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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 PDF version of this article here: Dealing with Grief

How do we live as Holy Families when we are grieving?

They say that death is the great equalizer. It hits us all eventually. That doesn’t mean that it is easy, or that we ought to be happy about it. But how do we process all that we feel when a loved one dies? How do we make sense of the pain we feel? Each individual has a unique way of dealing with sorrow. There is no right or wrong way to process loss, but we can always rely on the comfort and love of God.

Probably one of the most pressing questions in our hearts at the death of a loved one is, “Are they with Jesus?” Here is where we can begin the conversation: To be assured that our loved one is with Jesus takes a load of anxiety off of our shoulders. We can count on this when we know our loved one was a person of faith who trusted the promises of God. Also, we have words from scripture that give us comfort. St. Paul wrote to the Romans:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 ESV)

Having the assurance that our loved one is in Christ’s holy presence and no longer in a state of suffering or pain is one thing. It is another thing entirely to think of ourselves without them. Grief is feeling sad that we no longer have our loved one with us. It is hard for us to imagine not seeing that person again on earth even when a death is expected — and if a loved one dies suddenly and unexpectedly, it is even harder to comprehend.

Being open about death is a good thing. We cannot deny that it is a reality for all living creatures. Praying together, talking about our loved ones and remembering them is a powerful way to move through the stages of grief. Be patient — with your child and with yourselves. It’s likely that if your child is suffering loss, then you are, too. Talking about our feelings is healing for our souls. Participating in end-of-life rituals such as calling hours and funerals is helpful for people of all ages. Don’t neglect opportunities for comfort and peace.

Jesus spoke to his disciples before his ascension into heaven, saying, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b ESV). There is not a time or place when those who are God’s children are left alone or separated from Christ — not even in death. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Above all else, look to God’s holy presence as you walk through these difficult experiences, and remember together the promises of Easter.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) Why does death bring such uncertainty and sorrow for us, even though we are people who believe? 

b) Whom have you lost in your family and circle of friends? Discuss how that felt and how long your heart hurt because of the loss.

c) Who can you go to in order to talk about your grief if it gets to be too much to handle? What do you need right now?

d) How might you encourage one another and be there for each other as you share a common sorrow?

Asking for God's Blessing:

Loving God, you have called us into a life of faith and gifted us with your love and mercy. We give you thanks for the days we have together, and for the experiences, friendships, and loving family relationships we share with others. When a loved one dies, comfort us in our sorrow and remind us of your unfailing love in Christ Jesus, in whose 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 PDF version of this article here: Dealing with Dating

How do we live as Holy Families when it comes to dating?

How do we start a conversation with our children about dating? Perhaps the topic has come up as a result of your teenager’s increased talking and texting with someone of the opposite sex. Ideally, parents would have had frequent and ongoing dialogues about topics such as dating, curfews, and sexuality long before an interest arises in a teen’s life, but that’s not always what happens in reality. So whether you are ahead of the game or just catching up, it’s better to start the conversation late than to never have it.

As parents, it is vital that we are on the same page when it comes to the rules and boundaries of our children dating. Most teenagers don’t even know what dating should look like; they have no personal experience with it. All they know is what they see on television, on social media, and in movies — and those are usually not the best examples of what we want for our young people. Adolescents need, and want, our attention and guidance in this arena of life, even if they insist otherwise. Some questions we might ask each other as we prepare to have a discussion might be: At what age might it be appropriate to allow our teen to date? Are we more comfortable with a group date in which a bunch of kids go somewhere together rather than a one-on-one outing? What are the rules for having guests in our house? Does a parent need to be home? What time do we expect our child to come home, and what happens if he or she doesn’t follow the boundaries of the curfew?

It is very important to be clear about your expectations of your teenager as  you give them increased freedom. By discussing these topics before they happen, they will have an idea of what you have in mind for them. We want to promote smart, healthy, respectful relationships, and as the author of Proverbs wrote, “Whoever walks with the wise become wiser, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20).

