Let's just say this is my Christmas card this year
In which the Cheungs take the least direct and most expensive route to Victoria, BC, all in the name of Spontaneity

Repentant

Dear God

I'm sorry we didn't go to church this morning. Or last Sunday. Or the Sunday before that. I feel like you would give me a pass for this morning, seeing as combing your daughter's hair for nits for three hours in the middle of the night is indeed a labor of love and worthy of a few Heaven Points. But last Sunday was the day after our party and we had a big bakery order, and honestly, I don't remember the reason for the weekend before that. 

We were lazy, we were tired, we were busy, we were PICKING NITS, but truthfully God, I didn't really want to go to church at all. [I shall now take a few moments to see if I burst into flames.] ...still here... I didn't want to go. I don't want to go. Oh, I sort of wanted to go this morning, but in a Get In The Christmas Spirit sort of way, in a Gee, We Haven't Been In A While way, in a Let's Get Mass Out Of The Way Early So We Can Go Downtown And Have Some Fun! way. I can't honestly say that I'm sorry for not wanting to go, God, although I realize I should be sorry and I think I would like to be sorry. 

I'm not sure when church became something I didn't really feel like doing. Maybe when our friends started disappearing at our old parish - for various sensible reasons. Maybe when I joined the Pastoral Council and realized I'd committed to three years of serving the parish in a way in which I am not at ALL gifted. Maybe when the new priest showed up and his demeanor made me cringe. 

Maybe when I had to start bringing KIDS. (Probably that.)

God I go back and forth and back and forth with myself. I'm supposed to GET something out of Mass. No, I'm supposed to BE at Mass. I'm there to receive the EUCHARIST. I'm not supposed to expect a brilliant homily as well. I'm certainly not supposed to expect to FEEL something at Mass. 

Even though I continue to read blog posts by, and talk to people who feel things at Mass. I wish I did! Is something wrong with me? 

God, I'm sorry for constantly entertaining the idea that I would be happy in a non-denominational church. That I would be a better Christian if I went ELSEWHERE. Not sorry because I think non-denominational churches are no good, but because I know that's not where you want me. How many times have you told me I'm supposed to be/stay Catholic? A LOT. What was it you said to me at Urbana a year ago? That the Catholic Church is definitely where you want me to be. 

It's not that I don't want to be Catholic, God. I love that I'm Catholic. You know that. I never want to not be Catholic. I just sometimes (a lot of times) want to go to Not Catholic church. 

And I'm SORRY! I'm sorry, God. I'm sorry that most of what I'm thinking about in Mass is how much longer I have to make sure my kids are behaving. How I can't understand the priest. How I'm tired. What other things I could be doing. All the things I am NOT getting out of Mass. How I STILL don't remember the "new" responses. 

I am fully aware that all of those things could and do apply to other churches too. I KNOW. But perhaps the grass is greener, etc.

We are more or less decided on That Other Church. For now. They have a great Sunday School program and THANK YOU, GOD for providing me with bunches of people to tell me about it and encourage me to go there. My oldest will prepare for his first communion next year and I'm thankful that I've at least got that covered. 

I feel committed to you in so many other ways, God, but I'm a huge disappointment in this department. It feels extra terrible since its the department you hear most about: be in the pews on Sunday! And I'm sorry, but not enough. Not really. It's so confusing. It can be so unsettling.

It's probably quite inconsiderate of me to bring up these unpleasant things right before your birthday. I'm sorry.

What else am I sorry for? Oh man, so many things. I'm sorry I completely ignored that letter home about lice because 1) I'm lazy and 2) I didn't have time for lice and therefore it wouldn't happen to us and so 3) my daughter suffers. I'm sorry I made an Advent wreath and then never lit it. I'm sorry I've been SO short with my family. I'm sorry for all the evenings I want to hide in my bedroom and shut the door. I'm sorry we can't find Joseph from the nativity set. I'm sorry I keep eating cookies when I'm stressed instead of being with you. I'm sorry that an overpriced eyeshadow kit I don't need was the thing that most floated my boat this week. (Although, God, if you wore eyeshadow, you would totally shun the drugstore stuff once you tried my fancy palette. Thank you for fun things like eyeshadow.)

I'm not a very knowledgeable or devout or intense or enthusiastic Catholic. But God I do feel that I am a very earnest Catholic, with good intentions and genuine desire to be better. I am super serious about my faith, even if it can be a very flighty twinkly bipolar sort of faith. Oh I pray you have mercy on me and forgive my self-indulgent thinking. I know you love me, I know you're totally down with sharing a bottle of wine in my living room, and thank you for your patience and grace while I strive to become better company.

(happy birthday) 

Comments

Julie

I just want to say that I hear you and that you're not alone. Struggling with the Catholic Church is not something only you are dealing with. It's a LOT. It really is, and there are times when part of it (or hey, all of it) can be overwhelming. It's clear that you're working hard to figure out what you're supposed to do, where your place is, and that is incredibly brave and faithful.

