From Jesus’ Grandma

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Imagined letters from Jesus’ grandma, Anne of Nazareth:

 Dear Cousin Elizabeth,

Congratulations on the birth of your son! Mary tells me John is a handsome and healthy child. Joachim and I are very happy for you! And thank you for welcoming our daughter into your home. We were, of course, confused, but we have come to believe, as you immediately did, that she is telling us the truth and that we anticipate the birth of our Messiah, praise be the Lord! I only hope she and Joseph will return from travel to Bethlehem for the census soon. I am afraid her time will come and I won’t be there to help her.

 

Dear Elizabeth,

We hear such terrible news from Bethlehem! We are told that King Herod suspected the Messiah was born in that tiny town. Mary and Joseph should have been back weeks ago. She surely has borne her child by now. Our only hope is that they escaped and are hiding. I know I must trust God that he will keep his Son and my daughter safe, but oh, how I am plagued with fear.

Just when I am about to be a grandmother for the first time, I must pray that our baby Messiah stay hidden. It is a small sacrifice we are asked to make to not yet hold him in our arms. If we were younger we would go search for them ourselves. Of course, you have shown me what women our age are capable of! Dearest cousin, you are not far from Bethlehem. I pray that Mary made her way to your home. If so, please send news with the next caravan. Not knowing pains my heart.

 

Dear Anne,

We too heard whispers from Bethlehem of the terrible tragedy of the little innocents, but also amazing tales of angels in the sky speaking to the shepherds of a child in a manger, and even of wealthy Magi bringing him vast riches and doing him homage. Of course, you know how tales grow, but deep in my soul I believe there must be some truth to their stories.

I have heard today about an infant who was brought for his circumcision to the temple, causing a holy man and woman to declare that they have seen the Messiah. They said his name was Jesus. Surely, this must have been your grandson! Zachariah is studying scripture to see if the prophets can offer you insight.

 

Dearest Elizabeth,

Great news! A merchant has brought word that our three are safe, though I know not where they have gone for they feared the wrong people would overhear. Praise the Father of Abraham and rescuer of Isaac! I hope they are far from the reach of this king! I worry what they will do for money, though Joachim assures me a good carpenter like Joseph can find work wherever he goes.

 

Dear Anne,

I cannot tell you how happy I am to hear of sweet Mary’s safety and that Joseph and the Child are well. I know, now that I’ve become a mother, that I would walk to the ends of the world—or even Egypt—to keep our little John safe, though I hope the three found shelter much closer than that.

 

Dear Elizabeth,

We know we must be patient. We continue to pray that we will soon hold our grandchild and give him our blessing. I imagine us teaching him to read the Torah, like one of my dearest memories of Mary. For now, I will prepare for them so that when they return, even if they arrive years from now in the tatters of refugees, all will be ready. We will wait, always in mind of how the child grows. Lord willing, my faith and hope will grow, too.

 

Dear Anne,

After all this time I rejoice to tell you the beloved Holy Family sleeps safely in our home! All are well. They will rest and then join the next caravan to return to you. Lord willing, the little Messiah will run to your outstretched arms very soon.

Like our imagined Anne, we prepare for Christ’s coming. When the Holy Child (or any child) comes to us, let’s open our arms with faith, hope, and joy.

 

Everyone Needs to Forgive Somebody

Betty blue bordered (2)I didn’t attend our parish’s Reconciliation Service last week because I was so angry at someone for hurting a member of my family that I knew I couldn’t yet ask for forgiveness. I wasn’t ready to forgive, and I know the two go inextricably together. A couple of days later I attended Reconciliation at another parish in our diocese; I wanted to let go of my anger and hoped I could. My confessor listened, looked at me with Christ’s tenderness, and suggested I write the word “forgiveness” on a paper where I’d see it throughout the week. I did.

In addition, I bought the book, Everyone Needs to Forgive Somebody, by Allen Hunt. He offers 11 stories of people who discover that forgiveness is a key to joy. At the end of each chapter, he suggests an activity. I’m listing some as suggestions to help you discover whom you need to forgive (perhaps yourself, perhaps God) and what steps can assist in your journey of forgiveness. So little can be covered in these 4 minutes. I read the book in a short evening and recommend it to all.

