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On the Same Page ...  Topical conversation starters to help parents stay "on the same page" with each other and their families. Download a print-friendly version of this article here: Dealing with Competition

How do we live as Holy Families when we win or don’t win?

The society we live in is a paradox when it comes to winning, achievements, and success. On the one hand, we live in a very competitive culture where winning seems to be everything. This is reflected in the saying, “Second place is just first loser.” On the other hand however, children and young people are often rewarded simply for showing up, no matter the level of effort put in. As Holy Families it is our job to help our children navigate that dichotomy and make sense of the mixed messages of winning versus losing, and success versus failure.

Perhaps the problem arises from a faulty sense of success and failure. Talking to young people about the meaning of success is important because the world says success is: money, fame, notoriety, lots of possessions, only A’s in school, and so on. And yet many of us will never live up to that standard, and frankly even Jesus wouldn’t have met those criteria!

So what does our Lord Jesus say about what success looks like? For that we can go to the Beatitudes in Scripture:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5)

Jesus’ definition of success is to do God’s work and live by his will. Even when we
fail completely or if we come in first place, have we done it for the glory of God -- or our
own glory? Failure simply means getting up and trying again, as many times as it takes. Failure is an opportunity to grow, learn, develop, trust, and persevere. Failure is only failure if we give up and never try again. We can win with humility and we can lose with grace because we are children of God who loves us no matter if we are number one or last. This frees us to win, lose, and try again knowing that none of that defines us. What defines us God’s love for us.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) How do you look at winning and losing in your family? What messages do you send to your children about competition?

b) How do the beatitudes shape your understanding of what success is as people of
faith? How is that contrary to how the world defines success?

c) How do you teach your children that working hard is its own reward, rather than always expecting something in return for their efforts?

Asking for God's Blessing:

Loving God, your Son Jesus taught that we are blessed when we are humble and serving others in your name. Remind us that we don’t have to win or be the best at everything in order to gain your love and approval. Fill us with your Spirit that we would be thankful in all circumstances, both winning, losing, or just playing along. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Permission granted to copy for local use.

On the Same Page ...  Topical conversation starters to help parents stay "on the same page" with each other and their families. Download a print-friendly version of this article here: Dealing with Social Media

How do we live as Holy Families who use Social Media?

In the past 10 years, the use of social media by adults has gone from 7 percent of all adults in 2005 to more than 76 percent in 2015, according to Pew Research. Teenagers are also using social media in record numbers these days, which means that they need parental guidance on the benefits and dangers of having a public profile. Whether your favorite is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest, it is very likely that you are using some kind of social media at least once a day. This usage is not likely to decrease in the future.

Because young people are concrete, in-the-moment thinkers, it is very hard for them to predict the consequences of their actions. The human brain continues to develop into an individual’s early 20s, and there are many situations that young people have yet to encounter and thus do not necessarily know how to handle. Situations that can arise in social media just might be one of those places as kids increasingly own tablets and smartphones where the Internet is just a swipe or click away.

As with any other aspect of family life, it is important to have a conversation about expectations. What do you expect out of your children when it comes to social media usage? Are there time limits that will be imposed? Do they need to “friend” you so you can see what they are saying? What about the posting of pictures or the kinds of information they can and cannot share?

Part of a conversation on expectations might include social media etiquette. How do we, as people of faith, treat others when we are online? No doubt we’ve all cringed in horror as one person has criticized or belittled another in full view of all their online friends. We can look to Martin Luther’s explanation to the Eighth Commandment for some guidance in this regard:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do. (Small Catechism)

Social media has valuable uses. It is a wonderful way to keep in touch with family and friends, connect with people who have similar interests or concerns, or even to seek advice. But, like anything else, it can have a dark side that families need to talk about together so that children are safe and unharmed. As people of faith, we live all aspects of our lives centered in Christ, and social media is no different.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a)   Have you ever witnessed negative interactions on social media? How did it make you feel to see it?

b)   What are some of the dangers of social media? How can you protect yourself from those sorts of interactions?

c)    Discuss together Luther’s explanation to the Eighth Commandment and what that means for how you treat others in all aspects of life. 

d)   Who owns your phone, computer and tablet? What is your family policy on privacy?

