Wasn’t it St. Teresa of Avila who said that “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world”?
Well… I wrote last week about how I’ve started taking Mr. Baby to Daily Mass a few days a week, to bring a nice peaceful routine to our little life, and to try to teach him how to be good in Mass. I hadn’t gone to Daily Mass in so long! And I had gotten some very helpful tips from a friend of mine who has 7 little children (and one on the way!) whom I used to babysit twice a week, and incidentally they are the best behaved little kids everrrr in Mass. She told me that she rarely uses the cry room, and that she doesn’t give her kids books, toys or food to entertain them in Church, and they grow up learning the discipline of sitting quietly through Church.
[sidenote: Now, this morning, on my way to Mass, I found myself reflecting on the difficulty of loving others and respecting their decisions, while also not becoming lukewarm or passive about it. Its such a fine line! I am working on an article for a friend’s eZine, and its a pretty complicated topic, so that has got me thinking a lot about the differences between discernment and judgment. We as human persons are supposed to spend our lives discerning what is true. Being loving towards others does not mean we have to throw objective truth out the window and just say “Oh if that’s what makes you happy right now, that is fine!” I mean, if you saw someone about to walk through poison ivy, and you just spent the past few weeks learning to spot it because you had gotten pretty messed up by walking through it yourself, is it really the more loving thing to just let them do it? Without sharing your knowledge?
I also cannot stand people who go around watching for other people (ahem, me) to screw up. It seems like there is such an abundance of folks who are so careful to notice if their neighbor has a splinter in the eye.
So where do you find the balance?]
Now… back to my story… I rushed into Church and sat behind an elderly couple in the nearest to the back available pew. I put my diaper bag down, pat Will’s head, and try to shush him as he starts chirping excitedly because there is suddenly a huge audience.
Within a few seconds of this noisy (albeit happy) behavior, the old man turns to the old lady and I watch as they raise their eyebrows, shake their heads, and bristle visibly.
I was confused and also irritated. What the heck was going on?!
The old guy turns his head to face me, just a moment later, and says in an extremely grumpy voice, “You know, we have a cry room.”
I was stupefied. But I rallied quickly. “Yes,” I said brightly, and okay, maybe a teensy bit condescendingly. “But if I’m sitting in the cry-room with him the whole time, he isn’t ever going to learn how to behave in church!”
“Well, all he does is holler all through Mass!” the old geezer harrumphed. (That is a real word, FYI… Saw it once in Winnie the Pooh, the Book).
I was livid, y’all. I felt the steam blowing out of my ears, and I inwardly warned myself to hold it together. I stared at him for a second, and then, in my bitchiest nice voice, I offered sweetly, eyebrows raised,
“Ohhh! and that bothers you!”
It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t a challenge. Honestly, I don’t even know where I was going with it, but it was one of those “think fast and don’t hit back too hard” kind of moments. Yeah, so, it didn’t really make any sense, but it got my point across that I wasn’t moving. And it left both the old man and myself all irritated and unfinished. Then the bell rang for Mass.
And now for the real embarrassing gem of my story. I was all hot and bothered by this little dialogue. I kept running better lines in my head, things I should’ve said; I kept thinking “Let the little children come to Me!!!” with righteous indignation and many exclamation points. And then I proceeded, as I marched Will back and forth in the very back narthex area of the Church (for, as karma would have it, he did decide to “holler” at the top of his lungs whenever I tried to sit back down) – to imagine all of the reasons why this man was so nasty to me.
“I bet his kids never speak to him,” I thought, so wisely. “If he even had kids!!”
(I really went to town on this. My imagination is as active as my squirming toddler in Church).
I hate to admit this. I spent probably about 75% of the rest of Mass in fuming imaginations about this man and the reasons he was so awful to me. Right before I went up to Communion (haha! ohhh the irony), a very kind looking old man came up to me in the back.
“You know, I hate that that happened to you sweetheart. You are doing such a good thing bringing this little guy to Mass. And you don’t get discouraged. I guess sometimes, when people get old, they get very grumpy about children; I think they forget what its like.”
I murmured some hasty, whispered protest of “Oh I feel bad” and “I don’t mind, I hate to ruin everyone’s Mass” (lies).
“Well, that couple that sat in front of you, that’s how they are. I guess they just don’t remember,” he said.
And then there was a pregnant pause.
“… They’re also Bishop Jugis’ parents.”
BAM! Judgment from the Lord upon my angry, judgmental heart. I knew instantly in that moment that I richly deserved the shame and embarrassment that painted my cheeks tomato red.
[Bishop Jugis is, incidentally, one of the best bishops I have ever known. He is awesome. And I am quite certain, a very loving son.]
I got my answer from God to my super-saintly reflections on judgment and why its wrong. Its not wrong for me to refuse to put up with the first old man’s nastiness to me and my son – Bishop father or no Bishop father! Its not wrong for me to stick up for myself, or my decisions as a parent.
It isn’t even wrong for me to be angry. And I don’t think it was wrong to decide that he was out of line and rude.
But it was very wrong of me to imagine his reasons. To allow my wild imagination to think I could read into this old man’s heart. Only God can do that.
The poor old guy – for all I know – was having a bad morning. And Will is pretty good at hollering.
“Man looks on the outer appearance, but God looks at the heart.” Psalm Something:orOther (bad with numbers). How many times do I jump from the instant – and natural – decision that someone else’s action was wrong, to making assumptions about their heart, their reasons, their overall character? This is something I have been resoundingly convicted of by the Lord himself. Really, it could not have been embarrassingly clearer or more painfully obvious.
Thank you, St. Teresa of Avila. I know you were somehow behind that one. 😉