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.
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.