Managing three small children in the back of a crowded Easter Sunday service left me in tears, But then God sent me an understanding smile from across the room.
by Becky Arganbright
It was Easter Sunday and for some reason, Dennis wasn’t able to get Easter off and had to work, which meant that I had to bring my three young children to church by myself. In a way, I was used to this already, because Dennis worked the weekend shift which meant that I had to go to church with the kids by myself every Sunday anyway.
My kids at that time were four and a half years old, three years old and one year old. We had left late—of course—and I had been so busy rounding up outfits for the kids and gathering snacks and packing the diaper bag that I had forgotten to take time to find something to wear. I threw on whatever I could find without putting much thought into it. I was more concerned about getting to church on time and hopefully finding a seat somewhere since I knew it would be crowded.
Things did not go well. We arrived frazzled and out of breath, and as I had expected, the church was overflowing with people. I shook my head at the usher who insisted he could find us a seat in the already-crowded church; I knew with my three young kids we wouldn’t be able to stay in our seats for very long, and we would end up in the back of the church anyway.
Things did not go well. Maybe it was just because I was surrounded by pretty, brightly colored dresses and suits. Maybe it was because all around me, wives were with their husbands, and husbands were with their wives. Families were together. They were smiling at each other, listening to the homily with their children staying obediently nearby.
I, on the other hand, was trying to handle my three children who had somehow managed to mess themselves up. I had already rescued one-year-old Luke from falling down the stairs multiple times, lost my diaper bag, tried to fix Lucy’s drooping bow and tried to calm Max. With Max’s autism, church was very difficult for him. All the music, the crowds of people, and being stuck in a small place was too much for him. He would rock and hum his way through Mass—his way of self-soothing—but it was distracting to others; most often, we didn’t bother with a pew. Now he was pacing back and forth in an agitated fashion, humming loudly and off-key.
I never even had a chance to sit down on my usual spot on the carpet because I was so distracted by the kids. Suddenly, the priest had finished his homily and I realized I hadn’t heard a word. People were lining up to receive Communion, and I wasn’t sure I should go. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to keep Max from wandering ahead, nor was I sure he would stop his humming. I wasn’t sure if I could carry Luke (who was a very large baby) and hold onto Lucy’s hand at the same time. I definitely didn’t want to embarrass myself further with my shabby and “irreverent” casual clothing. I was much more comfortable hiding in the back of the church. And most of all, I wasn’t sure I should even receive Communion, because I hadn’t been able to focus on the Mass.
Yet . . . Jesus
Yet…Jesus. He was the reason why I had come. He was the reason why I still continued to go to Mass, despite the “trouble” it caused me. Though we were not “properly attired” and others might frown at our unkempt appearance, I knew Jesus understood. And though I’m sure people wondered why I didn’t control my four-year-old’s “singing,” Jesus knew the reason. And even though I was tired, frazzled, and yes, even grumpy on that cheery Easter morning, Jesus saw the struggles in my heart. So I hoisted my giant baby on my hip, grabbed Lucy firmly by the hand, and corralled my humming son into line, dropping Lucy’s hand every so often to grab Max by the back of his shirt before he wandered too far ahead of us.
Back to our corner we went. I could not even do a thanksgiving prayer for the Eucharist. I had to keep my eyes on Max, Lucy, and Luke, who just refused to sit still even for a moment. The crowd in the back of the church began to grow thicker as some people decided to leave early. Instead of just leaving, they chatted loudly in groups, making it even more difficult to watch my kids. They didn’t even notice me kneeling only a few feet from where they stood, holding onto my kids with both hands to keep them from getting lost in the crowds. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and the tears began to fall.
A smile from across the room
I was bitter and angry. Some Easter. Why did I bother? I should have stayed home. I had no husband to help me. We had made fools of ourselves and been stared at all morning. I couldn’t even speak to Jesus who was in my heart. I was ashamed of myself and how I handled things. I felt like a fool and a complete failure as a parent. I brought my children to church, but all they learned was that Mommy always came home mad.
But then, like a light in the darkness, I saw a well-dressed woman from across the room smiling at me. I looked back at her almost angrily, wondering why she was smiling. “Is she laughing at me?” I thought to myself angrily. I gathered up my kids and began to put their coats on. Every so often, I would look back at the lady. And she continued to smile at me.
I stared back at her, convinced that she was mocking me. She saw how I was struggling. She saw me sitting on the floor with my kids, trying to gather up our mess that was literally strewn everywhere so that people were even stepping on it. She saw that I was sweaty and hot, my hair messed and casual clothes. She saw that my kids were crying and Max was moaning, and yet she kept smiling at me.
I glared at her. I didn’t want her to cross the room to talk to me. But that didn’t scare her off. She just continued to smile at me.
Something about this woman’s smile began to get through to me. Here was this well-dressed attractive woman, who had her equally well-dressed husband nearby and her two adorable children. She did not look frazzled, and she certainly didn’t look angry. She didn’t look like she’d just been through a battle. Yet, somehow, she knew that I had.
And my angry heart that felt as heavy as a stone began to soften.
I stood up, grabbed my purse and diaper bag, picked up my heavy baby, and led my two children to the door. I looked back at the woman, who continued to smile softly and kindly, taking no offense at my rudeness from before. I was glad she had stayed in her corner, respecting my need for privacy. But I was also thankful she had “crossed the room” with her smile. Somehow, through the love of a fellow-believer, I felt that God had seen my efforts. Feeling a little more confident, I nodded politely to her and smiled back.
God is sending you a smile, too
Dear tired and discouraged parents, like this brave woman, I’m sending a smile your way.
I see you are tired. I see you are weary. You have worked hard.
You bring your children to church, and even though you’re sure it’s done “no good,” you continue to bring them anyway. You talk to your children about God—even when they won’t listen. You berate yourself for not being “a better example”—even though you’re doing your best. You’re teaching them all you know—even though you’re learning too. You are tired and maybe even angry, but you refuse to give up, because you love that stubborn child of yours!
Dear tired and discouraged parents, know that God sees your efforts; He hears your prayers; He knows your pain. If you are tired and weary, it’s because you are in a spiritual battle and you are fighting for your kids. You have worked hard and you deserve to rest. He has prepared a place for you, a place for weary mothers and fathers. Don’t be discouraged, because you are doing the best you can, and that is all God is asking of you. And, I know for a fact that He holds us tired and weary parents in a special place in His heart.
But when you are finished resting, get up and carry on, because there is a battle to fight and that fight is for your children. Don’t stop teaching, don’t stop taking your kids to church, no matter how weary you feel. God, who knows all and sees all, will make sure to send you rest.
Dear tired and weary parents, don’t be disheartened and discouraged, because God sees you today.
A fellow tired and weary parent