If the idea of “family spirituality” sounds indescribably boring, oddly mysterious, or like a total luxury (and not in a good way) then you’re not alone. A recent study by Holy Cross Family Ministries (HCFM) and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that 83% of Catholic families do not have any kind of shared spiritual life at home. Here’s why you should care.
What is “Spirituality” Anyway?
Psychologists who study religion and spirituality assert that healthy spirituality facilitates three qualities that are essential for general well-being; transcendence, transformation, and integration.
Transcendence refers to personally significant encounters with the Divine that are usually accompanied by a sense of wonder, awe, and boundlessness. Transcendence promotes well-being by reminding us that we are part of “something bigger,” that we are not alone in the world and that each of life’s moments is packed with divine purpose.
Transformation refers to our commitment to growth and change. Most people don’t like either very much. But spirituality motivates us to embrace the changes necessary to become the people God wants us to be. For the Christian, authentic transformation is all about embracing God’s will in a conscious (as opposed to merely cultural), willing (as opposed to coerced), and whole-hearted (as opposed to grudging) manner.
Finally, Integration refers to spirituality’s power to facilitate greater peace both within ourselves and between us and others. A healthy spirituality compels us to harmonize areas of discord between our beliefs, values, and identity and challenges us to live with integrity no matter where or whom we’re with.
Family Spirituality: What Does it Look Like?
Seen in this light, it seems clear that families play a critical role in cultivating a healthy spiritual life and the general well-being that flow from it. Family life is supposed to be about forming persons–parents and children growing together, learning from each other, supporting one another in living out a shared mission and goals–all of which has to do with spirituality. Without a strong sense of spiritual well-being, families too easily become collections of individuals living under the same roof and sharing a data plan.
3 Steps To A Spiritually-Healthy Family
There are three basic sets of tasks families can undertake to promote the spiritual well-being of their homes; Worship, Devotion, and Discipleship.
Worship, is how Catholic families prioritize their connection with the sacramental and spiritual life of the Church. Going to mass together. Attending adoration, confession and other spiritual opportunities afforded by the parish as a family. Participating in parish life together. Research shows that an important part of family well-being is creating shared experiences and a shared mission. Worshiping together as a family creates experiences that remind the family that there is more to life than just getting through the day in one piece.
Devotion, involves the ways families bring their faith home, including family prayer, practicing Catholic cultural traditions (celebrating saints days, holiday traditions, etc), and learning how to live out the Church’s vision regarding family dynamics, love, and sexuality. Devotion facilitates spiritual well-being by bringing your faith into the laboratory of your everyday life where you do the lion’s share of the integration and transformational work that an authentic spirituality requires.
Finally, Discipleship is about creating positive, learning relationships within the home. Discipleship involves all the relational activities that inspire your family to feel like a team, to be receptive to each other’s thoughts, experiences and guidance; things like rituals that carve out time to work, play, talk and pray together, ample one-on-one time with each other, and other activities that make deposits to your relational bank accounts. It also involves formational activities like reading bible stories together, discussing faith questions, exploring values, sharing spiritual concerns, and showing your children how to walk in your spiritual footsteps.
Ultimately, discipleship tasks enable children to be receptive to their parents’ attempts to form them as godly persons, and it helps parents make sure they take time to get to know their children–inside and out–so that they have things to say that their children will find relevant and meaningful.
Getting More Guidance
This framework provides the most basic responses to “why” and “how family spirituality is essential to learning to live well. Obviously, there is much more to say about the details of fostering a family’s spiritual well-being in the day-to-day, and I hope that you’ll check out Lisa and my newest book, Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids to learn more.
Family Spiritual Well-Being: Living the Gift.
Regardless, I hope that you can see why fostering your family’s spiritual well-being is anything but an abstract luxury for families who have all their other problems worked out. Fostering your family’s spiritual well-being is what enables you to be more than a bunch of people sharing a room but feeling lonely just the same. It is what enables you to celebrate the love that comes from God’s own heart, and discover–as a family– all the ways that life is a gift, and to help each other become everything God created you to be.