Every weekday, I single-handedly dress and feed four children, pack a lunch box, gather homework, and locate jackets; all by 7:30 am. There is quite a bit of scrambling and cajoling involved, but nothing that a strong cup of coffee can’t push me through. Our early morning routine is definitely not the highlight of my day, but I would take one- hundred, back-to-back, Monday through Friday kick-offs, over the chaos and cheek-biting frustration involved in one Sunday morning.
Have you ever had that dream where you are trying to get ready for some unspecified event, scheduled to start any second? Dashing around the room, you frantically try to unearth a missing shoe. Your hair refuses to cooperate with your brush. You are racked with indecision as you change your outfit dozens of times, all the while impatiently reminding yourself to “Hurry up!” No matter how hard you try, you simply cannot pull yourself together. I live that nightmare once a week.
Regardless of what time I wake up, or how much preparation I do the night before, a Sunday morning, in our house, is as maddening as a Friday evening commute. On this day shoes feel tighter, little brothers become more annoying, toothbrushes and nail clippers mysteriously disappear, and the sight of a belt and a button-up shirt sends tempers soaring. Inevitably, the size 4T dress pants I washed the night before, lay damp and wrinkled in the dryer I never turned on. A last swig of juice misses a mouth and finds a sweater. An odor, that can’t be ignored, is emitted from a fully dressed (tights included) toddler.
Of all these headaches, the most confusing and unexplainable has to be the amount of over-the-top, nonsensical, mess associated with this production. Upon leaving the house, I gaze with wonder at the wet towel crumpled on my dining room table, the large bundle of purple and pink fuzzy pipe cleaners lying precariously on the windowsill, a pumpkin stabbed on each side with corn cob holders in my kitchen sink, and a pile of snow boots in the downstairs bathroom.
Amazingly, we pull into the parking lot of St. Elizabeth’s only three minutes late. Our hushed warnings, and stern expressions are replaced with tight sunny smiles as we make our grand entrance. Candles are lit, icons are venerated, and we take our place, as a family, in the front of the Church.
Now anyone with a child under the age of two knows that 9:30am is smack in the middle of morning naptime. Mary, my one year old, is vehemently opposed to sleeping in public, so she and I are in constant motion; looking at books, pointing at flames, walking the aisle, and occasionally sneaking an animal cracker when things get hairy. My husband, Troy, concentrates on keeping our oldest, Elijah, focused with a service book while downplaying the theatrics of four-year-old Benjamin, who is noisily personifying the paper clip he’s found on the carpet. Five-year-old Priscilla, works slyly at pushing the line between full compliance and outright disobedience. Is leaning your bum against the pew technically considered standing?
Every week, at least once, I honestly question whether all this work is worth it. I try to keep focused, but my thoughts drift easily to shopping lists, song lyrics, or lunch plans. I feel ashamed of my flippancy in the midst of such sacredness and beauty. Staring into the faces of martyrs, I ask myself, “What are you doing here?” “You are hopelessly incapable of such passionate devotion!” “I am useless,” I think, “A broken toe in the body of Christ”. But just then, when on the brink of total self-loathing and resignation, I am tenderly and lovingly rescued by the onset of the Cherubic Hymn.
“Let us, who mystically represent the Cherubim, and who sing the thrice holy hymn to the life creating Trinity; now lay aside all cares. Lay aside all earthly cares.”
These words, sung slowly and reverently, pull me up from despair by anticipating my distraction and mercifully inviting me to come, as I am, and worship. “I do belong here!” And that realization is so much sweeter, knowing I don’t deserve it. For a few fleeting moments, the veil is lifted and I receive a glimpse of heaven. This soul quenching respite from a tired world looks nothing like the grocery store, the library, or my kitchen counter. I receive the sacrament of Eucharist, and am struck to tears by the enormity of this miracle: Christ in me.
Pulling out of the driveway, life on earth swallows me whole and I am once again immersed in the necessities of day to day living. Naps, laundry, and afternoon football are forefront on our minds. Throughout the week, I will attempt to work out my salvation with fear and trembling, and each day I will fall painfully short of my objectives. My inability to keep my mouth shut, stay awake for prayer, be patient with my children, or put Troy’s needs ahead of my desires, will make it impossible for me to trust in my own strength. By Saturday, I will be tired, discouraged, and depleted – just in time for a taste of grace on Sunday morning.