I’ve never been very good at religion.
I was the kid who got kicked out of Sunday School because I talked too much. I always asked for a second helping of bread and juice at communion, and I skipped every church choir practice but showed up expecting to sing on Christmas Eve. I got a failing grade in Sunday School and subsequently, Jesus and I grew apart.
My in-laws are devout Catholics. They aren’t the types to preach empty handed; they actually put into practice what they believe. One tradition they’ve honoured over the years is the prayer before dinner. Every Sunday we all land at their house for a home cooked meal. When the dinner bell rings we gather around the table, join hands, and pray. At the end we say, “Amen,” in perfect unison.
When my husband and I were freshly dating, I felt a little uncomfortable during the prayer. I didn’t know if I should mumble along. I didn’t know how to properly cross my heart like a real Catholic. I wondered if his parents knew I was a heathen. I wondered if they knew I only went to church to bail myself out for my sins. I wondered if I was worthy at the table despite my on-again-off-again relationship with Jesus. But as the months and years wore on, instead of feeling uncomfortable with the prayer, I found comfort in it. I looked forward to it. And as it turns out, so did my son.
Before my oldest could speak, he’d sit in his high chair at his grandparents’ table holding hands with the rest of us. I’d look at his little face, not really sure what was going on or what he was supposed to do (much like my own face must have looked in those earlier years). But at the end of the prayer, when his cousins lifted their arms in the air and let out a long drawn out, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah-men!” he’d giggle his heart out. Before long, he was joining in with the "Amen" at the end and even leading it sometimes.
I always just assumed my toddler had no idea why we held hands and said, “Amen!” But you know what they say about those of us who assume…and one day last winter, he proved me wrong. My toddler knew exactly why we held hands. He knew exactly why we came together. And he showed me in the most wonderful way.
It was supper time at our house. The baby was crying in his bouncy chair and the toddler was actively throwing food off his tray like it was an Olympic sport and he was going for gold. My husband and I were trying to whip together some semblance of a meal amidst the chaos of navigating a new baby and a toddler. My husband graciously asked me if I’d rather have the leftovers (pizza!) or if I wanted what he was making (steak, potatoes, and bok choy).
“I’ll take the pizza!” I said (never one to turn up a slice).
When dinner was served, I barked, “What? Is there no bok choy for me?” with the spite only green vegetables can conjure.
I don’t even like bok choy….
I just wanted something to be mad at. I needed a place to channel my frustration with my new life, and in that moment, it was at him and his inconsiderate rationing of bok choy. I cast my eyes down and angrily tore off bites of my pizza like the savage I was in that moment. My husband apologized for not making enough greenery; he offered to give me his. But I insisted on remaining a huffing hormonal beast.
My toddler noticed the tension as the tiny, pure ones often do. He noticed I wouldn’t make eye contact with his daddy. He looked at me and then at his dad and he started to giggle. He insisted I take his tiny hand. As grumpy as I was, I couldn’t refuse. Then he looked at his dad and gestured for him to take his hand too. He lifted our arms into the sky and slammed them back down with the most joyful, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh MEN!”
As our hands crashed back down my anger shattered. I couldn’t be mad at bok choy. I couldn’t be mad at my husband. I couldn’t be mad at whatever was really bothering me…..not in that moment. My toddler broke the anger in two with the mightiest Amen and forced me back to the present.
What does all this have to do with my relationship with church and Jesus? Over the past several years (since having kids really) I’ve had a longing, an instinct, something nudging me back to my spirit centre. I’ve been so out of touch, so disconnected, so desperate for that blissful connection with the Divine. Some might call it propaganda or the lure of crafty storytelling, but I’m always called back to that Jesus. The one I likely offended in Sunday School with my aimless chatter and carb loading. I’m drawn to the familiar when it comes to reconnecting with my spirit centre.
And in that moment of irrational anger brought on by this tangible life, my son, my water baby, my connection to the other world, spun me back into this world with his tiny hands. He woke me up, made me present and for just a teeny tiny second, I felt It. In my tiny toddler's hands, I felt His hands holding me, reminding me that no matter what state we’re in, we’re always welcome at the table.
Written by Lisa Carmody Doiron. Lisa lives in PEI, Canada with her husband and two boys. Her stories have been featured on Blunt Moms, Scary Mommy, Mamalode, and others. When she's not writing, Lisa teaches music at a local public school. For more of her stories, find her at www.momologues.ca, on Facebook, or on Twitter.