  • Create a forgiveness journal. List people you have hurt and need to ask for forgiveness. Then list people whom you need to forgive for hurting you.
  • Write down your 5 biggest mistakes, failures, or disappointments. Recite each aloud, praying after each one: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
  • Visualize your deepest hurts and resentments. See each as a rock and slowly place the rock in a bag. Imagine taking the bag to a lake, hefting it over your shoulder, and throwing it into the water. Watch it sink. Feel the release. Your hurts and resentments are gone.
  • Seven steps to forgiveness:
  1. Remember your own need for forgiveness
  2. Pick one thing you know you ought to forgive
  3. Ask God to saturate you with his grace to help you forgive.
  4. If possible, engage the offender in direct, open, honest communication. Don’t accuse, focus on how you feel. Say, “I forgive you.”
  5. Follow your words with some act of reconciliation—perhaps a hug, handshake, or meal together.
  6. To prevent the same hurts from occurring again, keep your lines of communication open, with clear, healthy boundaries and guidelines for your relationship.
  7. Learn to forgive the small things—with friends, family, or coworkers. Be a person of grace. Don’t dwell on the hurts. Recognize you are still prone to mistakes as you become the-best-version-of-yourself, just as others are.
  • Make 2 copies of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi and place one in your bathroom for mediation as you get ready in the morning. Place the other in your forgiveness journal.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

When there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

  • Make a conscious decision to forgive. Resolve today you will be a forgiver. Those who forgive benefit from a better immune system; lower blood pressure; better mental health; lower anger, anxiety, and depression; and enjoy more satisfying and longer-lasting relationships than those unable to forgive.
  • Perform an act of kindness. First do it for anyone. Next week, perform a kind act for someone who has injured you. Being kind to someone who has taken advantage of you prevents you from feeling resentful and can also change his or her heart.
  • Write a letter to someone who has hurt you very much. You may choose to mail it or not, but writing the letter is an important first step toward your healing and the release of the power the person holds over your heart. Express the specific hurt and that you forgive the person.

So how am I, Betty, doing on forgiving? It’s a process, not a one-time decision, but I’m making progress. Here are a few practices that help me:

  • Acknowledge to yourself the anger and hurt you feel. If possible, voice it calmly right away to the person who hurt you.
  • Don’t continue to “lick the wound.” Dogs make their sores larger by doing this, and so do we when we dwell or obsess on them. Practice “thought stopping” when you find yourself doing this and instead—
  • Pray for the person who hurt you. Place them in God’s care. Remind yourself you want to be a forgiver.

 

Today is Good Friday. Allen Hunt acknowledges how strange it is we call the day of Christ’s suffering and death “good.” Yet it brought our greatest gift of all time. Our sins are forgiven. All we need do is forgive those who hurt us. This isn’t easy, but God will help us, and grace us immeasurably. God’s plan for the whole world is forgiveness and reconciliation. What a gift and blessing!

After all, everybody needs to forgive somebody!

You can find this week’s book at www.dynamiccatholic.com, Amazon, or it can be ordered through your local bookstore.

Blessings on your week and on your Easter season!

 

-- 
Betty Arrigotti
Author of Christian Love Stories:
  Hope and a Future (Oaktara 2010)
  Where Hope Leads (Oaktara 2012)

www.BettyArrigotti.com

Our Father… Bless Our Families

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Recently I pondered the Our Father and discovered many of the remedies our families need are contained within it.

Our Father

  • The word Jesus used when praying to his father was more like our “papa” or “daddy” and carries tenderness and trust. Our Father loves us like a papa, tenderly. Like we should love our children.
  • The “Our” reminds us of our family relationship to everyone on this earth. We are truly brothers and sisters; none of us are foster children. We should treat everyone with respect.

Who art in Heaven

  • Our Papa God reminds us there is another life, another existence where all will be well. He helps us put into perspective this life and our nagging worries. Our attention should focus on the next life, knowing God is there, too, and we will know joy with him forever.

Hallowed be thy name

  • This phrase balances the concept of Papa God with a reminder of the awe-inspiring nature of All Powerful God, as well. He is all holy. His name is holy and we should speak it with respect and humility. Like our own children, whom we want to trust us and yet respect us, we owe him honor.

Thy Kingdom Come

  • We look forward to a better world but we can’t just sit and wait. We must also work to bring improvement to this world. Within our families and within our world, this phrase reminds us to strive to constantly improve ourselves and our relationships.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

  • Our children must learn to obey us as parents in order to be safe and to grow into successful, law abiding adults. It might feel better to us in the moment to let their disobedience slide, but we owe it to them to respond consistently, even though they will be angry with us for a while. It is our job to model for them that their actions have consequences so that when they are adults they will not expect to get away with infractions.
  • We, too, must constantly strive to discern and obey God’s will, in order to become the fully actualized people he created us to be.

Give us this day our daily bread

  • So much of the world is not assured of daily bread, let alone quality nutrition. And yet, we have more than enough. This phrase reminds us how desperately the world needs us to share our abundance.
  • In a broader sense we are asking God to provide what we need, trusting he will. Not what we want, necessarily, but what we need.
  • It also states us how truly simple are our daily needs. What do our children need daily? To be loved, protected, educated, fed, and clothed. Perhaps we need reminding that our children don’t NEED all the activities, toys, or electronics that we want to provide them. They need more of our time.