Asking for God's Blessing:

Creator God, you have made us to be social creatures who crave interaction and relationships. Protect us in all aspects of life, including the realms of the digital age. Help us to use those platforms to bring good news to the world and to be bold in our confession of faith to you. Open the lines of communication in our family and guide us in your holy ways in all we do. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Permission granted to copy for local use.

On the Same Page ...  Topical conversation starters to help parents stay "on the same page" with each other and their families. Download a print-friendly version of this article here: Dealing with Self-Image

How do we live as Holy Families if one of us has a low self-image?

Growing up isn’t always the easiest part of life. We all go through those awkward stages of development where we feel like we don’t fit in, aren’t good at anything, or feel just plain “weird.” Dealing with the inconveniences of teenage acne, quick growth spurts, and changing voices is only for the moment, however. If we can hang on, soon we will outgrow our awkwardness and become the person God has created us to be. But how do we help one another navigate these self-conscious years and raise confident, loving, caring young adults?

Understanding the source of our true identity can help us in this matter:

“Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

Each one of us on this planet has been created in the image and likeness of God. How should this make us feel? Well, for one thing, we can look at ourselves and each other and see the beauty within. If each of us is made in God’s image, then each of us is important, valued, and a delight to our Creator. If we really stop to ponder this concept, it should help us to push through those feelings that crop up — the ones that keep us doubting ourselves, such as, “I’m no good,” or “I’m ugly,” or “I don’t matter.” This negative self talk is NOT from God! God loves us so much that he has been faithful to the human race for time immemorial. That has to tell us something of our worth!

Luther said it this way in the explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed,

“I believe that God has created me and all that exists, that he has given me and still preserves my body and soul, my eyes and ears, my reason and all my senses, together with food and clothing, home and family, and all my property. Every day he provides abundantly for all the needs of my life. ... He does this purely out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy ... .” (Small Catechism)

As we remind one another of our value to God and to each other, we can rejoice using the words of the psalmist, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14a ESV).

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a)   Recall the times when you felt awkward. How did that change over time? What does it mean to be “comfortable in your own skin?” 

b)   How does it help you to have a positive self-image when you think about how God feels about you? Why is that what’s really important?

c)    What other scripture verses remind you of your true value? 

d)   How might you help others who struggle with a negative self-image?

Asking for God's Blessing:

Loving God, you are the Creator of all that exists, and your works are too wonderful for us to comprehend. When we feel inadequate or are having a hard time being confident in ourselves, remind us that we have been created in your perfect image and that you are the source of our true identity. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Permission granted to copy for local use.

On the Same Page ...  Topical conversation starters to help parents stay "on the same page" with each other and their families. Download a print-friendly version of this article here: Dealing with Misbehaving

How do we live as Holy Families when children misbehave?

It can be very stressful and confusing when a child suddenly starts to misbehave in school and/or in the family home. When children misbehave in rebellious or defiant ways, it is often a sign that something has changed and they are unsure how to express their feelings about that change. It can also mean that they feel powerless to affect the change that has taken place.

People often give children more credit for being “resilient” than they actually deserve. We adults see what we want to see at times, especially if we are more tuned in to our own needs/desires than the need/desires of our children. When children feel things are unstable or they don’t have control over their environment, they will instinctively look for ways to cope with that loss of stability and control. If it’s a short-term change, they may be flexible with it, but if the changes are detrimental to their lives (in their view, not in ours as parents) or last for an extended period of time, then children may begin to act out in various ways to grab our attention. If one way fails to work, then another will be experimented with — even if it means negative consequences for the  children.

As parents, it is our first priority to love and nurture the children that God has gifted us with. As St. Paul preached,

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

If we become consumed with our own lives or even just comfortable with the status quo, we may miss the developmental and emotional needs of our children, and they will let us know in some very creative ways! Identifying the pattern of negative behavior and its root cause is the first and most important step in turning things around. It may mean that our own behavior (or bad behavior) as parents needs to change. It may also mean that we as parents need to work with our children to intervene in external situations.

