Please bear with me, as I know this is a long one. I contemplated breaking it up, but I think the total message will be lost. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis recently blessed all of its parishioners with the opportunity to obtain a free CD by Matthew Kelly entitled “Raising Amazing Children.” As a mother of two I was eager to snatch one up and to learn how I can raise faithful and loving children. Certainly there are plenty of books written on this subject, but it is harder to find such books and talks that are written from the perspective of a faithful Catholic. While Matthew Kelly did not have any children at the time he gave this talk, he reflects on his own childhood and his observations of others to give some very concrete and easy to follow advice on how to incorporate small changes into our family life that will result in great life changes.
Throughout his talk, Matthew Kelly breaks down the changes and modifications we can incorporate in our daily life into the following topic headings: family prayer, creating a family culture, simplifying, and creating a sense of mission. The following will provide a brief overview of each of these topic headings, to whet your taste buds. I highly recommend seeking out this wonderful CD so that you can strive to more fully incorporate Matthew Kelly’s message and changes into your own life.
The topic of family prayer time is not a topic that was new to me or to my blog. This is an area of family faith life that I feel very passionately about, so it was wonderful to hear Matthew Kelly’s passion in this area as well. The media frequently reminds us of the currently nation divorce rate of roughly 50%. An interesting point that Matthew Kelly brought up is the fact that 1 in 2000 couples who pray together on regular basis end their marriage with divorce. The statistical difference is staggering and certainly reinforces the old adage that “the family that prays together stays together.” Our lives can and will be transformed by sacred scripture and by a strong relationship with God, but this can only take place if we make time to get to know God and to talk to God. The key here is letting your kids see you spending time in prayer, letting them see you make this time a priority, teaching your kids the skills of prayer just as you teach them so many other skills, teaching them to turn to God for guidance in times of joy and of happiness, and teaching them to listen for God’s voice in their lives. We must lay the foundation so that our kids can build their lives upon a solid foundation rooted in the faith. Just as we have had to learn to pray in our own lives, we must pass these skills on to our children as well. As Matthew Kelly states, “we love what we are familiar with and we love what we know.” How can our children grow to know and love God and time in prayer if we do not bring that time to them every day? Two key take-aways from this topic really struck me. First, he poses the question as to whether your kids know more about Disney characters or pop stars than they know about sacred scripture, the life of Jesus, and the Saints? Do we want our kids emulating the characters on TV, or do we want them emulating faithful and holy lives? On the part of parents, if we don’t bring God into our kid’s lives they won’t know God, and if they don’t know God, how can we expect them to follow God? Second, he provides a very simple idea in that you learn to pray by praying. Sometimes we expect that prayer should just “come naturally” or be easy. Hundreds of books would not be written on learning to pray if this was the case. Just as we learn to ride a bike and hit a ball by practicing, we learn to pray by practicing. We will not be experts at the beginning. We will become distracted, we will lack focus, but eventually we will build a beautiful relationship with our Lord through daily conversation with Him in prayer. In can start as easily as teaching our children common Catholic prayers. They will quickly rattle them off and not understand the meaning behind them, but they will have that first layer of the foundation. Next, it evolves into explaining what it is we are saying in those prayers. Finally, it grows into an appreciation for silent prayer, for the time to speak to God as a Father and as a friend, and to listen to what He might have to share with us. It doesn’t happen over night, but the beautiful prayer life that your children will come to know as commonplace will become a key foundation of the rest of their life.