When it comes to dating, one thing that is incredibly important is your teenager’s self-image. If your child has a deep grounding in their faith, then hopefully they also have a healthy respect for themselves and others. Pay attention to this, because if a teenager fails to value herself, she might choose to date someone who also will not value her. If a teen doesn’t have a clear identity — knowing who they are and whose they are — he might become involved with someone whose influence has a negative effect on him. It is important to help young people discern their own values so they can assess the values of those they want to be friends with.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a)   How would you define a good relationship? How do people treat one another in a healthy relationship?

b) What are the qualities you look for in a friend or someone you might want to date? 

c)   What are your family values when it comes to appropriate signs of affection in relationships for teens?

d)   How does  your faith inform your decisions on whom to date and what to do (or not do) on dates?

Asking for God's Blessing:

God of love, you have created us male and female so that we might have companionship and support. Guide us as a family in all of our relationships, that they would be respectful, healthy, balanced, and peaceful. Let us be ever mindful of your love for us and the value you place upon each of us in body, mind, and spirit. 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 Criticism

How do we live as “Holy Families” when we get criticized?

Dealing with criticism is something we have to learn to do from a very early age. The trouble is, it never becomes easy. It can be tough to hear criticism from others, even when it may be warranted. It’s important to distinguish between corrective criticism and just plain old hurtful remarks. As parents, this is where we can offer some assistance.

It is helpful to keep in mind that even Jesus was criticized by others in his life. Even though he was the perfect Son of God, people found fault with his words and actions. Jesus’ words were not unkind or unhelpful, but because he challenged others to see their own shortcomings and disobedience toward the Father, people rejected Jesus and his words. They neglected to live lives of grace and mercy and instead looked out for themselves in fear and selfishness. While we cannot expect to  align ourselves with the perfection of Christ, we can take solace in the knowledge that we are in good company when it comes to being blamed, chastised, or even bashed by others.

In faith, we teach our children to speak kindly and respectfully to adults and those in authority over them, encouraging them to attend to the full meaning of the fourth commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not show contempt for our parents and others in authority, nor provoke them to anger, but respect, obey, serve, love, and honor them.” (Small Catechism) But how do we encourage them to handle criticism when it comes their way? It can and will come from family members, bosses, teachers, coaches, and others with whom we have relationships, but it is not always meant to help us improve ourselves. When it is corrective we need to help young people hear the truth of what is being said so that they might learn from the experience; but when criticism comes in the form of disdain, jealousy, or hatred, learn how to shake it off and recognize the intention of the words that are hurled at us.

Keep in mind in the face of criticism:

1) Another’s hurtful words are often a reflection of their own pain and frustration.

2) In the face of criticism it can be helpful to ask for clarification or instructions on how to improve or do things differently.

3) Our self worth comes from the way that God sees us. He loves us, wants the best for us, and will help us to improve, overcome our shortcomings, and grant us forgiveness.

4) We are called to let our love be genuine, even in the face of conflict or criticism. The Holy Spirit will help us respond faithfully.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) How do you discern between helpful criticism and unhelpful disparagement? 

b) How might we encourage our children to be gracious in the face of helpful criticism so that they might learn something about themselves?

c) What feelings arise in the face of criticism? How did Jesus handle those very real human feelings?

d) How do we live lives of love, even in the face of those who would reject us?

Asking for God’s Blessing: 

Holy and Loving God, your Son Jesus was treated with contempt and criticism in his life. We know that he understands our pain when we face it because he experienced it too. Give us the courage to love and forgive, even in the face of those who are unkind. Help us to see their pain and not take things too personally. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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

How many of the adults in your congregation know the names of all or most of the children who are a part of the parish?