And forgive us our trespasses

  • We will make mistakes. We all do.  Let’s teach our children by example how to apologize quickly and ask forgiveness. Here is a useful template from www.cuppacocoa.com for a sincere apology:

1.     I’m sorry for…   Be specific. Show the person you’re apologizing to that you really understand what they are upset about.

2.     This is wrong because… Until you understand why it was wrong or how it hurt someone’s feelings, it’s unlikely you will change. This is also important to show the person you hurt that you really understand how they feel.

3.     In the future, I will… Use positive language, and tell what you WILL do, not what you won’t do.

4.     Will you forgive me? This is important to try to restore your relationship. Now, there is no rule that the other person has to forgive you. Sometimes, they won’t. That’s their decision, and that’s not something you automatically get just because you apologized. But you should at least ask for it.

 

As we forgive those who trespass against us

  • It’s a two way street. If we want to be forgiven, we must forgive others, even those who aren’t sorry and never apologize. God knows it cripples us to hang on to anger but when we release our grudges it releases our spirits. A family who learns this need never worry about mistakes tearing the family apart. Or resentments eating away at us from the inside.

And lead us not into temptation

  • No, God doesn’t ever “lead us into temptation.” We do fine leading ourselves there, or stumbling into it. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Simplified, 2846-2847, “Sins come from consenting to temptation. We ask God not to lead us into temptation, meaning ‘do not allow us to enter’ or ‘do not let us yield to’ temptation. God cannot be tempted and he tempts no one. This petition asks him to block our way into temptation and to give us the Spirit of discernment.” We ask God to protect us from temptation and when we are subjected to it, to strengthen us so we turn away.
  • When we are tempted, God will “provide the way of escape, so you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).
  • We pray our children will avoid temptation. We need to communicate very directly with them about temptation and how difficult it is to stay strong. This is where role play practice comes in. “What would you do if someone asked you to…” Don’t let the actual situation be the first time they have to figure out how to respond.

But deliver us from evil

  • Protect us, God, from this world’s wicked ones.
  • Protect our children as they go out into the world. Keep evil away from our family!

For God’s is the kingdom and the power and the glory! All will be well. We simply need to trust in his love for us.

 

Blessings on your week!
Betty


 

Traits of a Healthy Family

Betty blue bordered (2)Today let’s look at some simple lists and then, if you make it through to the end, I’ll offer my own two recommendations for building healthier families.

First, an addition to the Single Parent Family topic from two weeks ago. In Dr. Phil McGraw’s book, Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family, he lists

 

The most profound needs of children who are adjusting to life in a single parent family:

1.         Acceptance – They need acceptance. They need to know that they are important, that they are a priority. They will try to gain approval because their sense of belonging to the family has been shattered.

2.         Assurance of Safety – Parents need to go beyond normal efforts to assure their children that although the family has fragmented, their protection is solid. The key is to maintain a normal pace, boundaries, and routines. They need to know that their world is predictable and that it’s not going to change on them.

3.         Freedom from guilt or blame for the divorce – Children often assume the blame for the dissolution of a marriage. Be conscious of this and assure your children they’re blameless.

4.         Need for structure – They need structure more than any other time in their lives, because this is when things seem to be falling apart for them. Enforce discipline consistently and with the right currency for good behavior. They need to see that the world keeps spinning around, and they’re still an integral part of what’s going on.

5.         Need for a stable parent who has the strength to conduct business – Whether or not you feel brave and strong, you have to appear to be the best for your children. Do everything possible to assure them of your strength, and in doing so, you make it possible for them to relax. Show yourself to be a person of strength and resilience.

6.         Need to let kids be kids

•          Do not burden your children with situations they cannot control. Children should not bear such a responsibility. It will promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity, causing them to question their own strengths and abilities.

•          Do not ask your children to deal with adult issues. Children are not equipped to understand adult problems. Their focus should be on navigating the various child development stages they go through.

 

Now on to all families:

 

In Traits of a Healthy Family by Dolores Curran, she writes that families for ages held traditional goals:

1.         To achieve economic survival.

2.         To provide protection.

3.         To pass on the religious faith.

4.         To educate their young.

5.         To confer status.

 

These goals were largely taken for granted until the 1900s. Today we focus instead on relationship. Curran writes, “We marry so we can love and be loved, not feed and be fed. We join together in a search for intimacy, not protection. We have children so that we can give and be given to, care and be cared about, and share the joys of connecting with posterity, not for old-age bread and bed. Abraham Maslow once observed that we are the first generation in the history of peoples sufficiently beyond sustenance to be able to focus on the quality of our relationships.”

