By: Gregory Popcak
Jennifer, married to Jim and mother of 4 children under 11, was seeking counseling for feelings of depression and some marital difficulties. I asked her to describe her family life.
“We’re just so busy. What with running the kids around to practices and games, and work, and school stuff, we just don’t have time to do anything together. And as for Jim and I, forget it. We talk about schedules and that sort of thing, but I can’t remember the last time we got a chance to pray together or have a really good talk. But my friends are all the same way, at least we’re not alone, I guess.”
There Is No “I” in TEAM, but There is an “I” in FAMILY
Overcommitment is a plague that is killing the marriages and families of Christians and non-believers alike. It is a disease that is directly rooted in our society’s value of the individual. We live in a world that revolves around, “me first” and making sure every person gets plenty of “me time.” There are so many choices of so many exciting things to do, parents are afraid of cheating themselves and their children of a host of enriching experiences intended to make sure each individual gets the most out of his or her own life. If we and our kids aren’t involved in 4,000 activities–on Wednesday–every person feels as if he or she is missing out and often has no problem complaining about it. All of this results in families that have too many “I’s” in them. My tele-counseling practice is filled with people who take their personal prayer life seriously on the one hand, but live as married singles on the other. Every day, I spend hours with families who would never think of missing mass, but don’t so much think of their family as a “domestic church” as a collection of individuals living under the same roof.
There is a saying, “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM.” This saying implies that the only thing that matters is the success of the group, not the individual members. There is something to this notion, but it doesn’t apply perfectly to family life. After all, there is an “I” in “FAMILY.” Although both are groups of individuals dedicated to important work, there are important differences between a team and a family. A team exists to get a job done. To win the big game. But a family exists to make us human. Each individual member of the family group brings certain gifts to the table and has certain needs that must be met, and the character of the family will largely be defined by the strengths and weaknesses of its individual members. The family that doesn’t respect the individual needs and strengths of its members–for instance by trying to look too similarly to some other family–will eventually collapse from trying to be something it’s not.
Even so, it is possible for there to be too many “I’s” in “FAMIIIIIILY” and that doesn’t work so well either. While a family must respect the personalities of the individuals that make it up, the family also needs to remember that the work of being a family; of learning to love and serve one another and create a genuine community of love is what turns individual people into authentic human beings. An analysis of 50 years of research on the importance of rituals and routines in family life (e.g, family meals, meaningful family and couple prayer times, game night, weekly family day, etc.) shows that the presence of regular family rituals and routines is almost more important to the strength of the family and the emotional health of the family members than the actual composition of the family itself. For instance, a family that suffers divorce or the death of a member but maintains high levels of regular rituals and routines will, generally speaking, be healthier than an intact family that does little together. Simple activities like the ones I listed above significantly improve marital satisfaction, decrease risk of depression and other emotional problems in family members, and lower the risk of behavioral and school problems in children.
The Gospel Truth
Genesis tells us, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We might do well to remember that God was speaking to families today as much as he was to Adam at the dawn of creation. When families neglect their communal life, they end up living out the most painful kind of solitude–loneliness in the presence of others–and each individual suffers for it. While it is a wonderful thing to pursue enriching work and activities, and giving back to one’s community and Church is a Christian duty, there is no activity more important and no duty more significant to the Christian than the work of learning to serve and living to love. There is no institution more capable of teaching adults and children to do this work than the family. That’s what Catholics calls the family “a school of love.”
Remember what St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1-3:
“If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing.”
If we win the Employee of the Year award but can’t make time to celebrate our spouse’s birthday…if we fill our kids’ schedules with music lessons, sports, and other “enrichment activities” but don’t teach them how to get along well with their siblings and do their chores cheerfully…if our Church bible study group thinks we’re the best thing since padded kneelers, but–truth be told– we just don’t enjoy the company of our spouse and kids, then we are failing the Faith in our homes. We are simply mouthing the words of the Creed while we kneel before the altar of the Cult of Individuality.
St. Paul said that the world must be able to look at us an say, “Look at those Christians, see how they love.” Now’s your big chance to evangelize the culture. This week, sit down with your mate, make whatever cuts are necessary, and carve out the time you need to do something radical–be a family. For further help in creating a family of love and service, call your PaxCare Tele-Coach today and get the skills you need to succeed.