I read those blog posts and see other people at church who seem to be getting more out of the experience than I am on any given day, and I constantly feel that I don't measure up in the Catholic department. I even go to a prayer group, and just about every week I feel like I'm the lost sheep of the bunch. I guess what I'm saying (and what I've already said, so I'll repeat myself) is that you're not alone. And I've got to believe that there will come a day when we will find our way, our place. I'm praying for that. And if you ever want to talk or vent, I'm up for listening.

And I think you definitely get heaven points for the nits. I am so sorry and I hope the worst is over.

Steph

You are loved!

P.S. Non-denom has it's flaws, too! :)

Karen

I was right where you are Maggie, nearly 20 years ago when I was in grad school and just not feeling the Catholic Mass. I could blame it on my parents, who were CINOS (Catholics In Name Only), but the truth is I was looking for something shiny and New. I went to a nondenominational church for a while, but I got a lot of "Oh, you poor thing you weren't even BAPTISED were you?" (they didn't think Catholic baptisms counted, since babies can't proclaim their love of Jesus, I guess).

I married in the Catholic church, married a good devout Catholic man, and we worked on making the Catholic church work for us. When the sex scandals hit the fan, we up and went to the Orthodox Church. That ended up having a whole bunch of WTFery going on, eventually. Slipped back into the Catholic church via the Eastern Rite, which is beautiful and if you can find one, attend, because it is lovely. Like Latin Mass without the Latin.

But now we are back in the Roman rite, in a very traditional parish. We know the deacon, but other than that don't have friends there. I'm okay with that. Our two middle kids are attending the CCD classes and enjoying it. Our 8 year old is training to be an altar server. I feel a measure of peace being back in the Catholic Church.

I guess this very long winded diatribe is to tell you, there's a reason the Church is called the Mother Church. She will always take you back. She took me back, twice, joyfully, and never does she judge me or say "Why can't you be more like so and so?" And if you do go explore other churches, she will be patiently waiting. Her love is infinite.

emily

Posts like this make me feel that you're in my brain! We have a perfectly nice church, but I'm so ambivalent about going consistently. Maybe it's because my Pastor's sermons tend to be on the loooong side. Maybe it'stthe kid thing you mentioned. Maybe itit's just that I'm not feeling particularly 'worthy'... who really knows beside God?

Jenn

We just went to Mass for the first time in FIVE MONTHS last weekend, and I spent all of it outside in the snow, chasing my almost 2yo. My husband had an equally difficult time trying to keep the 3yo from hitting the kid in front of him in the head with a lollipop. Homily was not heard, communion was not taken, confession has not been attended in..... quite some time. I was given the opportunity to go to Mass alone this past weekend (while husband kept the kids) and even though I was already dressed and ready, I just didn't want to go. I know I NEED to go hear the Christmas message and probably cry in the pew like a hormonal idiot, but I'm trying to fit into this new parish and I just don't wanna. I feel like I could have written this entire blog post. Except instead of eating cookies, I am stuffing my face with a bag of chocolate. Tis the season! Thanks for writing this. :)

katie

This morning I read this and thought of you:

"Prayer in action is love, and love in action is service. Try to give unconditionally whatever a person needs in the moment. The point is to do something, however small, and show you care through your actions by giving time.
Our work is constant. We can do something beautiful for God by reaching out to someone in need. I see no lack of hesitation in helping others. I see only people filled with God's love, wanting to do works of love. This is the future-- this is God's wish for us-- to serve through love in action and to be inspired by the Holy Spirit to act when called.
It is not how much you do but how much love you put into the doing and sharing with others that is important."
- Mother Teresa

For me, Mother Teresa's word speak directly to motherhood. The little things we do everyday for our children are labors of love. (Picking nits is likely at the top of that list.)

And yes, there's always room for improvement. I admire your prayer life. I wish I could pray with the confidence and faith that you have.

Do not be discouraged! You are indeed doing something beautiful for God!

Jen (SaitoAbroad)

Oh, I love your comment Katie.

Maggie, I too struggle. I was "ok" at going to mass regularly a few years ago and then we moved to Tokyo where getting to a Catholic, english language church was a CHORE. Too much of one so I gave myself an out. But now I'm back in the US with no more excuses. Honestly for me, I just don't want to schedule it in. I'm so protective of my time. I hate that I have this attitude but this where I'm at right now. However, right now I need to get the kids enrolled - I feel like I'm letting them down and that's what is motivating me most. I'm hoping going to mass tonight will help get the ball rolling again.

You're not alone in this. We'll all find our path.

