Betty Duffy

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Church Ladies and Pious Children

I don’t want to be a Church lady. Church Ladies come in different shapes and sizes. But there’s something similar about them all too, something that smacks of a little too much perfection, a little artificiality.

Maybe it’s just my point of reference—that since I don’t always feel like “each pregnancy is such a blessing” (even though I always come to that conclusion eventually), and because speaking of my relationship with the Lord doesn’t come naturally (though I feel it no less passionately)—that other people can’t really have those orientations without an interior fight. I want to see the evidence of that battle, and sugary Church-speak seems to negate it.

Still, I feel the urge to speak a certain way, in a certain tone of voice when I talk about God or pray spontaneously. It happens on a subconscious level. For instance when I’m trying to catechize my children: I can speak irritably for a better part of the day, but after Mass, because I want to present the goodness and truth of what we just heard to my kids, I’ll adopt a sugary tone of voice that is not natural to me. “Jesus loves you so much—stop kicking your sister!”

Someone, somewhere once said, “I feel like I am going to hell trying to get my kids to Heaven.” My kids are not naturally pious—probably because I am not naturally pious. When my husband and I sound the call to prayer at night, our children take it as a cue to break out in chaos. They roll on the floor, poke each other, bounce incessantly, and secretly read books or play with the nearest toy.

I get so frustrated trying to get them to kneel, show reverence (You are speaking to God, you know), that I often break down, and hear myself following up my insistence on reverence with something like, “Just hurry up and pray so you can go to bed.” How will my children survive it? How will religion not end up being a negative experience for them? It makes Mom and Dad tense. It causes them to use artificial voices. Mom smiles and is friendly to all the people at Church, and then once the car door is shut, she starts griping again.

I think my family history enters the picture here a little bit. I didn’t grow up hearing people pray spontaneously. My parents converted to Catholicism when I was five, but they didn’t get serious about it until much later. When faith is new, sometimes it feels like a foreign language, and they couldn’t control their sugary voices when they talked about it either. There was a whole new vocabulary and jargon I'd never heard before. I was a teenager and a skeptic, so it turned me off.

But here I am, using that tone of voice—trying to relay something that is very personal and very profound to me—and coming off sounding trite and artificial. As a consequence, I can talk about religion all day long, I can talk about Catholicism until I’m blue in the face, but ask me to say a spontaneous prayer over a meal, and I choke up, get embarrassed, feel mute and insincere--because it makes me feel like a Church Lady. And I don’t know how to get around that so that my kids will learn to know Jesus and love him.


Megan said...

I definitly switch to that calm, sing songy, pious voice when Im trying to communicate somethign holy to my kids or during prayer time. Afterwards it makes me feel like phony balony but honestly for a brief second it makes me feel like a good Mom. Why? I dont know because for all we know Our Lady might have had a deep voice or maybe St Therese talked & laughed like Fran Drescher. On the one hand I want to revolt against pious voices (I mean isnt my voice good enough) but then again maybe switiching to a differnt voice during prayer is natural afterall. Maybe its like serving a meal to guests on beautiful China. Its pleasing to the senses. Most nights the kids get paper plates so why not throw in a little china every once in awhile? Long live the Catholic Voice!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Megan said...

Yes, I am a horrible speller. the previous comment illistrates why i should proof-read everything before i hit send and why i probaly should not be homeschooling.

Betty Duffy said...

I love your metaphor, Megan. It IS like serving dinner on good china. I think back too, to a time when I was much less annoyed by trivial things than I am now, and I always put my best voice forward. Maybe I have things backwards, and my annoyed voice is something I've put on and grown comfortable with over these years of motherhood.