Your Family: On A Mission From God

The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group:  CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

Every Christian family is on a mission from God.  I want to walk through some simple steps every family can take to discern their mission. But first, where does this idea of a mission even come from?

The Roots of Your Family Mission

The Sacrament of Marriage is founded on the idea that God, himself, has called a particular couple together–not only for their mutual benefit–but as a visible sign of his free, total, faithful, and fruitful love in the world.  Christian couples and families don’t just live for themselves.  God means to use your marriage and family life to be an outpost of grace.

As a vocation, marriage–like Holy Orders–represents a particular way that a couple has been called by God to live out their three-fold baptismal mission of priest (blessing the world by modeling Christ’s sacrificial love), prophet (being a witness of how God’s children are meant to live), and royal, (using their gifts to be a blessing to others).

Likewise, in Familiaris Consortio, St John Paul said that every family serves three important tasks in build the Kingdom of God.
1) To create an intimate communion.
2) To serve life by being open to children and forming those children to be Christian disciples.
3) To be a force for good in their communities. (i..e, “participate in the development of society.”)
4) To be an outpost of grace in the world. (i.e, “to share in the life and mission of the church.”)

Likewise, a Christian household is called a “domestic church.” That means that Christian households are meant to be little branches of the larger church, bringing God’s love and grace out to the world.  Like the larger church, your domestic church is charged with building the Kingdom of God.

These various calls and tasks serve as the roots of both your personal and family mission.

It’s Not What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It

A “mission” represents the specific way a particular person or community lives out a more general call. So, while all Christians are called to be priests, prophets and royals, and all couples are called to witness to Christ’s free, total, faithful, and fruitful love in the world, and all families are called to live out the four tasks in their lives, what living that out looks like for you and your house is going to vary widely from what that looks like for every other family.

Developing a family mission represents your effort to discern the specific way God is asking you and your household to live out these various calls in the unique circumstances of your lives. It’s as simple as that.

How Do You Create A Family Mission?

There isn’t one way to create a family mission but there are some general suggestions.  We walk through the following steps in more detail in my book, Parenting with Grace, but this will get you started.

  1. Pray Together (in general)–You can’t develop a family mission unless you are going to God together as a family ask asking him why he called you together and how he wants you to live.  Every day, get in the habit of asking God to help you be the family he wants you to be and to understand how to live out your call in the unique circumstances of your life.
  2. Pray Together (About Your Mission)–Pray as a family about the particular virtues or qualities God is calling your family to exhibit so that you could face the challenges you need to face more effectively and live more abundantly. Would you like to be more joyful, loving, responsible, faithful, generous, respectful, and so on?  Obviously we all want to grow in all the virtues, and you will.  But for the purposes of discerning your mission, you want to focus on the specific virtues or qualities you need to live more abundantly in the circumstances God has placed you.  Identify the top 2-4 (max) qualities or virtues that would help you take the life you are currently living to the next level.  That is, what qualities would enable you to celebrate the joys in your particular life and rise to the struggles in your particular life in a more graceful, godly way?  Write them down.
  3. Discuss–Next, take each of the virtues you identified one-at-a-time. Each person in the family (starting with Dad and Mom and then down from the oldest child) should suggest one or two ways you could use that quality to be a better parent or brother or sister and at least one example of how that particular quality might help your family handle a specific situation better than it currently does.  For instance, if you were discussing joy, you might say, “If I were going to be a more joyful dad, I would make a point of playing a more active role in planning family activities, instead of leaving that to mom so much.  And to be a more joyful family, I think we need to put regular family time on the schedule so that we aren’t just trying to squeeze each other in whenever other stuff wasn’t happening.”

    This part of the discussion should focus on the particular action steps you want to try to focus on to help you do a better job of living out the virtues that make up your family mission.

