Thursday, August 15, 2013

When Sunday mass is hard

One of the more unfortunate things I've learned from this struggle with infertility is that Sunday mass is hard! As in, probably one of the more difficult hours of my week. Every week. With very few exceptions.

Don't get me wrong - I love mass. I'm a Catholic convert, and I fell in love with Jesus all over again at the mass. Maybe because I came into the Church as an adult, but I never experienced mass as a chore or drudgery, but always as a high point of my week.

But when I think about it, it's not all that surprising that it's been easily over a year of crying - or trying not to cry - or just generally feeling awash with sadness - at Sunday mass. I can think of two main reasons:

1. The mass we usually attend (and frankly, most masses I've attended) has babies, children, pregnant women, in abundance. (Okay, maybe not that many, but enough!) Babies are hard for me right now, for obvious reasons. Spending an hour in a room with lots of them is not my cup of tea.
2. Mass is when I feel the closest to Jesus, when I pour out my heart to him, tell him how I'm doing. Right now that always includes telling him, for the millionth time, how much I want to be a mother and how hard everything is. I guess I'm a emotional pray-er, because these prayers generally make me want to cry.

And there are some other reasons too: the readings or homily might touch on something close to my heart (like one of the barren women in Scripture) or something really challenging for me right now ("ask and you will receive"). Or there are prayers for pregnant women or mothers (I've never heard any prayer for people struggling to conceive). Or there is specific praise for mothers (I don't begrudge them that - good job, mothers! - but yes, it's hard to hear).

And to top if off, after I've spent an hour trying to be calm around all the babies, talk to Jesus without crying, and absorb/deflect the readings or words that go straight to my heart, then it's social time after mass with our friends, most of whom have young children or are pregnant. When I'd rather just slink away and have a good self-pity cry. More often than not, I cry on the way home from church and spend part of the afternoon in a funk.

So what to do? It's not like I can stop going to Sunday mass. And not like I want to - although it really, really pains my heart to think of other women who might stop going for exactly the reasons I listed above. I get that! It pains me to think of them missing out on the sacraments!

Here are some things that have helped me, somewhat:
  • Custody of the eyes: Lately, I've been making myself literally close my eyes during mass (at appropriate moments), especially during communion, because otherwise my gaze will wonder and rest on this pregnant woman, and this baby, and this big family, and I'll be distracted and feel sorry for myself. It might sound over-simple, but shutting my eyes, and maybe just saying, "Jesus, I trust in you" seems to help. After all, it's not like mass is for people-watching anyway.
  • Focus really hard on the words of the mass. This is hard in general, I guess, but it also seems to help. Especially because so many of the words are about suffering, sacrifice, and love. I try to really absorb them, say them in my head with feeling, as an effort to unite my sufferings with Christ's.
  • Don't force feelings. This one is interesting, I think. I noticed that I felt guilty for feeling sad at mass - as if mass is where we all smile and leave our cares at the door and congratulate each other in our okay-ness. As if we all have to prove how wonderful and joyful the Christian life is. Well, that life involves the cross. Not so happy (deep-down, yes, but still a cross). I've gained some peace realizing that it's okay to feel devastated at mass, to feel sorrowful, to weep even (not that I've done that - but I've wanted to!). Mass is for all us broken people who don't have it all together, who are sorrowful and hurting. I don't force myself to have a happy face on during mass anymore. I just let things be, and let Jesus love me.
And I'm out of ideas...other than sometimes, I just need to go to a different mass. I love our parish, but especially the social time afterwards can be overwhelming. It's kind of a relief when we travel and go to a mass where people don't know us, and when we can leave right after.

Hearing words of comfort about the struggle of infertility...oh, just one time in a million masses maybe...would be nice too. (It's not like barrenness isn't in the Bible!)

Maybe I'll reach a point where Sunday mass isn't so hard. Right now it is. So that's that.



  1. I've gone through some times where Mass was extremely hard, and I think you've come up with some good ways to get through some of it. Especially that last one. God is waiting to give us all that He is, and for us to give all that we are, including our sadness and devastation. I know that after I went through a time that Mass was heartbreaking, I went through a time that I had no feeling at all and I felt like a lump in the pew. But I realized that if all I had to offer was the lump, He'd gladly take it because it was what I had to give at the time. I also started going to the earlier Mass with the older people. There'd still be a few kids, but usually less.

    Praying for you!

    1. Yes, He's happy with "the lump"! What a great description - I definitely feel like that sometimes. Almost like I'm staring down Jesus on the cross: "okay, I'm here. That's about all I got today."

  2. I think with time mass does get easier. I was one of those women who just wouldn't go. It was just too painful and raw for me, but slowly I started to evolve and start going again. For me, when I accepted that we may have to build our family in a different way than I thought and I began to truly embrace that God wants what's best for us (Believing that he does love me), mass has gotten so much easier. I rarely find myself hurting when a baby cries or when I see a pregnant woman. This has taken a lot of time, a lot of prayer, and a lot of acceptance of our situation, but I do think it gets easier. Praying for you.

  3. I wonder if going to the earlier mass - as Catholic Mutt suggested - would help. Or possibly the Saturday evening .... not so sure about that one but it could be worth a try. At least the social group would be different and maybe you could get away a bit more easily.

    You also need to respect your feelings and treasure and cherish yourself - not indulge, but do what you can to build your strength, courage and resilience - and that may not be chatting with super fertile friends every single week ?

    1. I know what you mean, and in theory I agree (about going to another mass or not chatting with friends afterwards). And yes, on days like mother's day and father's day, we on purpose were out of town...holidays we're generally with family, so there are distractions...but this is something I really struggle with, 1) because I'm in the choir at church, which I love, and it's at *that* mass with all the kids; and 2) after mass is generally our only time to see friends. If we don't chat with them, I feel like I'm missing out, being left out of the social loop, etc. It's like a choice between two bad options =( Yes, there are certainly days when I just need to leave, and I know they understand...but other days when I make the effort, keeping in mind that these are friendships I cherish and we're not going to be in our reproductive years forever! =)

      I guess that's one thing I didn't realize about IF before going through it: it can be really isolating, precisely because it becomes hard to interact with other people with kids. Like tomorrow, I'm not going to a baby shower because I just don't think I can handle it. And I'm at peace with that. But on the other hand, I'm sad to miss out on seeing friends that I don't see often. So it's tough both ways.

    2. (I meant after mass is our only time to see certain friends, our church friends, who include our best man, several friends of 4+ years, etc)

  4. I understand all those feelings! Those are some good practices I should try too. We try to sit as close to the front as possible, because then there are less big families in front of us.