Here’s Curran’s list of the traits of today’s healthy family:

1.         Communicates and listens

2.         Fosters table time and conversations

3.         Affirms and supports one another

4.         Teaches respect for others

5.         Develops a sense of trust

6.         Has a sense of play and humor

7.         Has a balance of interaction among members

8.         Shares leisure time

9.         Exhibits a sense of shared responsibility

10.       Teaches a sense of right and wrong

11.       Has a strong sense of family in which rituals and traditions abound

12.       Has a shared religious core

13.       Respects the privacy of one another

14.       Values service to others

15.       Admits to and seeks help with problems

Not a bad list to strive towards. I think I like it better than Stephen Covey’s but I’m offering his list for those it might appeal to. In Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, Covey writes:

“Good families—even great families—are off track 90 percent of the time! The key is that they have a sense of destination. They know what the “track” looks like. And they keep coming back to it time and time again.” 

Stephen Covey’s list of habits for effective families includes:

1.         Be Proactive – Become an agent of change in your family

2.         Begin with the End in Mind – Develop a family mission statement

3.         Put first things first – Make family a priority in a turbulent world

4.         Think “Win-Win.” – Move from “me” to “we

5.         Seek first to understand . . .then to be understood – solve family problems through empathic communication

6.         Synergize – build family unity through celebrating differences

7.         Sharpen the saw – renew the family spirit through traditions

Well done! You made it to the end, so here are

Two of my suggestions for growing a healthier family:

1.         If you know you make unhealthy choices in an area—whether physical, emotional, spiritual or relational—get whatever help you need to become healthier.  A family benefits whenever any member improves.

2.         Spend more relaxed time interacting with your family. Sacrifices you’ll need to make for this to happen (turning off the TV, computer, and cell phone) are worth it. You won’t regret it. In our marriage, from the time our fourth was born, we made time for a date night each week (in order to complete a whole sentence and keep our relationship strong.) During the hectic years with four elementary school daughters, we restricted them each to one activity beyond faith formation classes. Schedules became more complicated with teenagers, but we flexibly enforced Sunday afternoons as family time and, with rare exceptions, expected everyone home for dinners.

I’ve quoted him before, but I still love Matthew Kelly’s concept that the key to thriving relationships is carefree timelessness. By this he means spending time with people without an agenda, simply to enjoy their company. “No matter what the relationship, whether spouse to spouse, parent to child, friend to friend, or person to God, increase carefree timelessness and it will deepen.” *

Does anyone remember the commercial, “Try it, you’ll like it”? Try family carefree timelessness today. You will like it, even if the eight year old stomps his feet and crosses his arms. Or wait, maybe that was the fifteen year old. Secretly, they’ll love having your focused attention.

Blessings on your week!

 

*For more information about carefree timelessness and Matthew Kelly visit www.DynamicCatholic.com

 

 

Boundaries within Families

Betty blue bordered (2)We are half-way through our Lent. Are you feeling discouraged by your attempts to change yet? Yes, me too. Unfortunately, every family of four will have four saboteurs, ourselves included. It seems to be human nature to resist change. But we “keep on keeping on” in hope and trust that we can improve.

This week let’s look at one building block of healthy families - boundaries.

According to Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine, a boundary is a limit or edge that defines you as separate from others, a limit that promotes integrity. Healthy boundaries build healthy families.

Here are some excerpts from this fascinating book:

Personal Boundaries:

We have different type of boundaries:

Physical – Our skin is our boundary but we also maintain around us an invisible circle or comfort zone. Its size is fluid depending on relationships and culture.

Emotional – We have a set of feelings and reactions that are distinctly ours. Feelings can be used to determine a course of action. They tell us when something seems dangerous or threatening or safe. A warm response brings your feelings back to you. You get to know yourself better. This combination—of effective feedback and knowing yourself better—creates an emotional boundary. It fills in the circle of who you are and creates a space outside of you of who you aren’t.

Spiritual – We are the only ones who can discern the right spiritual path for ourselves.

Sexual – We have a choice about who we interact with sexually and the extent of that interaction. Boundaries limit what is safe and appropriate sexual behavior from others.

Relational – The roles we assume define the limits of appropriate interaction with others.

Boundaries and Children

Boundaries begin to form in infancy. In a healthy family a child is helped to individuate, to develop a self-concept separate and unique from the other family members.

Parental attention develops boundaries.

• Interest in a child’s activities helps the child value what she can do.

• Interest in a child’s thoughts helps the child expand his sense of his own mental processes.

• Guidance helps the child realize that certain choices are superior to others—an essential aspect of boundary development.

• Expressed concern communicates a boundary—that the child is nearing a limit.

• Physical affection communicates that the child belongs, that he or she is part of a unit. It helps the child develop the boundary of “us” and “not-us.”