  4. Reflect/Revise–Discuss your mission on a regular basis.  Over dinner at least once-a-week, ask each other to reflect on each of the virtues in your mission.  How are you doing?  What’s working well?  What are the challenges?  How can you do a better job supporting each other as a family to overcome those challenges?  What choices do you need to make (i.e., activities to be involved in, priorities that need to be set, rituals that need to be created) to help you live out those qualities more effectively? Use your mission to help challenge each other to be better living, breathing examples of the virtues that make up your mission and to help you make decisions for your family that enable you to live out those virtues more effectively in your daily life together.

These are some basic steps of creating a mission. For more ideas, check out Parenting with Grace and join the discussion at our FB Group CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

 

 

Parents, Is Sheltering In Place Burning You Out? There Might Be a Simple Solution.

A friend brought this article to my attention. I have been reflecting on it in light of our larger conversation about the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.

This is certainly a challenging time. Even the strongest families are feeling the strain, not only of being together 24/7 but also for the reasons we’re obliged to be together. But I do think there is at least one major false presumption the author makes which makes home life even more difficult than it needs to be. He writes:

“There’s a subtle expectation that parents must find creative ways to handle this on their own. My in-box, social media feeds, and countertops are filled with creative ideas for educating and caring for your kids. Workbooks, games, creative projects and experiments, virtual yoga, virtual doodling, virtual zoo visits, virtual everything. I honestly am too tired and stretched thin to read the suggestions, let alone try them. The few I have tried have been met with astounding and fierce rejection by my son.”

The problem, as I see it, is that our culture has convinced us that our children need to be entertained by us. They don’t. That’s why kids can sometimes push back against all these “creative ideas.” Kids don’t want to be entertained by us. They just want to BE with us.

The author gets at this when he writes, “[My son] stormed upstairs to cry, he told me it was because I had stopped smiling at him. Knife, meet heart.”

“Knife meet heart” indeed.

That’s the point of the Rite of Relationships in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life. We don’t need to kill ourselves coming up with craft projects, or new awesome games, or the NEXT BIG THING we can do with our kids to keep them happy and occupied.

We just need to remember to smile at them. To hug them more. To read more stories together. To let them talk about what they’re interested in and actually listen. To see what games they’re playing and join in as we can. To “waste time together” (as Pope Francis puts it). To ask them to come with us and keep us company (and maybe even help out) while we fold the laundry and do the dishes, and dust, and….whatever. Kids don’t actually mind doing chores with us IF the focus is THEM and not just pushing through the chore.

The Rite of Relationships challenges parents to stop thinking that all the stuff we do at home is just stuff we have to get through so we can finally do other stuff that is more entertaining. The Rite of Relationships invites us to ask, “How can I do whatever I’m doing RIGHT NOW in a way that lets me share God’s love with the people around me and draw closer to them.” The Rite of Relationship h
elps us “choose the better part” and discover the gift of presence. It allows us to stop acting around each other and reacting to each other and Just. Be. Together.

Parenting IS hard. Parenting during this pandemic is even harder. But let’s stop making things even worst than they need to be. Let’s stop thinking of our kids as projects and just connect with them as persons who love us and just want to BE with us. Let’s allow the grace of the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life to remind us that we are human beings, not human doings. It’s easier than you might think. It’s certainly a lot easier than the alternative. And it just might let us all learn to enjoy our families a little more.

Nailed It! Do I Have to Be “Crafty” to be a Catholic Parent?

In the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, The Rite of Family Rituals asks families to create regular, daily times to work, play, talk, and pray together. Rituals like these enable families to practice the prophetic mission of their baptism by modeling Christian attitudes toward work, leisure, intimacy, and spirituality.

Crafting is one great way families can model a healthy approach to fun, and religious crafts can give kids a concrete way to connect with spiritual concepts. That said, to loosely paraphrase Jesus, it’s important to remember that crafts were made for man, not man for the crafts (see Mark 2:27—sort of).

In order to gain the spiritual benefits of any family ritual—including crafting–it needs to build relationships. Any activity that becomes about itself and not the people doing it, misses the point.

