I stood there alone in the back of the beautifully decorated church fighting back tears. Even on Christmas Eve, the words echoed soundlessly through the church, but screaming and racing through my head.
This is not how it’s supposed to be. This is not how it’s supposed to be. This is not how it’s supposed to be. This is not how it’s supposed to be…
The mantra continued, and I fought to keep my voice steady, cheerful even, as I greeted fellow parishioners arriving for Christmas Mass. I fought to keep my voice from splitting, cracking the crack I knew was right there, right there behind the smile. If I let my voice crack, I knew the dam would burst and the floodgates of my tears would dampen the bright spirits of those celebrating the Birth of our Lord this Christmas. I did not want to do that.
But how could I not?
I had recently written posts telling others how to deal with missing their children on Christmas and thanking God that, even though I missed them in the days before and after my favorite holiday, I was one of the fortunate few who would always have my children for Christmas Mass and Christmas Day.
And yet, there I stood. Without my children.
Our divorce agreement says they should have been back to me by 8:00; George and Noah were supposed to serve the 9:00 pm Mass, a highly requested later mass given to us so mass does not interfere with time with their father. I could feel the anger and bitterness, the disappointment and heartache, the embarrassment and frustration well up inside me minute by minute as I waited and hoped they would show up. This was Christmas. I was missing my kids on Christmas, but I should not be experiencing such negativity on this sacred day. I stopped and examined the real causes of my disappointment in not having them serve Christmas Mass.
I was angry and sad that the boys were not there to serve the Lord on His birthday. We live in a very small parish, and George and Noah were the only altar servers scheduled for this mass. Part of the reason I stood in the vestibule of the church was to find replacement servers. None were available.
On one of the most special, most beautiful, and busiest Catholic celebrations of the year, our parish priest was left alone to do everything a priest and his two servers should do. The mass would be not be the smooth, peaceful celebration it should have been for our gentle priest and it would lack something for church-goers as well.
I also knew that when word got out about the boys missing this special mass, they would never again be asked to serve big masses. I understand this from a scheduler and a priest’s point of view, but, as a single mother working so hard to keep my children connected to the Catholic faith in a world fighting so hard to pull them away, this hurt.
I decided my anger and disappointment for these reasons were justifiable.
But there was more. And this was where I had to come face to face with my own ugliness, my own sinfulness even on this sacred day. I take a great deal of pride in serving God when my boys are on the altar.
There, it was out. I enjoy seeing my boys on the altar. I love seeing their sweet little smiles as they carried the sacred candles. My heart bursts when they do something right and things go smoothly. My giggles are stifled when they mess something up (which they do more often than not). Selfishly, I swell with pride when people come up to me after mass and let me know how much they enjoy seeing my boys up there, how angelic they look.
People, even complete strangers, often tell me how proud I should be of my boys.
And I am.
And I should be.
Unless that pride is false pride.
Especially if that false pride is false pride in serving God.
And that’s what it was.
Yes, I missed having my boys serve Christmas mass, and I think that is understandable in some ways, but it is not justifiable in all ways. I had to admit to myself that:
Their serving needs to be less about THEM serving and more about WHO they serve.
Maybe, for all my preaching of the reason for Christmas, I too had gotten caught up in the traps laid by Satan. I may not have been caught up in ribbons and bows and expensive gifts, but the devil is smart – smarter than I am! What pulled me away from the reason for Christmas celebration was my own false pride.
I did get the kids back later that night, and we drove to a later mass in a neighboring town. Along the way, the song from the Grinch miraculously appeared in my head replacing the earlier mantra which had me in tears in the back of the church.
I smiled as I sang driving through the snowy darkness, and for once, no one complained about my singing. Instead the boys got quiet and listened. My voice, sounding clear and bright as I gained confidence, reverberated through the silent night and helped me realize how true those words are:
It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags…
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
Yes, the words appeared in my head and made me smile for, like the Grinch, I had learned that Christmas is Christmas – worth celebrating without anything added – including my false pride.
Welcome Christmas Song (End of the Grinch TV Special)
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