• Both too much distance and too much closeness between parents and children lead to problems. To a child, too much distance means abandonment and emotional neglect. Too much closeness—enmeshment—prevents the child from developing his own individuality and can foster in him a feeling of being responsible for the well-being of his parents.

• Meeting feelings  with disapproval or harshness teaches children to push them down, to separate themselves from their feelings, and to ignore the valuable information they contain.

• Feelings met warmly, with encouragement to talk about them and help to identify them—when a parent correctly interprets children’s facial expressions, body language, and the feelings connected with them—develops children’s understanding of their inner selves. Learning about and connecting with feelings is essential for complete boundary development.

What strengthens emotional boundaries?

• The right to say no.

• The freedom to say yes.

• Respect for feelings.

• Support for personal process.

• Acceptance of differences.

• Enhancement of uniqueness.

• Permission for expression.

What harms emotional boundaries?

• Ridicule. Contempt. Derision.

• Sarcasm. Mockery. Scorn.

• Belittling feelings.

• Stifling communication.

• Insistence on conformity.

• Arbitrariness.

• The need to overpower.

• Heavy judgments.

• Any kind of abuse.

• Abandonment.

• Threat.

• Insecurity.

Boundaries in Marriage:

If, as children, we had to deny our true thoughts or feelings to be safe, as adults we are likely to continue to deny what’s true for us. If boundary development was severely harmed when we were children, therapy may be the most efficient route, in order to not carry boundary damage into our relationships.

Ideally, the marriage contains enough togetherness to preserve the boundary of “us” and “not-us” and enough separation to preserve each person’s individuality. In a healthy marriage, each person is whole and intact. They choose to live together. Each could still survive if something happened to the other.

Acceptable degrees of intimacy and distance can vary. Communication is the life-blood that keeps the partnership fluid and vital and clarifies each person’s needs for intimacy and separateness.

Intimacy comes from knowing each other very well, accepting shortcomings and differences, and loving each other anyway. Enmeshment, on the other hand, is attempting to feel and think as if you were the same person. If only one partner is set up to do the thinking and make the decisions, that partner (let’s say the husband) will see himself as more powerful and important, even if his wife is the one who keeps the show going. This imbalance can cause the supportive partner to feel less important, less sure of her value and the worth of her ideas, more dependent on her husband, and more enmeshed.

Too much distance in a relationship leads to a cooling of romantic interest. Surprisingly, enmeshment can do the same. Enmeshment means someone’s individuality is being squashed. An enmeshed person is not known. True intimacy, in which each person is well known, leads to emotional closeness and easily into physical closeness. If partners aren’t talking about problems, feelings, needs, and wants, they’ll feel less known, and distance will grow between them.

Intimacy takes work.

Boundary violations, whether too distant or too close, can be healed right away if the sufferer tells the intruder that a boundary has been violated and the intruder immediately apologizes or somehow expresses concern about the violation. Note the two parts to this. The one whose limits have been breached must make the offense known and the offender must respect the limit.

So, what’s the goal of a person who wants to be healthy? To form boundaries that have some flexibility and some definite limits, boundaries that move appropriately in response to situations—out for strangers, in for intimates. Boundaries should be distinct enough to preserve our individuality yet open enough to admit new ideas and perspectives. They should be firm enough to keep our values and priorities clear, open enough to communicate our priorities to the right people. With good boundaries, we can have the wonderful assurance that comes from knowing we can and will protect ourselves from the ignorance, meanness, or thoughtlessness of others.

Boundaries bring order to our lives. As we learn to strengthen our boundaries, we gain a clearer sense of ourselves and our relationship to others.

Intact, clear boundaries enhance the family and prepare children for healthy adulthood.

Blessings on your week!

Betty

 

 

 

Single Parent Families

bettyarrigotti photo blogWelcome back to our 4 minute focus on building strong families!

One chapter in Building Christian Families by Mitch and Kathy Finley deals particularly with single parent families. If you are, or have been, part of a single parent family you will recognize the truth in what they write. If you are blessed to be part of a two-parent family, please read this anyway in order to build empathy for the special challenges you have been spared and perhaps to consider helping struggling families.

The single parent family is a true family and a legitimate form of home-church. Let’s follow the example we see throughout the Bible as God shows a soft spot in his heart for “widows and orphans,” or any family who needs extra consideration.

