Image Credit: Beth Holmes
Very rarely do I leave church feeling holy and peaceful. At this particular point in my life, the words “anxious,” “sweaty,” and “embarrassed” seem much more applicable. Parenting… it’s such a humbling experience.
Ash Wednesday was no exception. I barged into the noon service full of naive optimism. Lights off, crosses veiled, and tables laden with beautifully arranged clay, water, oil, and ash… clearly, this was going to be a contemplative and meaningful experience. My children would just sense the mood and naturally fall in line. What could possibly go wrong?
Oh, what a foolish question to ask when you’re dragging a toddler and preschooler out and about around lunch time! During cold and flu season! To be fair, Big Sister was actually quite well-behaved. But Little Bro was a squirming, fractious mess. If he wasn’t begging loudly to go play in the nursery (which wasn’t open midweek), he was coughing and dribbling snot on all and sundry.
The service was arranged such that we had opportunities to interact separately with the displayed clay, water, oil, and ash before we all lined up to receive crosses on our forehead. A lovely idea… but unfortunately Brother’s initial clay-squishing quickly devolved into clay-flinging. Apparently, he was playing baseball in the sanctuary, a fact he announced several times. Loudly.
He is so very, VERY two years old. What’s more, his toddler behavior put my mind squarely on… myself. I started Lent in a self-centered stew. Why was MY child disrupting the meditative mood of the service? Why would he do this to ME? What is so deficient in ME as a mother that I can’t control him? The staff and congregation must think so poorly of MY parenting skills! Look at ME, ruining this for everyone!
What a powerful demonstration of the clay in my own nature. In contrast, how grateful I was for the silent acceptance/tolerance of the congregation. How grateful for the many moments on Ash Wednesday in which both staff and laypeople interacted so thoughtfully with my children.
And when the pastor drew the cross on my kids’ foreheads, my hubris and anxiety (momentarily) fell away. In that moment, I didn’t worry whether or not they were behaving appropriately and what people thought of us. Instead, I realized what a brief time I have to enjoy these little souls temporarily entrusted to my care… and all I felt was a deep sense of gratitude and wonder that God would share them with me in the first place.
To my congregation: thank you for helping me remember that He is God and I am not… and for giving me a gracious space in which to be so very, very human.
It’s certainly not the Ash Wednesday experience I had planned for myself and my family. But maybe that’s the whole point.