It is important for parents to be spiritually and emotionally healthy in order to raise healthy children who thrive in this world and live faithfully in God’s kingdom. Drawing on Jesus’ mandate to love as he first loved us can help us focus on the needs of our children so that they will grow up to be healthy and well-adjusted individuals. When children misbehave, it is an opportunity to pull together as a family. We can tune in to one another and focus on communication. It also provides an opportunity to demonstrate mercy and grace to one another.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a)   How have you seen children in other families act out, rebel, or create negative situations for themselves? Do  you have any idea what was behind all of that emotion?

b)   When in your young life, parents, did you act out in anger or hurt? What did you learn from that experience? 

c)   Reflect together on St. Paul’s words about love found in 1 Corinthians 13. 

d)  How might you improve your relationships with one another in your family?

Asking for God's Blessing:

Holy God, you have given us to each other to be a family, and you watch over all our days. Give us courage to discuss important issues within our household when we need to. Help us to be loving and patient during the times when we need to solve problems or ask for forgiveness from one another. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Permission granted to copy for local use.

On the Same Page ...  Topical conversation starters to help parents stay "on the same page" with each other and their families. Download a print-friendly version of this article here: Dealing with Jealousy

How do we live as Holy Families when there is jealousy?

Jealousy is a complex set of emotions that stem from feelings of loss or the potential loss of something important. It can occur if we feel abandoned, insecure or left out. There are times in any family when feelings of jealousy might arise — for example, welcoming a new baby, or when one sibling seems to be getting more attention than another.  Recognizing what is at stake for a child is the key to dealing with this capricious emotion. It is important to remind children that there is always enough love to go around. We do that by showing them love and listening to their feelings, however difficult it may be for them to express those emotions appropriately.

Jesus demonstrated unconditional love for others. In particular, he was intentional about loving those whom others wanted nothing to do with because they were “sinners.” In this story about Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners, he is criticized for the unconditional welcome he extended to those who were considered unclean:

As Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when (Jesus) heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Matthew 9:9-13 ESV)

Love is not something that can be completely used up. On the contrary, the more you give away, the more it grows. As St. Paul said, “Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:8 ESV). We don’t always know or understand that love never ends, especially when we are children. If a child feels threatened by a perceived preference in the family, feelings of envy are bound to crop up. Something important is happening, but how do we get to the root of the problem?

Our awareness of the emotional “field” within the family is something to be constantly paying attention to, especially if there has been a big change in the family. Change can often cause children to feel stressed or anxious. Talking about those changes, even in the simplest terms, can quell negative feelings. Remind the ones feeling left out that they too are loved and cherished. Your attention and assurance can help to assuage feelings of jealousy and hurt.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a)   When in your life have you felt strong feelings of jealousy? What was going on at the time?

b)   How can jealousy be a disruptive and destructive emotion in our lives?

c)    How do we know from Jesus’ life that we are loved beyond our wildest imagination? 

d)   How does God’s love offer us security and peace in life? In our family life?

Asking for God's Blessing:

Lord God, you sent your son, Jesus, into the world to show us what true love looks like. Help us to love one another so deeply and faithfully that we are secure in our relationships and don’t feel any jealousy toward others in our lives. Remind us that we are called to love others the way we want to be loved. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen. 

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2016 (www. Permission granted to copy for local use.

On the Same Page ...  Topical conversation starters to help parents stay "on the same page" with each other and their families. Download a print-friendly version of this article here: Dealing with Homesickness

How do we live as “Holy Families” when we are homesick?

Part of growing up is spending time away from the family home. That could mean participating in fun adventures like catechism camp, a sports camp, a school trip, or even simply spending the night at a friend’s house. Some children are naturally more independent than others and consider their time away from home as a wonderful experience. For others, going away from home and family, their own bed and toys, can be a challenge. They are simply more comfortable in their own familiar environment. This topic is not just for young children either — when young people go off to the military or college, many of them experience this yearning for home and family connections.

