The long thank-you
Honestly, it’s not always easy for me, either. I’m not usually bored, but I’ve experienced a wide variety of other unpleasant sensations: I’m often tired, and sometimes feel restless and anxious for church to be over. It is not uncommon at all for me to spent most of the service feeling extremely frustrated by the behavior of my son’s three younger sisters. (The other day I spent a fair amount of mental energy wondering if someone who specializes in dealing with rabid hyenas might be able to assist me in keeping certain toddlers in line at Mass.)
As a 33-year-old woman, I can get over all of this. Even on the very worst days (like, say, this one), I can muster up enough spiritual maturity to have at least a little awe at the idea of God made flesh in the Eucharist. I can stand in grateful humility before the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice for my sins, even when I’m otherwise out of sorts. I can usually even meditate on how cool it is that the communion of the Mass binds all the Body of Christ together, that I’m communing not only with God but with everyone from the saints in heaven to some little only lady in a church in Zimbabwe!
But try explaining all that to a six-year-old boy.
None of it resonates with him. I’ve kept trying to find ways to make this stuff come to life for him, to make him see church for the amazing experience it is. We’ve sat on the front row so that we can see all that’s going on, I let him bring colorful books about the life of Christ to peruse during the homily, I have him participate in all the prayers and listen during the Bible readings, I lean over during the consecration and let him know when the bread becomes Jesus, etc. Last week, yet again I threw all my powers of wordsmithing and imagination to make it interesting and exciting to him, and…nothing. He was still bored.
As we walked back to the car, my son visibly happy that church was over, I said a prayer that he might eventually be drawn into the holy sacrifice of the Mass. And, as soon as I said it, something clicked. I thought of a new way to explain the Mass to him that I’d never tried before.
“What would you do if someone bought you a present?” I asked.
“Say thank you?” he offered, not sure where I was going with this.
“OK, now, what if it were someone you’d hurt very badly, and he still bought you a present? Do you think you might give him an even bigger thank-you?”
“Now, what if you’d done something that hurt him really super extra badly, and he bought you the most awesome present in the world — like your own jumbo bouncy castle?”
“You’d spend even more time thanking him, right?”
“But wait…what if you didn’t feel like it? What if it made you feel bored to spend all that time saying thanks?”
“It wouldn’t matter.”
Finally, I had a way to explain it: “Well, that’s how it is with church,” I said. As my husband helped all the other kids into the car, I talked to my son about what Jesus has done for us, and pointed out that one of the many reasons we go to Mass is simply to say “thank you.” And when you’re giving thanks for something enormous and undeserved, it takes a while — and how you feel about it is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if it’s not fun.
It may not have instantly instilled him with a burning desire to spend all his time in the church, but I did see a flicker of understanding in his eyes. I think the inspiration to explain it that way was an answered prayer, and it’s one I’ll keep in mind next time I’m holding a fussy baby and eyeing the exit door in what seems like the 1,000th minute of church. When I can only barely work up inspiration about all the other amazing aspects of the Mass, I can simply think of it as the long thank-you.