For instance, if you play Monopoly and winning the game becomes more important than building your relationships, you end up tearing each other to shreds. If you bake together, and decorating the cookies “just so” becomes the point of the experience, you’ll end up chasing the kids out of the kitchen to make sure it gets done “right.” And if you’re crafting for crafting’s sake, you have a family that looks great on Pinterest, but that’s about it. The last example is, I think, the modern take on Jesus’ “whitwashed tombs” (Matt 23:27).

We run into a lot folks who feel guilty that they aren’t crafty like “so-and-so.” In some circles, it can seem like being a holy family is synonymous with being a “crafty” family. How are our kids ever going to get to Heaven if we don’t make handmade nun’s habits for all their Barbie dolls—and in all the liturgical colors?!? “Now stop talking and hand me those ribbons for Heaven’s sake!”

If that’s your thing, and it truly draws your family together, that’s awesome. But if your family projects never quite work out as planned, or the very idea of working with construction paper makes you itch, that’s ok too. Failing to be a latter-day Martha Stewart doesn’t make your family less holy or your home less domestic-churchy than anyone else’s.

Living the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life isn’t about making beautiful props that turn your home into a miniature version of St Peter’s Basilica. It’s about spending time connecting, really connecting, with the people that God has given you to love and be loved by. It’s about being silly together, and cuddling together, and serving each other, and trying to be a physical sign of all the love God has in his heart for each of you. Whatever rituals help make that happen in your house are the “right” ones—even if they’re completely different from the rituals that the family in pew next to you (or that online family you admire) do in their domestic churches.

The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life isn’t about trying to get every family to do the same things or act the same way. It’s meant to be a template that helps families cover certain important bases in their own unique way. So, be mindful of the 3 Rites of the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, but ask God (and your family) how you can use the model to bring out what’s best in your family.

The Church At Home: Celebrating the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life

By Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak

Whatever else God might be doing at this time, it seems clear that he is calling us to discover the power and importance of the Domestic Church.  With masses suspended and churches closed, we simply don’t have access to the spiritual resources we normally rely on. We are, quite literally, stuck at home with little choice but to figure out how to encounter God as we shelter-in-place.

Despite the very real limitations we’re all laboring under, God has not abandoned us.  His Holy Spirit is still moving powerfully in the world and I believe that it is time to learn how to encounter God more meaningfully in what I like to call “The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.”

Developed as a result of the Symposium on Catholic Family Life and Spirituality  the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is a model of family spirituality that helps families experience God more meaningfully in their every day circumstances and experience the faith as the source of the warmth in our homes.  The following is a kind of FAQ for celebrating the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life in your home. I hope it will help you have a more meaningful encounter with Christ in your everyday life with your loved ones.


What is the “Liturgy of Domestic Church Life?”
“Liturgy” is a word that refers to “work” God does through his church to heal the damage that sin does to our relationship with him and each other.  The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the “summit and source” of that healing, uniting us with God and giving us the grace to create communion with others. The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is the primary way lay people exercise our common priesthood, consecrating the world to Christ by literally bringing Jesus home with us and letting him transform our common families into dynamic domestic churches!

Why Do you Say That Christian Family Life Is A “Liturgy?”
Great question!  We have a larger presentation (available on request) that explains the basis of the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life in Church teaching and the Catholic theology of family.  That said, check out this link for a brief explanation of the 5 Reasons Family Life is a Liturgy.

How Do You Celebrate the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life?
Every family is different, so every family must feel free to chose specific practices that work for them.  But drawing from both the Catholic theology of family and social science research into what makes families in every culture around the world healthy and strong, we suggest that the Liturgy of Domestic Church is made up of three “Rites.”  The more your family looks for ways to practice these rites in your unique circumstances the more God’s grace can transform your family into a dynamic domestic church! The three “rites” are…

The Rite of Relationship:  Godly families are called to love each other—not just with the love that comes naturally to us broken, sinful, human beings–but  with true, incarnational, Christian love.  By challenging each other to live Christ’s sacrificial love in their homes everyday, the Rite of Relationship enables families to exercise the priestly mission of baptism.

