As the long, lazy days of summer stretch out before us, we may be contemplating how to fill the time with lasting memories. What if, this summer, we filled our days with opportunities to grow in holiness as well?
It may seem challenging, but a few simple ideas can get your family started towards stronger faith and unity.
1/ View your family as a team!
Create a team motto, maybe even a poster or a mission statement. This is a great rainy-day project and all family members can participate in it. We recognize the need for a oneness of mission for our businesses, charities and even churches, but we don’t adopt this same valuable idea for families. Matthew Kelly, Catholic author and speaker, suggests thinking about what you would like a stranger to say about your family someday. How would an outsider sum up how your family functions, or what it means? Perhaps it might be something like, “that family demonstrated love for The Lord by their generosity to strangers.” Or, “our family likes to be known as an open and welcoming place to anyone who needs it.” Mr. Kelly says to consider what you hope it will say on your gravestone, and that way you have a guide to live your lives by.
2/ Actively plan team-building activities for your family.
Families can focus on a variety of family projects, service projects in the community, family mission trips, fun activities and other things that encourage members to work together and develop strong team skills. This means identifying family members’ strengths and weaknesses and using each member in an effective way. For example, a few years ago a friend had an accident that left him in a wheelchair for months. My sons (and a close friend we think of as a son) organized a minor remodel of his home to make it handicap-accessible. One designed a ramp, others worked together to build it. They had to measure, cut, plan, etc. They worked together using each person’s talents to do so.
3/ Take advantage of some of the longer days and less-hurried pace to seek out spiritual things.
Consider attending a Catholic vacation (I.e. Catholic Family Land in Ohio), go to daily Mass together, increase how often your family attends Confession, start a Novena or institute a daily Rosary into your family routine. The reality of the hurried school year means that we often don’t have time to pursue these things, no matter how we would like to. Summer is the perfect time to do some of these things, and perhaps they will become habits that you can continue throughout the school year.
4/ Have a day of forgiveness.
In families, hurt feelings and sinfulness is part of life. We rarely get through the day without somebody’s feelings getting hurt over something. When we feel things need to be aired, we hold a forgiveness ceremony. Each person gets a piece of paper folded in half. On one side, we write about a hurt someone has done to us, the other side a hurt we have caused. We then burn the papers in the fire pit. After that, we go around the room, and (only if a member wants to) we reveal how we have hurt someone else and ask for forgiveness. One of the most moving moments of my life was when my son asked his dad for forgiveness over a specific hurt he had caused. My husband teared up and confessed that he had written that same thing on his paper on the ‘been hurt’ side. They both let go of that pain in that dramatic moment. It was incredible. We finish the ceremony by going to Confession and then having a treat to celebrate that we are good with God and each other.
5/ Celebrate a family success!
The nice thing about defining your family’s mission statement or goals, is that it is easy to identify when you have accomplished one of these goals. Along with your family statement, encourage each person to list a few personal goals for the summer. These can be practical (losing five pounds) or spiritual (completing a youth group mission project). When someone in the family has achieved a stated personal goal, celebrate it!! Go out for a family fun day, have a treat, give that person a little gift…whatever.
6/ Make a vice and virtue list and review it at bedtime as an examination of conscience.
When our kids were little, we actually made flash cards with the seven vices: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth on one side, and the opposite virtues: Humility, Generosity, Temperance, Chastity, Forgiveness, Charity and Diligence on the other. We would review ways we had given in to the temptation of the sins, and then looked at the opposite virtue and talked about how we could work harder at practicing that instead. I find that I still quiz myself on this often as a way to see what virtue I need to work harder on.
7/ Focus on the family.
This sounds easy enough, right? However, sometimes when we are really service-minded, we forget that our own family needs our undivided attention sometimes too. The last two summers we went on our family vacation with only our family!! No friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, other family members etc. came along and they were the best family vacations ever! We found our own pace, followed our own groove and had the best time we have had in years. We realized that in our life of constantly ministering to others, my husband and I had forgotten that sometimes our children needed our undivided attention and even that of their siblings. It was glorious. We even attended Mass and Confession together the last day of our vacations before heading home.
God bless you and your families. I hope your summer is wonderful!
(C) 2014/revised 2016 Mary Lou Rosien
Original article published in Station of the Cross newsletter