As parents, we can use these moments to help our children take a step toward independence and encourage them to venture out into new situations that will benefit them in the long run. Ultimately these adventures away from home and parents build confidence and allow a child to test their developing interpersonal skills such as making new friends, communicating with others, and taking care of themselves. We can assure them that we are only a phone call or text away and that more importantly, God is with them wherever they go.

When Jesus was preparing to give his life as a sacrifice for the world, he promised his disciples that he would not leave them orphaned, “I will come to you,” he said. (John 14:18) As Jesus promised his friends the gift of the Holy Spirit he assured them, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

There is never a place or a time where we are without our Lord. As parents we can take every opportunity to remind our children that Jesus is with them always, helping them, guiding them, comforting them when they feel alone, and teaching them to rely on him in the midst of life’s experiences. When we make a habit of reminding children that God is always with them, soon they will come to rely on that truth and draw from it when they are homesick or afraid.

It is normal to have a bit of anxiety over being separated from our family and home, but it is a good thing to get away from the normal, everyday routine of daily life and explore what the world around us offers. We can trust that we are always being watched over by our heavenly Father, and that before long we will be back in familiar surroundings. And just think of all the great stories they will have to tell when they return!

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) When was there a time when you were away from home and felt really homesick? Did you stick it out and stay, or did you cut your journey short and head home?

b) What feelings are associated with being homesick? Is there anything in particular that would help you feel better in those moments?

c) Read together Matthew 28:16-20. What gives you comfort in this passage? In what ways are we given a task to do when we go away from home? What is that task and what is the promise that goes with it?

Asking for God’s Blessing:

Lord God, you know our fears as well as our joys. Give us con dence to venture away from home and experience life beyond our front door. Continue to mold and shape us into your saints, sharing the good news wherever we go. Help us to trust that Christ is with us always, even to the end of the age. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Permission granted to copy for local use.

On the Same Page ...  Topical conversation starters to help parents stay "on the same page" with each other and their families. Download a print-friendly PDF version of this article here: Dealing with Uncertainty

How do we live as Holy Families in uncertain times?

How are you at dealing with uncertainty? Many of us are rather uncomfortable with the state of “not knowing.” The truth is, we all like to have life be in control, predictable, and care-free. Unfortunately, life isn’t like that all the time. There are times in each of our lives and in our families where situations seem to spiral out of our control, where answers are sought but not received, where time seems to stand still because we are waiting for a diagnosis, a test result, or an answer we long to hear. How do we live as Holy Families amidst life’s uncertainty?

Jesus taught his followers to put their trust in their heavenly Father. He wanted them to know that even though there is much to worry about, they had no reason to fear or be anxious:

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:22-31 ESV)

In a letter to his wife, Katie, Martin Luther sought to ease her worrying about him while he was away from home. While he appreciated her care and concern, he knew it was taxing on her. He urged Katie to trust in the one true God, “I beg you to pray and leave the worrying to God. You are not commanded to worry about me or yourself. It is written, ‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee,’ and similarly in other places.” (February 10, 1546)

Worry cannot change in our situation; in fact it harms our health as we stress about things we have no control over. Physiologically, worry and stress cause negative effects on our body and mind. Stress hormones negatively affect blood pressure, brain chemistry, and other body systems have to work harder to keep us alive, while some shut down to conserve energy.

Worry is a waste of time, and it’s bad for your health! Luther didn’t want his wife to worry and Jesus urged his disciples not to worry. Instead as Holy Families we are called to put our complete trust in the Lord of life. Uncertainty remains, but worry doesn’t have to be our response since we know who has our best interests at heart.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) What uncertainties are you and your family facing in your lives right now? Breath deeply and share your fears about life’s uncertainties.

b) How are you responding in negative ways? How are you responding faithfully?

c) Is there one person in your family who does most of the worrying? Pray right now for that person to learn to let go.

d) How might you encourage one another to relax and trust in the Lord?

Asking for God's Blessing:

Heavenly Father, in our minds we know you are looking out for us always, but in our hearts we tend to struggle with letting go of our worries. Grant us your abiding peace in the face of the uncertainties that life is presenting to us these days. We trust that you will provide for our every need according to your holy will for us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Permission granted to copy for local use.