     -The Rite of Rituals: When godly families make a little time, everyday, to work, play, talk, and pray together, they model how Christians are meant to relate to work, leisure, relationships, and God. In this way, The Rite of Rituals enables famlies to exercise the prophetic mission of baptism, showing each other and the world how Christians are called to live.

     -The Rite of Reaching Out: As Christians, we’re mean to be a blessing to others. When Christian families live their family lives with others in mind, being kind, charitable, hospitable, serving others, and working to discern their unique mission and charisms, they exercise the royal mission of baptism by serving with Christ and building the kingdom of God.

What Are Some Examples Of How Families Can Live the Rite Of Relationship?
Catholic familes are called to do more than just live under the same roof and share a data plan! When Catholic families love each other through the priestly mission of their baptism, they practice the sacrifical love that comes from God’s heart.  Every family must be free to choose specific practices that let them live this rite in their own circumstances, but here are some examples of things every family can do.

     -Extravagant Affection—Christ’s love is incarnational and embodied.  The more we share generous, healthy, and appropriate physical affection in our homes, the more our family’s love resembles the incarnate, embodied love of Christ.

     -Prompt, Generous, Consistent, Responses to Each Other’s Needs—Psalm 139:4 says, “Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all.”  God is immeasurably generous to us.  Families model God’s love when each member—parents and children—encourage each other to go above and beyond, responding promptly, generously, and consistently to each other needs and concerns.

     -Gentle Discipline—Christ is the Good Shepherd. He tends his sheep gently. He leads with love. He is slow to anger.  His mercy is neverending.  St John Bosco developed a method of discipline he called the “Preventive Method” which rejected heavy-handed punishments in favor of “reason, religion, and lovingkindness.”  He argued that a gentle approach to childrearing was more consistent with the call to Christian discipleship because it required parents to develop as well as teach self-mastery.  We discuss effective approaches to gentle discipline in our book, Parenting with Grace.

     -Prioritize Relationship—Christ encouraged the very busy homemaker, Martha, to “choose the better part” (c.f. Lk 10:42) by making time for intimacy over activity. Godly families follow Christ’s call when we prioritize one-on-one time and, as Pope Francis put it,  “waste time with each other,” even when that means opting out of activities that compete with the importance of family time.

     -Catch Each Other Being GoodThe Christian life is all about growing in virtue. Godly families do well to encourage virtue by “catching each other being good,” acknowledging the little gifts of service and love we give to each other throughout the day, and intentionally discussing opportunities to grow in respect, love, generosity, togetherness, joy, and all the other virtues that help us live life as a gift.

What Are Some Examples Of How Families Can Live the Rite Of Rituals
More than just “nice things to do” regular family rituals give families a way to exerise the prophetic mission of their baptism. Not only do family ritual create a strong sense of community, they give families a way to model the Christian way of life by cultivating goldy attitudes toward work, leisure, relationships, and prayer. Every family must be free to choose specific practices that let them live this rite in their own circumstances, but here are some examples of ways families can Work, Play, Talk, and Pray together everyday

Work Rituals—When families take a few minutes every day to do simple chores together, like cleaning up the kitchen after meals, folding laundry, picking up the family room, and other household tasks, they model teamwork, stewardship, and cheerful service.

     -Play Rituals—When godly familes make a point of taking a few minutes everyday to do things like play simple board games or card games, play catch, bake together, do a project, have read-aloud time, take a walk, or enjoy each other’s company in any other way, they model healthy, godly ways to have fun.

     -Talk Rituals—When familes take a few minutes of every day—perhaps over their regular family meal(s)–to discuss topics like the highs and lows of the day, the little ways God has blessed them, and how they might do a better job taking care of each other, they create experiences of heart-to-heart communion in the home.

     -Pray Rituals—Simple practices like morning and bedtime prayer, grace-at-meals, blessing each other, a family rosary or chaplet, family praise and worship times, bible reading, and other accessible, age-appropriate spiritual practices help families invite God into their homes and relate to him as the most important member of their family!  The one who knows them best and loves them most.