Annie

Oh sweet Maggie. I had a conversation with our priest about this when Jacob was a baby. I was so frustrated. We were always at Mass, but I was never AT Mass. I was chasing someone around the vestibule. Or bouncing a baby in the back. Or making sure someone didn't rip out the pages of the missalette. Well, ALL of the pages - we cut our losses on that one years ago. For me, it was never a question of not going, but of why am I going? I'm not hearing it. I don't know what the readings were. I didn't hear the homily. Yes I received the Eucharist...thank God....but even that was a chore - hopping back into the church in time so as to not miss Jesus. I told the priest that I felt like a bad catholic....people look at me with a perception of holiness or devoutness (what's the word for that) but in reality all I'm doing is grumbling in my head about every?ya little piece of mothering a small child through the Mass. I had expectd this priest to come down on me. He was one of those "I love my homily didn't YOU?! What did you think when I said THIS?" But you know what? He was surprisingly understanding, tender and merciful. He reminded me that my vocation as a mother didn't mean I got to sit back and do nothing while my kids somehow learned how to be good people. He said to me " you have two babies and one on his way. I don't expect you to hear a single thing at Mass - I expect you to be taking care of your children. You'll hear it all again faster than you want to." I was shocked. And he was right. For years (and kinda even still) I went to Mass because that's what we do - not because I heard a word of it. And certainly not because I actively felt the grace of being there. But. The grace IS there. And I needed that grace soooo badly. I heard someone say when I was in college "don't miss the grace" and that has stuck with me for years. Don't miss the grace. Don't miss the grace.

I loved this post. I love the way you talk to God. I talk to him in a similar fashion. So I'll leave you with one thing I've said to him many times. Maybe it will help. "God, show me how to want it." He will, Maggie. He will.

And so sorry about the lice, omg my head is itchy just reading about it.

xxoo

Lindsay

I so enjoy these posts, Maggie. I know you will find your way, lose it again and find it again. It's all good.

Merry Christmas to you guys!

Laura Diniwilk

I know that this is so totally not the point of what you are saying, but nits, GAH!!! I am so sorry, that sounds like a nightmare to deal with. Hugs to you. And the (happy birthday) made me laugh. Hang in there!!

kharking

We've gone back and forth on this a few times. I can't remember the last time I heard a whole sermon or sang a hymn without having interrupting it to help someone behave themselves either in my arms or in the pew next to me. My husband has asked me what the point of even going is if I can't fully participate and sometimes I don't really know. I tell myself that I can get something out of it, no matter how tiny, and that it is good for the kids, even as small as they are, to see us live through making this a priority. Most of the time I even believe that.

Is is ok to visit other churches every so often? I was going to confidently assert that occasionally worshiping with the separated brethren for a change of pace and scene doesn't at all mean that you are rejecting Catholicism but then I realized that I didn't actually know that to be the case as I'm not Catholic myself. We go to church in Seattle (now farther away than we would like but we can't quite move yet) but there is a church down the road from us that we visit when we are short on time or someone wants to go to church but the other one has to stay home with sick kids, etc. It is still refreshing to worship with another part of Christ's family on those few days when our needs and priorities are such that going to our regular church isn't feasible.

And I made an Advent wreath this year, yes I did (on the second weekend of Advent), and then I didn't light it because I just knew that I would sit down to feed the baby and the two year old would knock over a candle and set the house on fire and when we ran out of the house the three year old would run out into the street and get hit by the oncoming fire truck. How is that for some deeply disturbing, sleep deprivation induced paranoia?

AmyRyb

Like everyone else, I'm right there with you. We go pretty much every week, but once in a while there is a week where I feel like the effort will make me crankier than I should be for worship, and that just seems to cancel itself out, no? Often my husband can't go with us, so it's just me getting two kids ready, one dropped off at Sunday School, and wrangling the other for an hour. It's hard to consistently listen to everything and really get into the music, so sometimes I wonder why we're there. I want to stay in the habit and model it for my kids, but yeah, there are some weeks it stinks. And I like my church (Lutheran) and it's huge and outreachy and convenient with two young great pastors, but there are times when I wonder if a smaller church wouldn't be better because I couldn't hide. I want to join Bible studies and all that, but there's the childcare issue and the fact that I can't handle the few other things I have going on in my life right now, let alone adding another evening activity or another hour on Sunday mornings. I feel very conflicted and my avid IVCF self from college is just shaking her head at me, wondering why I ever let things get to this point. I don't have any answers or wisdom, but I hear you. Totally.

Rosemary

Merry Christmas, Maggie! This bakery business is wild - congratulations!

I was thinking you would love the book Reed of God by Caryl Houselander. Have I recommended it to you before? I definitely don't feel it all the time - definitely - but going to mass and receiving the Eucharist makes your heart a little nest for the tiny God, he loves to be there inside of you; he loves it when we receive him, then we can carry him wherever we go. I would say often I don't feel like I want to carry him in me - because you see he is crucified in me too. But I don't see any other options, and I love him, so I try to let him in. Anyway, a lot of what I said here relates to what Caryl Houselander talks about in the book - you would love it. I guess it doesn't directly address going to mass, but gets at a spirituality behind it. I feel like we are sisters in Christ. And I don't say that lightly!

The Reed of God!! You won't be disappointed! Pray one small glance at Jesus for me, and I will for you too.

Love, Rosemary

Megan @ Mama Bub

First, I realize that I am WAY missing the point here, but I had no idea that you had lice in your house and I AM SO SORRY. We had it a few months ago and it was pure misery for 72 hours.

Second, I'm not Catholic, but I'm not at home in our church. If I had to sit there with my children? I would never, ever go. I'm not sure what our church solution is, but I think just saying these things out loud is the biggest step.

Also, I am way behind in my reader. Obviously.

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