Where Logic Meets Love

An Open Letter to the Woman in Front of Me in Church Today

Saturday, September 19, 2009

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An Open Letter to the Woman in Front of Me in Church Today | Faith Permeating Life
Dear woman in front of me at church today,

You have a very well-behaved son. He was quiet, he didn't seem overly distracted, and he stood and kneeled and sat when he was supposed to. In fact, the only thing that was disrupting my "churchgoing experience" was you. I still can't figure out why exactly you were hissing at him or grabbing him every five minutes, but the only thing I could gather was that you didn't think he was being holy enough because he wasn't sitting up straight or because he was tapping his fingers together or because he put his head down during the prayers like maybe he was sleeping -- or maybe he was praying.

But I'll tell you that even if you succeed in whatever your goal is, making him sit up straight and hold his head just right and sing and not act bored for even a second, you will not have saved his soul. If you place all your emphasis on his outward appearance, then in the end, that's all you're going to get. If he loves you or respects you or fears you enough he will eventually do everything you say, and then get the hell out of there and turn his back on God as soon as he's 18. Who knows, maybe you don't care about that. Maybe you do just care about appearances. In which case, I will repeat that you were being a heck of a lot more annoying than he was.

I would gladly sit behind your son in church again, but I wouldn't want to sit behind you again. On the other hand, if you let him be himself, if you let him put his head down or tap his fingers because he's bored, then maybe he'll be thinking about video games or sex or food, but maybe he'll get to thinking about God. Maybe some part of the priest's homily will seep into his brain and he'll get to thinking about it late at night when he's lying in bed. But if you spend all of church poking him and reprimanding him, then everytime he thinks about God he will think about church and he will have a negative feeling, and that will color everything he believes about God.


The woman behind you in church today


  1. Oooh, I hadn't seen this post before! I will think of it next time I'm worrying a lot about how my son is acting in church!

    Something to consider, though, is that a parent who criticizes her child's behavior when it isn't bothering YOU may be doing it because the behavior interferes with HER concentration on church. Sometimes my son does things that can't be heard from 2 feet away but make me itch, give me chills (barely-audible scraping, argh!), or just are catching too much of my attention, and I need to stop those behaviors for my own sake even if they aren't bothering others.

  2. @'Becca
    That's a good point! I will keep that in mind next time I see a parent reprimanding their child. In this case, if I remember correctly, mostly what she was doing was poking him the back and whispering at him to sit up straight, which I thought was unnecessary, but I can see how the finger-tapping could get on her nerves, if not mine.

    I once had a music workshop with David Haas, who's written a ton of the music in most Catholic hymnals. He said he hates seeing parents shush their kids all through Mass and then poke them when they're not singing. "Shut up! Sing! Shut up! Sing!" That's stayed with me, the idea that I want to reserve the times I shush my kids to when they're clearly annoying others and not just me. Probably easier said than done :)

  3. @'Becca
    I should add also that the kid in this case was a teenager. I think that added to my concern that she was going to drive him away from church.


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