Two aspects of family life reveal God’s character in ways no others can. The Sacrament of Marriage is the earthly reflection of His passionate love for us, as the children of His Bride, the Church.
The experience of parenthood is a continuation of that love—another layer of it—because it images the Father’s tenderness, patience, and sacrificial love for His children.
It is within the context of family life that we are meant to experience God’s love (through our parents) and learn how to love others. Sadly, it’s not that way for everyone, because some of us come from troubled families, wounded by things within or outside of their control.
But God originally created the family to be a unique reflection of His love.
What can we do to ensure that our families grow and thrive as we all aspire for heaven together?
1. Live True Love and Unity
Despite what we may see on social media these days, no family life is picture perfect. Even Christ was born into a family that had its own unique set of perils and challenges. A harrowing birth story, intense escape to another country to avoid death, building an exiled life in a foreign country without those they knew and loved…and all of this while waiting for God’s revelation to be fulfilled in Christ.
And we think our family lives are challenging?
To grow and thrive together, the Holy Family lived love and unity despite these circumstances, and we can too.
Difficulties are unavoidable in family life, especially while raising and forming children and trying to grow in virtue yourself.
Our human reality lends itself to conflicting thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes. These make it hard to build community as a family in some seasons.
It’s important to pay close attention to our actions. We should strive to model what we know God asks and desires, even when it is difficult. Ideally our family members will experience that and reflect it back to us as they grow.
The world can be cruel and harsh, but the family is meant to be insular and protective—a haven where we can know, experience, and learn to give love.
Commit to being that haven for all of your family members, especially if you did not benefit from this in your own family.
2. Remember Your Purpose
A family is not just a group of people who live together. You have a purpose in God’s divine plans for all of you. He intends for you to learn and grow together, teach one another to love, advance one another in virtue, and help one another get to heaven.
Jesus became Man and was born to Mary (and entrusted to Joseph) to model His own submission and benefit from Joseph and Mary’s direction as he united His divinity to our humanity.
He was the God of the Universe. He certainly could have joined us here in any way He chose. But it was within the context of a family that He entered the world, sanctifying the family unit and showing how much He revered it. It is critical to the development of the human person from the earliest stages of our lives.
Remember, the Scriptures tell us that through the nurturing and direction of His parents, Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and favor, among both God and men. Don’t avoid conflicts or shy away from the protection and salvation of other family members. Be united in love with your family, willing their ultimate good, even when it is hard.
3. Encourage One Another
Family dynamics can be complicated, and all families go through seasons of difficulty and strain. The goal of your life together is to build one another up, not tear one another down or apart. Be sure the love you offer is filled with encouragement, reassurance, and support, even if the direction you are giving is difficult.
It is within the family that we are formed from our earliest years. Patterns we establish and treatment we receive follow us forever like an imprint upon our hearts. These contribute significantly to the foundation of our thoughts and behaviors through the course of our lives.
Strive to live your role in the family so that the framework for this love and encouragement is positive and secure, or the structure you build together will not be sound. Remember that future generations—your family’s legacy—will be impacted by how you live your family life together today. Encourage one another and lift each other up.
4. Place God at the Center of Family Life
Perhaps this was more straightforward for Mary and Joseph, because God Himself was in their midst, living daily life alongside them. In our day, there are a million distractions calling us away from God and toward the lesser things of the world. It’s incredibly difficult to prioritize God amidst the frenetic activity and allure of the world, especially for families with young children.
Other allurements that attract us are not sinful in and of themselves unless we place a higher priority on them than we do on Him. They may attract us, but they should not distract us. If they do, they become like idols and we pour more energy into them than into our relationship with God. This is when we must reorder our lives in favor of the One who gave us life.
Activity has its place in family life and the life of the individual. It is an essential part of our growth and learning as human beings. Recollection also has its place, and is an essential element of the growth of our souls toward God and heaven. In today’s busy world, many families are so engaged in the former that they have no time for the latter.
Make time. Attend Mass faithfully and as often as possible. Pray together. Involve yourself in the formation of your children. Socialize with other Catholic or Christian families with whom you can build lifelong friendships and accompaniment. Live a sacramental life, help your children to do so, and model that engagement and commitment for the rest of your family.
You can always choose today to start fresh, with God at the center, and make careful choices that don’t compromise that. This sets the expectation and understanding in the family that God always comes first. That is carried forward in the very being of young children.
He will bless your efforts by bestowing graces upon your family.
5. Teach Prayer, Live Prayer
Earthly life is complicated. The external events of our lives, over which we have no control, are enough to cause despair and struggle in even the most faithful people. Add in the multitude of elements within the human person that wrestle for control of our emotions, thought patterns, and beliefs. None of us can handle this mix alone. Thankfully, we aren’t designed to.
God has placed within each of us a secret core—an inner sanctuary—where we desire and meet Him in communion and prayer. We need to spend time alone with Him there, and allow His voice to echo into the depths of our souls. We need to use that time in prayer to listen. To speak. To be still.
There are many different ways to pray, because God has created a way into every human heart. Help those in your family to find a way that resonates, and help them to experience this. Mass, Adoration, the Rosary, a daily Examen, journaling…the list goes on. All that matters is that we meet him, in the quiet place, the inner sanctuary of our soul.
We cannot fully know Him or make Him known, and we cannot fully know ourselves, until we learn to seek union with Him in prayer. It may come more naturally to some than others, but it is important for us all.
Within your family, teach, encourage, and practice prayer together.
Being a part of a family should be one of life’s richest blessings. God intended the family to be the school of love, and the home to be the center of that school. By His design, the family reflects His loving care over His children in a way no other earthly blessing can.
It is by living love and unity, remembering our purpose as a family, encouraging one another, placing God at the center, and teaching and living prayer that we can all grow in virtue and holiness, experience the richness of full hearts, and face the joys and sorrows of this life as we aspire for heaven together.