The next topic that Matthew Kelly touches on is the idea of a “family culture.” We have all certainly heard of varying cultures in society and in different centuries, but the idea of a “family culture” might be a new concept. In essence, your “family culture” is what you do together as a family and how you have come to value your time together as a family. Do you eat family meals together? Do you spend your evenings watching TV in separate rooms? Do you talk about your day and share your struggles? Do you really know eachother, or are you just strangers living under the same roof? With all the activities that we get involved in and the social engagements the fill our calendars, it is easy to quickly lose contact with one another. Matthew Kelly provides three key recommendations for re-establishing your “family culture.” First, make family meals a priority. While this can not happen every night, at least once or twice a week, sit down to a meal together as a family. Discuss your day or your week, and listen and ask questions of one another. “If you can’t get together once a week for dinner, something is wrong.” Second, take Sundays off for faith, family, and friends. This is also a great opportunity for evangelization in that many sport schedules are now starting to infringe on Sundays. If we all stand up for taking Sundays “off,” this new trend will disappear. This is such a blessing that God has given us. It is as if He knew we would fill our calendars with work and other obligations, He knew we would have trouble saying no to getting involved in just one more thing, so He blessed us with a scriptural reason to say “no.” Finally, designate one night a week as a “no TV” night. Take time as a family to read books, play games together, spend time in prayer, or simply talk about life. Matthew Kelly describes TVs in our homes so eloquently in stating that they are like a sewage pipe that is literally spewing sewage into our lives and our homes. He goes on to suggest even taking a 30 break from the TV. In taking a step back from the TV you may be amazed at how much you don’t miss it. I can speak from my own experience in that our family has a TV in our home, but it is rarely turned on. The kids, and myself, seem to get so easily sucked in so quickly. I enjoy knowing that it will not be on in the evenings, so we do not even have to have the discussion about what show might be missed. I also find great peace in designating Sundays for faith, family, and friends. Our week can go by so quickly, and busy evenings can quickly result in our family feeling disconnected. But, I know that Sunday will be our time to come together, to spend time at Mass, and to spend the day relaxing and playing as a family. This is time that I would not sacrifice for anything!
Next, Matthew Kelly issues a call to simplify our lives. We are constantly trying to fill our lives with the “next best thing” in our search for happiness, yet these “things” simply weigh us down and keep us from seeking true happiness in God. He issues a call to take a weekend to go through your closets, your basement, your attic, and your garage and get rid of the excess. Get rid of those things you haven’t used in a year and donate them to someone in need. We must let go of our materialism and our attachment to things. He cautions us against doing this without our children, though, as this can be a great learning opportunity for them. Get your kids involved in going through their closets and sharing the clothes they no longer wear, going through their toys and sharing those they no longer play with, and having them help you when you load these items up and bring them to a location for donation. I can speak from my own experience in doing this with my kids. While they are young, ages four and one, they still got involved in choosing clothes they no longer wear and toys that don’t get played with as much. They know that these things will be donated to kids who may not have as much. It is wonderful to see their giving spirit, especially when they might surprise you by giving away one of their favorite toys! It can be a humbling reminder that we are more attached to their “things” than they are.
Finally, Matthew Kelly delves into our need to recognize and pursue our mission in life. He describes the world as being divided into two sets of people: passionate people and miserable people. The one thing that separates these two groups is a sense of mission. Passionate people have it and miserable people don’t. “Have you taken the time to ask God what your mission is and how you are called to make a difference in people’s lives?” This can be a scary thing to do. It is certainly easier to decide for ourselves what our mission in life is, but the result may not be the plan or the happiness that God had in store. Sometimes asking this question will result in a major life or career change. How are we preparing our kids to seek God’s guidance? Are we talking to our kids about the discernment process and seeking God’s guidance rather than their own desires? Society will be quick to tell them what they should want, what career they should pursue to find the most happiness (a.k.a. money and things), but is this the guidance we want them to receive? God is the only person who can send us on and show us our mission, so unless we have taken time to prayerfully ask for His guidance and listen to His response, we can not know what He is calling us to. Within this is also a call to develop a spirit of service within your own family. Let your children see that there is more to life than just themselves. Let them see those who are truly “in need” and let them serve them and learn from them. You never know how those experiences of service could transform their life and their world view.
One of the big take-aways for me was the call to be radically counter-cultural. We are simply in denial if we do not recognize that getting rid of the excess in our lives, making time for family and prayer a priority, and living out the mission God has given us is radically counter-cultural. But, who was the most radically counter-cultural individual in the course of history? The one and only Jesus Christ. We are called to follow Christ, to stand out, to be different, and to bring others to Christ. Others will take notice of your changed priorities, or your changed family dynamic, and your changed joy for life. They will question you as to where it has all come from, and you will be given an amazing opportunity to share the blessing of a life lived as a radically counter-cultural follower of Christ. You can share with them that you had sought happiness in the past in things, in possessions, in fleeting moments of joy, but you have found true, lasting happiness in a life lived in and for God. Our social culture doesn’t seem to be heading down a path that is leading them toward greater happiness, as we see rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide on the rise at all age levels. Clearly, what we are doing and what we are seeking is not providing us with the joy we seek. Are you ready to be radically counter-cultural, to turn your life over to Christ, to seek to know and follow His mission for you life, and to bring others closer to Christ as well? There is no time like the present to make a change!