What Are Some Examples Of How Families Can Live the Rite Of Reaching Out?
When families love each other and their “neighbors” through the royal mission of their baptism, they cultivate a spirit of loving service in their hearts.  Although its important to find ways to serve your parish or community together as a family, true Christian service begins at home.  Every family must be free to choose specific practices that let them live this rite in their own circumstances, but here are some examples of ways families can practive the Rite of Reaching Out.

Serve Generously At Home—A true heart of service begins with serving the people closest to us. Look for ways to make each member of the family’s days easier and more pleasant.

Think of Others While At HomeRemember to take care of clothes, toys, and other things you have so that you can pass them on to others who may need them in your community.  When you’re cooking, make a little extra for the sick, pregnant, or elderly neighbor. Consider the ways you can be a blessing to others without even having to leave home.

Be Hospitable—Make your home a welcoming place for others.  Regularly invite people to share meals and enjoy opportunities for good, clean fun and even prayer together. Be the house on the block where the neighborhood kids like to gather. Host a neighborhood BBQ.

     -Be Kind in the WorldWhen you go out as a family, make a point of being kind and respectful to customer service people, waitstaff, and others. Practice good manners. Be thoughtful. Say, “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me.”  Hold the door for others.  Be aware of the people around you and how you can model kindness in the simplest interactions.

     -Serve Together Don’t let your parish life or charity work be one more thing that pulls your family apart. Look for age-appropriate ways to serve your parish or community together as a family.

     -Discover Your Family Mission and Charism—By prayerfully discerning the virtues God is asking your family to exemplify and how to use the gifts, talents, or interests your family shares to bless others, you discover the unique role your family plays in building the Kingdom of God!

~ ~ ~

Imagine what a difference Catholic families could make if we all did our best to live the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  Though simple acts like these, every family could cooperate with God’s grace to transform their homes into loving, sacred spaces and consecrate the world to Christ!

If you’d like to discover more about how the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life can bless your family, I hope you’ll join our Facebook discussion group,
or check out my book Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide To Raising Faithful Kids.
_________________
Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak are the authors of many books, the hosts of More2Life Radio, and the directors of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling service of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.

Four Ways to Keep Your Relationship Afloat In Tough Times

Husbands and wives pledge to love each other through good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty. On the day of the wedding, these promises feel comforting. But when bad times come through the door, love often flies out the window.  How can a couple stick together even when the going gets tough?

Decades of research have revealed the following four habits to be essential for staying close through difficult times. They are like four pontoons that keep your relationship afloat (see what I did there?), especially when the storms of life lead you into choppy waters.

1.Meaningful Couple Prayer—Turns out, the Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC. was right. The couple that prays together really does stay together.  Research by Baylor University found that couples who engage in meaningful couple-prayer are significantly more likely to think positively about each other and feel closer to each other, especially through hard times.

Meaningful couple prayer isn’t just about “saying words at God.”  It requires you and your spouse to take a little time every day—even just five minutes—to talk to God about your life, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and your feelings.  Sit down together and speak to God as if he were the person who knew you best and loved you most.  In addition to the graces we receive from prayer, couple-prayer “works” on a human level because it gives couples a safe, quasi-indirect way to reveal our hearts to one another.  We talk to God while our spouse listens in.  Then, as our spouse prays, we ask God to help us really hear what our spouse is trying to say.  What are their needs, their fears, their wants and concerns?  How do these fit with our own needs, fears, wants and concerns?  By listening to each other in prayer, the Holy Spirit can guide you toward graceful solutions.