We all have our limits, and it’s only realistic to accept them. However, single parent families have special challenges we should be sensitive to:

  • Both parent and children have gone through painful disruptions, whether because of abandonment, divorce, or death. Sources of income must be developed, a move to a new house or apartment may be necessary, and children might need to attend different schools. The grieving process may continue for many months, or even years.
  • Parent-child relationships must be redesigned. A non-custodial parent may struggle to pay child support, worry about religious upbringing, have more time to be depressed, or feel acute loneliness.
  • While couple parent families sometimes deal with the temptation to leave the main responsibility for parenting to the other spouse, the custodial single parent responds to the demands of children all day long and does it alone.
  • Where a widowed parent may be looked upon by the wider community as courageous, others often view the divorced parent with suspicion or judgment. In some worship communities, the single parent who is divorced often feels shunned, ignored, even subtly ostracized. Yet divorced single parents have a deep desire to belong, to be a part of their church community.
  • Single parents worry that their children will never have witnessed a normal man/woman, husband/wife loving relationship.
  • Single parents must often deal with two particular temptations: the temptation to self-pity and to resentment.
  • Many single parent families experience degrees of fear and anxiety that the typical couple-parent family does not usually know with such intensity. Financial anxieties may head the list, but a vague, undefined fear of what the future may bring is not far behind. The single parent is unable to share these fears and anxieties with another intimately known adult. She or he lives with these feelings constantly, so the fear tends to compound itself.
  • In the two parent family, it is crucial for spouses to spend time regularly on themselves and on their friendship as a couple. It is equally important for the single parent to carve out of the week a few hours for leisure and, now and then, for prayerful reflection.
  • The single parent often finds it necessary to struggle against the tendency to become isolated. Single parents have a need for sympathetic friends and for warm relationships with two-parent families. Single parents often need little more than a sympathetic listener, and they can frequently find this by forming friendships with other single parents and hopefully, by membership in church groups.

 

On the other hand, single parents may have some advantages over couple parents.

  • They build strength as survivors, even though both parent and children have known much anguish.
  • Children of single parent families are sometimes more mature than many of their peers from two-parent families. They have, of necessity, been trusted with significant responsibilities at home.
  • Single parents may be more free to lead their children in their chosen faith life. In two-parent families, value conflicts which relate to the spiritual life of the family sometimes develop between husband and wife.

Single parents are like all parents:

  • No parent or set of parents can give children everything they should ideally have.
  • Most parents today often feel guilty about not spending enough quality time with their kids.
  • All families know insecurity.
  • All parents are called to conversion of heart and life, to trust God above all, to turn away from fear and anxiety as motives for action, to love God and others as the source of life’s meaning and purpose. Parents are called to do this even in the midst of meaninglessness and the temptation to despair. This is true faith, in the real world.
  • All parents need other parents to simply commiserate with, to talk to and share their burdens and joys. We should never underestimate the value of honest talking and listening among peers, for it is a terrifically valuable service that all church communities should offer to parents.

 

Finleys remind us that a basic principle for all parents’ spirituality is to “keep on keeping on.” May God help all of us, married and single to persevere in our effort to parent well.

 

 

 

The Family as Church

Betty blue bordered (2)Blessed Pope John Paul II declared, “The family in fact is the basic unit of society and of the church. It is the ‘domestic church.’”

Mitch and Kathy Finley, in Building Christian Families, write:

“Within the family, the foundational experiences of the Christian life happen best, for both children and adults. For most people, it is within the fabric of family life that faith becomes real. In family life, we experience the deepest joys and our deepest anguish, which means that in family life we most often discover the Cross and Resurrection of Christ in our own experience. […]”

“Within the family and around the family table, children experience the meaning of the Eucharist long before they receive their First Communion. Within the fabric of life in the domestic church, child and adult experience the meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation, apart from any official sacramental celebration of the experience. In the family, both adults and children experience the Christian life at its most immediate, where the seeds of faith are planted and cultivated daily.”

 

The family is the fundamental building block of the Church. Family spirituality is defined by the Finleys as, “A family’s ongoing attempts to live every dimension of its life in communion with the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.” We first learn our spirituality primarily from our family. As Christians, our purpose in life is to serve God and his people, to work for the good of others, that we may all grow closer to God as we build his kingdom here on earth and spread the Good News of his love through our actions.

Do your children know what it is to be Christian? And what it means to be Catholic (or your denomination)? Or, more broadly, what are your children (even grown children) learning about spirituality as they observe their parents’ everyday life?

If your children are little, think back to your own childhoods. What did you look forward to about how your family expressed its faith? What were your family spiritual traditions on Sunday mornings? On holidays? On vacations? I remember whirling around the living room with my grandpa on Sunday mornings after Mass, my feet placed carefully on top of his dress shoes. Does that memory make me more Christian? Actually, yes, I think so. I knew in those moments that Sundays were special days of joy. Days to spend with family. Not simply because they were days off, but because they were God’s day.

If your children are teenagers, do you speak openly with them about your faith? Do you ask them what they think about social justice, or priests they have known, or some of the ethical questions we struggle with today? Do you visit other parishes so they begin to understand the universality of our Church? Do you reach out to the less fortunate as a family?

