When our children were young we taught them by singing to them: “You belong to Jesus, he lent you to me, I give you to Jesus for in him you’re free…may you grow in grace and wisdom, may you always seek his ways, may you speak his name boldly and love him all your days.” Thus, began the lullaby given to me shortly before we miscarried our second child; our firstborn, Daniel, was approaching his first birthday. “Go now, soar with his Spirit, while the angels above, shall sing to you sweetly, this night of his love,” became part of God’s love song to our children, sung to them while they drifted off to sleep, reminding us that each treasure belonged to him, given to us on loan. God “loaned” us six children (now adults), one daughter-in-law, a future son-in-law and three precious ones who returned to him and are part of our family’s communion of saints.
Lullabies are now behind us. Today, we accompany our adult “lead singers” as they engage in and express their own faith, and adapt our treasured family faith traditions to the widespread lives we live today.
Support Each Singer
Which child is the “favorite child” is the ongoing tease; the truth is–they each are. In their youth, we had a TLC (tender loving care) chair where they sat, signaling their need for extra loving. Now we have TLC prayer devoting extraprayers for one of our children each day. We keep their personal intentions in mind from week to week and offer pure thanksgiving for the gift they are.
Challenge: Set an alarm each morning to remind yourself which special child will receive your prayers and sacrifices for them that day. Every morning, pray for him or her with simple words, bits of scripture, a song or decades of the rosary woven throughout the day.
As you pray for your child on his or her given day tell them, “We never stop giving thanks for you, we love you and are lifting you in prayer today,” reminding them of God’s personal love and attention as his beloved son or daughter.
Sing of Mary
Lying next to my mother as a child she patiently taught me her beloved rosary prayer, Hail Holy Queen, that I then taught my own. Visits to Grammie Wilson found her reciting her daily rosary, novena booklet in hand, grandchildren praying a few Hail Mary’s clamoring to be her next 54 Day Novena recipient. A holy priest once said, “one Hail Mary prayed sincerely from a child’s heart will one day pull them back to heaven.” Tuck that consolation away!
Challenge: Consider the 54 day Rosary Novena to Our Lady a powerful answer to your families’ grown-up prayers. Given to the gravely ill daughter of an Italian military officer through the apparition of Our Lady of Pompeii, this novena consists of 27 days of petition and 27 days of thanksgiving (www.54daynovena.com). Pray one decade at a time with your young family. Invite your adult family to join a virtual family rosary this advent taking turns leading a decade with intentions. When concerns choke your peace, invoke our Blessed Mother in Saint Teresa of Kolkata’s simple words: “Mary be a Mother to them now.” (John 19:26-27) Wherever they are, she will wrap them close in her Mother’s mantle, composing for them her own lullaby.
Become their Accompanists
Take a cue from your child’s spirituality. When we entrust our children to God, praying to increase our trust that he is leading them, then the Saints they choose for confirmation and the various religious orders they are drawn to are an invitation for us to learn about different spiritualities. Sharing their spirituality brings an abundance to your family’s faith. Ignatian prayers such as the Examen and Gospel contemplation bring discernment. Regnum Christi ignites missionary disciples, Benedictine spirituality teaches an appreciation of the Liturgy of the Hours and hospitality. Our daughter Irene still leads us in morning prayers after moving away to teach.
Challenge: Learn the various ways your children like to pray, read the spiritual books they are reading and ask them to teach you about the spiritual giants they are learning from. For those with children away from the church, find a justice issue of their initiative, read and discuss a book about it, gently making connections to the Gospel when appropriate. Putting mercy into action and serving together provides a faithful melody to which one may continually return and creates a harmony that makes the family richer. (Matt. 25)
Getting the band back together
Connect your dispersed family members with apps like Whatsapp where you can create a family group text for members to check in with one another. Siblings, children and parents learn to rely on each other for prayers and encouragement for that big meeting, that discernment, that concern or also to celebrate their successes. “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, make your requests known to God,”– and your family! (Phil. 4:6)
Challenge: Observe family dynamics, discern when it might be time for a deeper phone conversation, share uplifting humor or a photo post of a glorious sunrise or sunset.
Traditions for Sharing
Advent harkens back to joyful childhood times preparing for the birth of Jesus and offers an opportunity to reconnect over favorite family faith traditions. When I got married, my mother would drop off new Advent wreath candles each year so the McNulty family tradition could continue with our growing Wilson family. In hectic lives, the simple gesture of the children sitting beside each other, lighting a candle each night at dinner along with the evening’s prayers, illuminated for our family that we belonged to Christ, and together we were filled with anticipation. Our children, no matter their age still need to be filled with the joyful hope of the Lord’s arrival in their lives, that they may go be a light in the world. (Matt. 5:14-16)
Challenge: Send your children Advent candles in the mail or in person to enkindle the flame of faithful hope for each of them in a world so in need of their joyful song.
Giving and Receiving
Family life is an invitation to give and receive the gift of self, imperfections and all, and offer forgiveness. One of our Advent traditions was to offer secret kind deeds along with prayers for the Kris Kringle family member’s name we secretly drew, placing a piece of straw in the empty manger for baby Jesus with each small sacrifice or mercy that only he knew.
Challenge: Whether you live miles apart or in the same house, find ways to continue your family’s traditions. While we may not be placing straw in the same manger, we continue to offer up sacrifices, gifts of prayer and simple homemade gifts for the family member’s name we draw.
Worship as your Crescendo
We love it when our children join us where we were married and raised our children when they return home, at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica. Rather than expecting our local children to always worship in their childhood spiritual home though, we often attend our childrens’ chosen parishes with them, seeing the gifts in them called forth by the priests they love.
Challenge: With families scattered, take turns discussing what speaks to you from the Sunday readings or 52 Sundays. During this unprecedented time try attending Mass together online with the parish of their choice. As the priest said during the homily at my daughter’s alma mater, “This Eucharist binds us together as one body, gathered across space and time to give God thanks and praise.”