Family is Such an Incredible Gift
Over the last few weeks there have been many reconciliation services held at parishes, including our own, and each Advent and Lent I’ll assist at various parishes and hear confessions, along with having a school confession service here. It’s always an honor to hear confessions and convey the love and mercy of God to people, and also to receive it as I celebrate the sacrament too of course as a penitent.
Among the more common things that will come up in confession are things having to do with the family. For instance younger people might struggle with resisting the urge to fight and argue with siblings or listening to parents; parents can struggle with sometimes being a little too overbearing or patience with kids; spouses struggle with not driving one another crazy or arguing at times. Such is the life of a family; so often a place where there is so much joy, but also at times challenges. All of us are part of a family, and as we celebrate Holy Family Sunday this weekend after Christmas, it’s worth thinking about just what a great gift the family is and how we can grow in love.
Here are some practical things that I personally try to live by and share with people:
1) Make a commitment of time to your family. Perhaps the hardest thing I’ve experienced was the Covid pandemic. What made it challenging was the loss of time with loved ones. Sure, you could talk on the phone, and interact in some ways, but for a period of time, gone were the family get togethers and gatherings and small things that make family life so important. Time is the one thing we can’t get back; we can receive mercy, go to confession, but our time here on earth is waning every day. With that in mind, make the most of the time we have by regularly being with loved ones. I get a big boost of spiritual energy by visiting my parents once a week, often on Sunday afternoons; I’ll enjoy a meal with my parents, often play a game of cribbage, and enjoy some conversation. We talk regularly through the week too. It does a lot for me, much like all the conversations and time spent with my grandparents who have now gone to their eternal home with God. Over the course of our lives, the time we spend together does so much.
2) Now is the time to make things right. Related to the concept of time, so many situations arise where things might not be right in a family. Of course there are sometimes situations of abuse, where there needs to be a separation and contact between people can’t happen. But it’s more often the case that sometimes there’s something that’s happened, or happening, and some effort needs to be made. An argument occurred and no one wants to take the first step towards reconciliation; a person is spending too much time away from loved ones with work, hobbies, or outside friends; or a person maybe struggling a bit with being too short of temper. God’s mercy is always there, but it’s not forced. As we head into a new year, maybe a resolution would be to look at our lives, and what we can do to try to foster a better, healthier relationship with loved ones; how we can be more present to them, and what inhibits it and take the steps now – not tomorrow – to improve things. 3) Show humility. We all make mistakes; and if you listen to country music you know many of the songs are about someone having foolish pride or being unable to apologize for a mistake. Humility is great part of spiritual growth, and it’s important we show it to our loved ones by owning up to when we were wrong, whether a parent apologizes for poor word choices or being too angry, or a we apologize for our actions to our siblings as kids or adults.
4) Talk through the “tough stuff.” Years ago when in seminary, I was in a hospital chaplaincy training program that helped us learn how to minister to people in hospitals. One of the things emphasized to us was to sometimes allow conversations to go deeper with patients; it could be they were hurting over something more than just being in the hospital, such as a family issue or anxiety or depression. Now we are not of course therapists, but we were there to try to help the people. So it is in family. Often we talk about things like sports or the news, but sometimes as we all know we have to talk about deeper things; a mental health struggle; an addiction; trouble in a relationship; dealing with peer pressure, etc. It’s so important in a family we have a sense when something might not be right or a person might be hurting, and offer them comfort and support and sound advice to truly be Christ to one another.
5) Listen. Related to that, listening can be hard work. We often as humans want to jump to a point or interject advice, and sometimes that’s good, but also as we learned in hospital chaplaincy work, its important to let the other person talk and guide a conversation. By listening we show value to the person.
6) Limit technology when together. This for me is a struggle; I’m on my phone all the time checking sports scores, playing a game, reading the news. But think of the importance of a real conversation with someone over a meal; or playing a board game together and just being in one another’s presence. The phone and the video games will always be there. Try to turn them off sometimes to invest time into being together.
7) Challenge, with love. We are all sinners. Sometimes on our journeys, we need someone to be a prophet to us; to help us think about areas in our lives that we need to look at. We too do this for others when mistakes are made. Maybe we or someone we love isn’t aware of our attitude changing; or we’ve drifted a bit from the faith; or we’re becoming a workaholic. We are all striving to become saints, and in such situations, it’s important to lovingly use those spiritual works of mercy to admonish the sinner and instruct the ignorant.
8) Be patient. If you are like me and most any human, you look back at certain parts of your life and think “what on earth was I thinking?” It’s frustrating at times when we make mistakes, and also when loved ones seem to be making bad choices. But God never gives up on us, nor should we give up on ourselves or one another. Continue to pray; continue to challenge with love; continue to talk about what you believe and why. The person may not understand right away, but over time so many like Saint Augustine do sort things out, due largely in part to God and people like Saint Monica, his mother, believing in them.
9) Keep God at the center of your family. As a young child, my first memories of the faith were from my parents; praying before bed; going to Mass and gaining an appreciation for why we were there. It’s so important parents remember they are the first teachers of the faith to their kids, so don’t be afraid to talk about the faith with them, young and old, and to pray together as a family.
10) Death doesn’t have the last word. Lastly, we all have people we have lost. How much I’d love to have dinner with my grandparents again. I think about them often along with other family members I’ve lost, but they journey with me every day as I pray for them and they for me, and I think about their good qualities and how to emulate them. Remember your loved ones you’ve lost journey with you too, and one day we all will have the ultimate family reunion.
I hope you are enjoying a little quiet time over the holidays, and that you have a wonderful New Year’s Day tomorrow. Odds are you’ve seen more members of your family this past week. As a new year begins, re-commit to them – not just a text or an email, but by fostering an ongoing relationship with them. Never forget how much you mean to them, and what a gift they are. Yes, families drive us nuts at times, but families also do so much to help one another on the road to heaven. What a gift they are indeed.
God bless and Happy New Year, ~Fr. Paul
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