2.Talk Together—Create a daily talk ritual; a time where you intentionally discuss topics that don’t natually come up.  Specifically, focus on three questions.  1) How are each of you holding up?  Be honest.  What do you feel like you’re handling well?  Where do you feel like you’re struggling?  When were you at your best today?  When were you at your worst?  2)  When did you feel closest to your spouse/most grateful for your spouse’s support today?  First of all, discussing this question daily makes you more conscious of the need to do things to support each other.  Second, acknowledging the ways you have shown up for each other throughout the day reminds you that you aren’t alone. You have a friend who really wants to be there for you. 3) What could you do to help make each other’s day a little easier/more pleasant?  Is there a project you need some help with?  Is there something you need prayer for?  Are there little things that your spouse sometimes does that mean a lot?  Take this time to ask each other to do those little things that say, “Even when life is falling apart, you can count on me to be here and to take care of you.”

3.Work Together—Your household chores aren’t just something to get through.  They’re actually opportunities to build a sense of solidarity and team spirit.  It’s a funny thing.  You might not know how to weather the latest crisis, but doing something as simple as making the bed together, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner together, or picking up the family room together before you turn in sends a powerful unconscious message that says, “I’m not just here for the fun.  I’m here for the hard stuff and the boring stuff too.  Somehow, we can get through this. Together.”

Research shows that couples who make a daily habit of cultivating simple caretaking behaviors like doing chores side-by-side develop better cooperation, communication and problem-solving skills. It turns out that the way you work together to avoid bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s toes while you clean up the kitchen becomes the unconscious template for how you work together to handle that health crisis, financial problem, or other unexpected challenge.

4. Play Together—When you’re going through tough times, you don’t want to play.  We just want to isolate and hide.  Resist that temptation as best you can. Make a little time every day to do something pleasant together. Think about the simple pleasures you enjoy in happier times and make yourselves do them–even if you’re not really feeling it.  It might not be all laughs and giggles, but worst case scenario?  You might help each other remember that life isn’t completely horrible and you’ll have each other to thank for that little moment of joy.  Psychology reminds us that humor and play are two the most sophisticated defense mechanisms.  They help us stubbornly resolve to make beautiful moments even when life is anything but.  The couple that learns how to gently play together even the face of trials are true masters at life and love.

Life can be hard, but cultivating a love that “endures all things” (1Cor 13:7), isn’t complicated. By remembering to Pray, Talk, Work, and Play together, you can build a relationship that can stand up to whatever life throws at you.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including Just Married. Learn more at CatholicCounselors.com

Whose Will You Be? A Gospel Reflection for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”

To whom do you belong? Whose will you be? At it’s core, this is what the Sadducees seem to be asking in this Sunday’s Gospel from the Book of Luke Chapter 20: 27-38. The response that Jesus offers is surprising:  in, “the resurrection of the dead,” he says, we, “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Does this mean, you might ask, that I won’t be married to my partner in Heaven? Depending on the state of your relationship, I imagine you’l be asking that question with either a smile or a frown.

Rest assured, though: as my own theological mentor often says, Jesus is not offering a deletion of relationship, but rather a completion. That is to say, Jesus is painting a picture of Heaven, not as a place which removes the closeness, trust and intimacy we experience with one person in marriage, but where we can experience that same closeness, trust and intimacy with every person. It has been said that Heaven is where we will “know and be known,” and this is the promise to which Christ refers in his admonition to the scholars of the law. In this redeemed order, marriage would simply be redundant. We will all belong to one another and, most ultimately, to God.
This is a beautiful promise, but it also leaves us with quite the responsibility here on earth. According to Christ’s paradigm, marriage is the “preseason” (if you’ll forgive the sports analogy) to the “game time” of Heaven. Marriage is the training ground where I learn to fully give my fullest self and receive my partner’s fullest self in return. Marriage is the place, it seems, where we first “know and are known.”
Of course, few of our relationships match this perfectly. But do not despair! If nothing else, Christ’s words to the Sadducees call us not to settle for the pettiness of the world but rather to aspire to the dreams and standards of God. Seeing as He’s the one who created us in the first place, He’d probably be the one to know if we (and our relationships) are capable of more than we might otherwise settle for.
Start by asking God to give you the grace and courage to discern how he’s calling your relationship to become more Heavenly, and if you need a little extra help and support, pick up a copy of How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.
Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

Bringing Small Children To Mass

We want our children to appreciate mass, but bringing kids 3 and under to church can seem like walking a tightrope without a net!  It’s easy to think, “What’s the point?.”

