the four-year-old and two-year-old out, and the rest of Mass was a blur.
I know that at some point I had to convince my four-year-old to stop using a stair railing as a tightrope, but the most horrifying moment was when it came time to receive Communion. Sandwiched into the line, we started creeping down the aisle when suddenly, out of nowhere, my two-year-old decided she was a dog. She dropped to all fours and started scurrying down the middle of the aisle. I managed to grab her, and she went from dog to limp noodle instantly. Trying not to injure anyone around me, and still making our way down the aisle, I tried whispering to her and I tried distracting her, but she was firmly set on being impossible. If I held her, it was either acrobat or limp noodle. If I put her down, it was dog.
Acrobat. Limp noodle. Dog. Acrobat. Limp noodle. Dog.
She was a force to be reckoned with.
I had no other choice. I picked her up and held her (very) firmly, and we finally approached the Eucharistic minister. And then, in the soft glow of candles and Christmas tree lights with the beauty of the creche at my side, I received Jesus on His birthday–while my 40 pound two-year-old yelled “Ow! Ow! Ow!” in my aching arms.
We made it back to the cry room (by now I was practically crying), and I wiped the sweat from my brow. We made it through the rest of Mass, and as we exited the church, our priest looked at me, smiled, and said, “You are earning so many points in heaven! Let me give your whole family a special Christmas blessing.” And right there, on the front steps of the church, we bowed our heads and received the blessing.
I’ve heard it explained that growing in holiness doesn’t mean that you suddenly stop sinning, or that life suddenly goes more smoothly, or that you are the picture of perfection to others. Rather, holiness is a deepening desire, a burning love, a longing for God and God alone–and a willingness to continue to try to overcome sin for the sake of our Beloved. But, as parents, we are still humans trying to raise other humans. There will be trials. There will be mistakes. There will be dogs and limp noodles. These are our exiles to Egypt; these are our “no rooms at the inn”; these are our swords that pierce our hearts. But if those swords pierce a heart that is full of love, then only love can flow out.
Life is messy. Parenting is messy. But a foundation of love is where real holiness lies.
I was cleaning up our Christmas mess the other day, and underneath bits of wrapping paper, toys, and new markers that had already lost their caps, I found a piece of artwork made by my six-year-old that simply said, “God I Love You.”
Maybe Christmas Eve Mass wasn’t such a disaster. Maybe the blessings of that sacred day did take effect. Maybe we’re doing something right. Because in the midst of all the messiness, I continue to find love.