Last weekend, my husband and I watched a documentary, Into the Arms of Strangers, about the 10,000 children who were sent away in the 1940s from German occupied lands to strangers in England, in their parents’ desperate hope of saving their lives. The separation traumatized both parents and children, but their children lived, when 1.5 million children who stayed behind did not survive. The story touched us deeply as we listened to these children, now grown into elderly men and women, talk about how their parents struggled, in the few days between learning their children were accepted to the freedom trains and sending them off, (in most cases, never to see them again) to impart to them all the wisdom and faith that they would have spoken and modeled over their lifetimes.

Whatever the age of your children, even if they are greying themselves, don’t leave for later what you want them to know about your very personal faith. If you are uncomfortable at the thought of talking about such a personal issue, (Why are the most important things to say the hardest?) consider writing it down today. Here’s a start:

I know there is a God because once…

I know He loves me because…

I believe He wants me to treat his children with love and respect. I learned this when….

I know God answers prayers. He answered mine once when… (Maybe he said no, and you only came to understand what a good thing that was later.)

I believe in heaven. I’m not looking forward to dying, but I’m looking forward to asking God a few questions when I get there. And I’m looking forward to seeing my loved ones: _____.

I know God forgives. I learned this when I was forgiven once by ____. If they could forgive me and I know God loves me even more than they, He must forgive us even better.

I chose the church I attend because______ (our family always has been, or I converted because, or whatever your story is)

 

Our faith should be so important to us that we take care to pass it on to our children as a family treasure. May we recognize our treasure this week!

Blessings,

Betty

 

 

Unconditional Love

bettyarrigotti photo blogWelcome to this new Lenten series of 4 Minutes for Growth!

This year we concentrate on the family.

John Powell, S.J., starts us off with his timeless book, Unconditional Love: Love without Limits. I chose this book because unconditional love must be the basis of family life. Though we all fall short at times, loving without preconditions should be our goal—the type of love we continually strive to achieve and maintain. Unconditional love says, “No matter what, I will not reject you. I’m committed to your growth and happiness. I will always love you.”

Powell reminds us that love is not a feeling, but rather a decision and a choice. We choose to place another’s welfare on the same level as, and sometimes even above, our own. By so doing we bring true meaning to our lives. Such meaning, or self-fulfillment, is an elusive quality which we can’t capture by direct pursuit but only attain as a by-product of loving.

Unconditional love says: I will love you, I will encourage you by helping you to be aware of your strengths, and when necessary I will challenge you to grow.

Most times this love will be tender and gentle, but not always. Sometimes unconditional love must be tough love, when truly wanting what is best for someone’s growth and happiness means not giving them what they want, but rather what is essential. A spouse may need to firmly point out a loved one’s self-destructive choices, or a parent will set limits to protect a child who is not ready for the independence he or she demands. A wife might ask her husband to cut back on his time away from home, or a mother might forbid a son to attend a party that “everyone else” is allowed to attend. Love is not unconditional if it weakly allows poor choices in order to avoid uncomfortable confrontation.

However, even tough love is not harsh. Sometimes as parents we think we need to constantly correct in order to assure our children’s proper growth. But a child does not flourish under criticism. Rather, Powell contends:

 

There is nothing else that can expand the human soul, actualize the human potential for growth, or bring a person into the full possession of life more than a love which is unconditional. […] Unconditional love is liberating. It frees the loved one to be authentic and real.

 

I think most people would agree that our children deserve unconditional love. We parents know we fall short, but we remain determined to love our children no matter what they do. It gets harder, though, when we turn it around. Shouldn’t we love our parents unconditionally, too? They weren’t perfect, but neither are we. And, even more difficult, what about our siblings? Heaven knows, siblings can find and attack our vulnerabilities. Do I need to love them unconditionally after what they did… or continue to do?

(Apologies to my two brothers. I’m speaking generally here, not specifically. Though I also apologize for when I didn’t treat you with the love I should have.)

Granted, not all family members are healthy to be around. Sadly, some are caustic, and boundaries must be raised in order to protect our emotional well-being. We mustn’t fear that loving another unconditionally will mean losing ourselves. In fact, in order to love another we must first love ourselves, as much as we are able, unconditionally. God has made us and declared us good and he has shown us we are loveable and worthy of the greatest sacrifice. So we come to love others, not out of weakness, but out of strength and awareness of our worth. It would be unloving to allow others to treat us with disrespect.

Yet, for spiritual and emotional health, unconditional love calls us to endeavor to forgive the wrongs of the past, even from a distance. That way, if the family member ever makes changes for the better, we will be ready to reconnect.