Even though small children’s brains haven’t developed enough to completely understand what’s going on, with a little help, they can still appreciate the beauty and the ritual of the mass. And you can help them participate in ways that can be very meaningful to them.

Remember, very small children are in the “Cuddly Stage” of faith development. They need to FEEL God’s love THROUGH you. Keep your little ones close.  Preferably on your lap or in your arms.  Give them lots of affection and quiet attention.

That might seem wrong at first. After all, aren’t you supposed to be paying attention to the mass? Of course! But with small children the goal is to point out the wonder of the smells, bells, sights, and sounds of the mass, and experience it all through their eyes. Let the loving attention you’re giving them remind you of God’s attentive love for you.

Help your little ones participate as best as they can. Teach them when it’s time to kneel, or stand, or bless themselves. At the time of the consecration, you might whisper, “Jesus is coming to show us how much he loves us. Can you say, “I love you, Jesus!’”  

Don’t force them to do these things, but gently encourage them at the right times. They’ll get it eventually. If they get antsy, just hold them close and focus on helping them experience God’s love through you. You might even pray, “Lord, help me show my child how much YOU love them. Hold ME in your arms and help me feel your love for me.”

Other things, like reading the gospel beforehand, and bringing a children’s bible or missal can really help little ones follow along.

You can also give them “special words” to look for throughout the mass like “glory” or “amen” or “and with your spirit.” Ask them to tap you when they hear the special word and reward them with a kiss and a cuddle.

These are just a few tips for bringing small children to mass. For more ideas, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Feeding Your Teenager’s Faith

Faith evolves in stages. Knowing how to foster your teenager’s faith begins with understanding the unique spiritual food that nourishes an adolescent’s faith-development.

Teens occupy what’s called the “Synthetic-Conventional” stage of faith, but we like to call it the “Relationship & Mission Stage”

Teens are focused on figuring out their place in the world. So, they tend to believe something is “true” if it facilitates their relationships and helps them feel like they can make a difference. In the same way, they believe something’s “false” if it complicates their relationships or seems to be a source of conflict and division in their lives.

When parents focus too much on what our faith doesn’t allow us to do, or who our faith doesn’t allow us to hang out with, teens get the message that faith is an obstacle to either having relationships or discovering their purpose. The stronger they feel that way, the more likely it is that they’ll fight against the faith–or reject it altogether.

Instead of becoming too focused on the “Thou Shalt Not’s,” concentrate on giving your teens experiences that prove their faith can help them have fulfilling relationships AND make a positive difference in some way.

The most important way to do that is to make sure your teens see how your Catholic faith is having a positive impact in your home and family life. They need to see that your faith is helping you get along better–and care for each other more–than other families that don’t live the faith the way you do. Additionally, it’s important to help teens find faithful peers they can associate with, and causes they can put their faith and energy behind.

The more you can help your teen discover how their faith can enable them to build strong relationships and a healthy sense of mission, the more you’ll be giving your teens the spiritual food they need to grow into a faithful adulthood.

Want more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith? Check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Resolving Repetitive Arguments

Often we feel as though we’re just going in circles, having the same arguments over and over. So how do we break the cycle and start actually resolving problems or situations?

Studies show that happy couples tend to be more solution-focused in general, and focus on spending most of their energy addressing more solvable problems. They’re aware of larger issues in the relationship but they tend to hold off on addressing these until they’ve built up enough confidence/rapport by handling the little things well.  Other couples tend to have a more emotionally-based approach that puts every issue—big and small—on an equal footing.  They are less successful at solving anything, in part because their arguments are more emotional and many of the issues they choose to focus on can’t be easily addressed, especially when there isn’t good rapport.

