I could barely hear the pastor’s voice over the loud speaker.
Something about Lent and the raising of Lazarus. His voice was drowned by mothers shushing and children fussing. Toddlers whining and mine, begging for me to put on his new cowboy boots. I obliged. I propped him up on my lap and removed the Velcro straps of his brown loafers, then shoved on his fancy boots. He was beaming.
Across the room, an Indian woman breastfed her infant while her balding husband closed his eyes, trying to listen. Next to her, a mother scolded her sons. “Give that back to your brother,” she ordered. He refused. She threatened taking away his birthday party. I thought she looked like Minnie Driver.
Next to me sat an older gentleman rocking a toddler. He promised him ice cream if he would just be good.
The cry room at our church is slightly larger than a walk-in closet, painted blue with smudged white clouds. It used to have angels painted on the walls, but they recently repainted it — much to the disappointment of my son who frequently asks me with concern, “Angels?” I calmly tell him they flew away.
An African family dressed in cultural garb tried to comfort their wailing 8-year-old while his sister skipped around the room. Juice boxes, toy cars, snack bags and backpacks were dangled, offered and used as bribes to calm the young masses at mass.
Suddenly, a whiff. Another mom huddled in the alcove close by, changing her little one’s diaper. And then, a cry from my baby carrier. My little girl wanted to be held, so I pulled her to my lap while placing her brother at my side.
Outside the room, the congregation sang songs. They recited prayers. They turned to their neighbors and shook their hands and said, “Peace be with you.” Inside the room, parents with scowling expressions and frustrated sighs muttered half-prayers while scooping up half-spilled sippy cups.
But all is not lost. At times like these, I may not be able to pray in silence or meditate on a reading or absorb the pastor’s message. But what I can do is encourage another mom with a smile. Show patience with my children. Pray with my actions. And offer compassion to my neighbor whose child is about to lose his birthday party for not sharing with his brother, poor thing.
Perhaps even – in that tiny room full of loud children and tired parents doing the best they can – God is most present.
“What seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling. For these may come from a deeper level than feeling. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.” – C.S. Lewis