God’s word to us in the Bible is full of stories of unconditional love. We read of the prodigal son’s father, who knew unconditional love requires forgiveness and so ran to embrace his son at his penitent return. We believe that Jesus demonstrated unconditional love as he died for our sins and yet bid his Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

These are our models for building strong families. We must offer our family a lifetime of striving to love them unconditionally, forgiving them for their mistakes and asking forgiveness for our own, but always trying again to love, encourage, and challenge each other to be the best we each can be.

 

Next week we will turn to Building Christian Families, by Mitch and Kathy Finley.

Blessings on your first week of Lent!

 

No Room at the Inn

Betty blue bordered (2)My thoughts this Christmas center on one phrase: “For there was no room for them at the inn.”

No room for a young woman in labor. No space for a vulnerable infant. What desperation Joseph and Mary must have felt, unless they unquestioningly trusted in God’s providence. And the innkeeper? No doubt he was harried by the crush of busyness brought on with the census, yet what a heavenly opportunity he missed.

We are, sadly, more likely to be the harried inn keeper, than the trusting parents.

As much as I value a life of simplicity, I don’t live that value consistently. Attributing sentimental meaning to things, I accumulate mementos of wonderful experiences, photos of the stages of our married life and parenthood, or artistic works of the beauty I’ve experienced and want to cling to. Having experienced sparse times, I want to spare loved ones any lack and so I store what daughters might need, like strollers and favorite old toys and baby clothes. We are blessed to own a house with a full basement and we’ve put it to full storage use. However, sometimes clutter and busyness and mistaken priorities threaten to crowd out people.

So my husband and I are committed to making space in our lives. Space and time. For actual physical space, we’ve emptied a good portion of our basement by sorting, recycling, donating, selling, or relocating. After years of talking about it, we have begun building a guest suite, or studio apartment—space for family members in those transition times we all seem to experience now and then.

We also are both trying to reprioritize our time by working on self-discipline. There is a time and a place for deepening relationships, house work, creativity, service, and relaxation but when I’m truly honest with myself, I know when I’m using those activities as excuses to avoid the work that God has given me to do. Like the harried inn keeper, I am busy, but missing heavenly opportunities.

Guide us all, Lord, to move closer to your perfect balance.

How is submitting a manuscript like sending a daughter to college?

Betty blue bordered (2)The same questions confront me.

Before my daughter or my novel ever left home I wondered, “Did we choose the destination well?” “Would this college be a good fit for my daughter” now becomes, “Will this editor/agent/publisher find my novel to be a good fit with their vision?” Just as I questioned whether the world would be kind and see the treasure that my daughters are, I now hope the world will appreciate my book.

“Will she settle in and find friends” parallels, “Will my manuscript find a home?” First an agent’s assistant must see something of value in those pivotal first pages so he or she will pass it on to the agent. If the first chapters pique the agent’s interest, he (in this case) will request the full manuscript. If the remaining chapters don’t let him down and he sees it as a good fit with what publishers seek, he will send it to editors. If one of them likes the concept, the storyline, and my writing, PLUS it aligns with what their publishing house plans to promote, that person will take it to committee and it will compete with other agents’ projects.

Should I have done more? With my daughters, I wondered if they knew enough about laundry and nutrition and choice of friends, not to mention the dangers of dating. With my novel, I wonder if I edited thoroughly enough. Is there enough description? (An element that doesn’t come naturally to me.) Are the plot points and challenges to the hero and heroine believable? Did my message come across or is it too subtle or too obvious?

Will she/my novel settle down and work? Assuming my story beats the odds and is contracted to be published, will readers like it? Will they keep turning the pages and take the book’s heart into their own? Will their world shine a bit brighter because of it? Will they recommend it to their friends and initiate the vital word-of-mouth momentum?

Should we afford this venture? As in the days when we had four daughters to send to school, resources stretch thin. Writing as a career or ministry means foregoing the income I could earn if I weren’t writing. However, finances aren’t the only challenge. I must commit to doing all I can to promote this book, while I continue to find time to write the next one and to market my other novels.

As I wondered how my daughters would do, I also wondered if I would adapt to this new stage in my life. Would I be lonely or feel a new freedom, or both? If my novel succeeds and I begin to become a recognized author, what will I miss about my current status? Will deadlines stress my days and night? Will I lose my flexibility to respond to family requests? Will I be less available to daughters and husband?

When my daughters became young adults I began to pray for wisdom to know when to speak up and when to keep my opinion to myself. That seemed a difficult transition for me. After years of teaching and advising my girls, this new stage required I back off a bit and trust both their choices and their ability to learn from their consequences. I will need the same wisdom to appreciate the recommendations of agents, editors, publishers, and marketers, as well as know when to stand my ground for the integrity of the story. Like the new phase of parenting, perhaps the best question for me to ask those who work to see my book succeed will be, “How can I help?”

 

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