In the beginning, God created each of us to see the world a little differently so that, working together and using our gifts for each other’s good, we would all attend to different details in a manner that would allow us to create a more holistic solution to any challenge.  But in a fallen world filled with unique and unrepeatable people who see things differently AND don’t always work for each other’s good, there is bound to be  some degree of conflict. Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that the only solution to this challenge is love–the willingness to understand what the other person needs to flourish and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve achieve those things.  By learning to be loving, ESPECIALLY in conflict, we can discover how to encourage each other through the tension, toward godly solutions, and experience even closer relationships–not just in spite of our differences, but because of those differences.

How can this be done?

Zoom Out–Repetitive arguments tend to be ones that are polarized. People stake out their positions too early in the discussion and then argue back and forth about who’s right and who’s wrong. If you’re having the same fight over and over, zoom out.  Step back from trying to solve the problem and instead, figure out how to EMPATHIZE with the other person’s position. Ask questions that allow you to have genuine sympathy for what they are trying to accomplish.You might ask, “Help me understand how things would be better for you if you got what you were asking for.” OR “What is it you’re hoping will change if we did things your way?”  You don’t have to agree with the other person, but keep asking questions until you truly understand their goal. People who feel truly understood are much more willing to negotiate in good faith.

Build The Solution Together–Repetitive arguments are usually caused because each person feels like they are trying to build something that the other person keeps taking apart–like two children fighting over the same block to build THEIR tower! Build your solution together.  Once you have zoomed out enough to understand what each of you is really trying to accomplish. Ask, the other person, “What solution could you imagine that would allow you to get what you want but still be respectful to my concerns?”  This is powerful question because it is both deferential AND assertive. On the one hand, you are humbly asking their advice. On the other hand, you are insisting that they consider your concern in their solution.  This question sets up the right spirit of honesty and collaboration that allows two former competitors to start building together.

Work on Friending, Not Fighting–The most important thing in problem-solving is NOT solving the problem.  It is taking care of each other through the conflict so that you can feel like two friends working together on the problem instead of two enemies fighting over limited resources. Focus on “Friending” NOT fighting. Tell the other person you appreciate them hanging in there with you, offer to pray together so that you are both open to God’s will, do little things to take care of them during a conflict like offering to get them a drink, or take a break, acknowledging their strengths or the value of their opinions.  The more effective you are at taking care of the other person, the more likely you will be able to break through the tendency toward self-preservation that pervades repetitive arguments.

 

For more on how to resolve repetitive arguments, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life–weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Transmitting The Faith To Our School-Age Children

Teaching our kids how to pray and helping them develop a relationship with God can feel difficult, especially when we have children of different ages. However, helping our children develop in their faith doesn’t have to be a complicated task. 

Knowing how to foster your school-age child’s faith begins with realizing that kids need different spiritual food at different times.

Faith evolves in different stages through early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, and throughout adulthood.  School-age kids occupy what’s called the “Mythic-Literal” stage of faith, but we like to call it the “Stories and Rituals Stage”

Throughout middle-childhood, kids’ brains are focused on making sense of the world, figuring out what things mean, and how things work. Rituals and stories are the most important tools kids at this stage use to do that work.

Family rituals, (like regularly recurring times to pray, work, talk, and play together) and parish rituals, (like weekly mass, regular confession, and family involvement in parish activities) are critical for giving your kids a faith-based sense of structure, order, and belonging.  Rituals help kids experience the faith in their bones. Their muscle memory records the activities that create a lifelong sense of belonging to God and his Church.  

In addition to being ritual-hungry, school age kids turn to stories to make sense of the world. Instead of just letting them pick-up passive lessons from the stories they see on tv, movies and social media, make sure you spend time every day actively reading and discussing bible stories, stories of the lives of the saints and others stories that help kids encounter examples of the way our faith can help us make a real, positive difference in the relationships we have with our family, friends, and the world.

School age kids rely on rituals and meaningful stories to help them know who they are, where they come from, and what they are called to be. To feed your school-age kids’ souls, make sure you provide a steady diet of both.

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.