All too often there is a disconnect between adults and children in churches, unless the adult is actively involved in some aspect of youth ministry. It is vital for children's faith formation that adults besides their parents and grandparents get involved in their faith lives. Statistics show that of the youth who are actively involved in church in Middle and High School, 50% will walk away from the faith while in college. How can the Body of Christ nurture young people in the faith AND maintain an active relationship with youth when they go off to college, the military or even begin working in the community?

Here are some ideas to get congregations thinking about how to connect adults of all ages to the children in their midst:

  • Take a photo of each child and put the pictures on a bulletin board that is in a prominent place in the church where all can see. Label each picture with the child's name, age, and any other information you want to include. (How about, "What's your favorite color?" or "Who's your favorite Bible character?" or "Who were you named after?")
  • Connect an adult with a child and ask them to be "prayer partners" for a year. Make sure to create opportunities within the community for prayer partners to sit and talk together so they can foster a lasting relationship.
  • Have Sunday School kids gather together and go visit people from the congregation who are shut-ins or who are living in a nursing home. They can make cards and drawings to take along. While you're there, take a photo of the kids with the person they are visiting. Be sure to send a copy to that person - they will love it!
  • Start a "Secret Friend" exchange by putting names of adults and kids who want to participate in separate boxes. Make sure to ask a few questions on the sign up sheet so the secret friend knows what the other person likes. (Parents of children will have to get involved so the kids remember to keep the friendship going.) Ask questions on the sign up sheet such as: What's your favorite candy? What is your favorite food? When is your birthday? Create a space in the church where secret friends can drop off cards and gifts for each other during the year. At the end of the year, have a get together to reveal to one another who's secret friend each person is.
  • Invite older members of the congregation to visit catechism classes and to be mentors to confirmands.

In the evening, before you go to bed, make the sign of the cross and say: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” (Luther's Small Catechism)

Built into the design of the Holy Families daily devotional resource, we will be using the sign of the cross and the name of the Triune God as the invocation for daily family prayer.  Broken down into three distinct motions, this sign will also serve as the structure for these family prayers, giving children a repeatable memory device for each day's devotions.

Motion 1: From God to Us
The first motion in the cross represents the vertical dimension of faith, from God to us. Our Lord is a God who takes the initiative by coming into our lives through his Word. Lutherans affirm that in faith and worship, the primary direction of action is from God to us. The down-stroke of the cross is where our prayers begin, as God opens our hearts and minds to his Word, as the Spirit himself intercedes for us in prayer (Romans 8:26-27).

Motion 2: From Death to Life
Between the vertical and horizontal dimensions of our faith is the center in Jesus Christ, and his death and resurrection for our sake. This is the "tentatio" that Luther often spoke of (Latin for "struggle"), where our sinful self is put to death and we are daily raised to new life. Notice that you cannot make the sign of the cross without the connecting "J" that holds the vertical and horizontal dimension together.  By centering our prayer in this motion from death to life, we live out calling of Jesus, that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name..." (Luke 24:47).

Motion 3: From Me to You
The horizontal dimension of the cross reminds us of how the fruit of our faith expresses itself in love for the neighbor. "What you have done for the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done it for me," Jesus says (Matthew 25:40). Crossing the center once again, we get to proclaim the grace and mercy of Christ to our own family members, as we commend them into the love and care of God.

As part of the Holy Families initiative Daily Encounter with the Word, this three-motion cross will serve as the structure for the daily prayer resources that will be provided on this page, helping families to make time in Scripture and Prayer a part of their daily routine.

Note: We are still some time away from the official introduction of the Holy Families devotional and study resources, to be released in the Spring of 2017. But we will continue to use this test site as a place to give you a peek into things to come!


Something New is Coming!

We are in the process of designing an online family prayer resource to be released as part of the 2017 "Holy Families!" Initiative of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The format will reflect Martin Luther's approach to study and prayer in the Word (oratio, meditatio, and tentatio), presented in accessible and down-to-earth language, for families to use in the home. Look for this "test" website to develop over the next several months!