Lent is coming, and with that comes more opportunities for parents with young children to torture themselves by attending the special Lenten services.
You must know I’m kidding, but that’s often how it feels. We go in hopes of prayer, to offer composed and reverent worship, and yet it often feels like a circus erupts the moment we breeze into the nave. Otherwise well-behaved children can decide the liturgy is exceedingly boring and create their own chaos to compensate for the peace and reverence of the atmosphere.
In those moments of wildness, it helps me to tell myself, “Children don’t come into the world civilized, after all, it’s up to you to teach them.” Without seeing examples of what we do in liturgy–how we stand, when to enter and leave, what we sing, what we venerate–our children will simply be ignorant of how liturgy is done. In short: you have to come to the services and practice liturgy with your kids.
This is work. It is frustrating. It never ends. Unless you happen to attend a service or two by yourself, it can begin to feel like you’ll never really pray again.
It turns out that liturgy is a different kind of work for for everyone involved, depending on their season in life (the young couple, the single individual, the growing family, the retired individual), and the role they play (choir member, kitchen volunteer, cleanup crew, parish council member). Right now, as the parent of young children, you are the sower and planter, weeding and waiting for things to grow. Later on you may see a harvest, but even then a new season is upon you, and you will be given other kinds of tasks to tackle.
So tell yourself over and over: it’s practice! And as with mastering an instrument, you don’t get better at it without playing it every day, and outside of your regular weekly lessons. It’s obvious but must also be stated: Every child is different, and every age has its own developmental needs and tolerances. Faith (as well as learning what happens in church and how to participate in liturgy) doesn’t come automatically, just as being around a mother who knows how to cook doesn’t mean that you automatically learn her cooking skills.
And remember, if you’re at the end of your rope, set aside time for you that you can dedicate to your own spirituality and self-care. Talk about it with your priest and your partner. In a moment of frustration, try to fill your mind with the Jesus prayer. Stop paying attention to any glances or remarks from others (it’s so hard to tune that out!), and do what is best for you, your child, and your family. Liturgy is the work of the people. It doesn’t always come easily or perfectly, but each person contributes our unique offering to make to God.
That’s what makes it beautiful.