I recently read an article that claimed the No. 1 problem in our country today is not our political polarization; it’s not our stock market volatility; nor is it our tax system, the weather or crime rate. It’s our families. Our families are facing some challenges that were hardly imagined by previous generations.
As a country, we are healthier than ever, but we don’t seem to be happier. We have access to almost limitless knowledge at our fingertips, or in our pockets and purses, but we often seem to lack the wisdom to use it well. We are the wealthiest nation on earth, and yet we suffer from spiritual poverty. All of this is affecting our families substantially. Families are the driving force for true change in our nation, either for better or worse.
All is not lost, not even close. Millions of marriages are thriving in our country, and so many of our families are engaged in their faith and raising incredible children, adolescents and young adults. But it is an uphill battle in many cases.
Pope Francis has reminded us — along with some other very weighty experts like Jesus — that wealth and comfort, which we all crave, can be very detrimental to our relationships with God and others. We can easily begin to place our hope and our security in things rather than in our Heavenly Father.
Apparently, it’s a pretty common thing to do. Again, Jesus warned us about this several times in the Gospels. Money can tempt us to focus on ourselves and our desire to control, to be powerful and to insulate ourselves from uncertainties. Sadly, our money also can insulate us from deep, committed relationships. Is it also possible then that this could adversely affect our families? Of course it can.
Last week, I was speaking with a bright, energetic, young woman who has spent a considerable amount of time as a camp counselor working with kids. She is very good at what she does. Her observations of the behavior of these young people were difficult to hear. She has noticed that 10-year-olds all have their own phones, and they are completely engrossed with them. These kids are so easily bored and would rather sit in the corner and look at their phones than do anything else. The activities and time spent with the young adult counselors, which used to be the best part of the camps, are now becoming painful for the kids to handle. The campers constantly ask when they can be finished with them. Some of this may be kids being kids, but in her observation (and that of many others who work with young people) it is changing in a way never before seen.
So, how does a family thrive in the midst of these challenges? The Church in its towering wisdom has answers, but the answers are not always easy. The “thriving” will come at a cost. Some sacrifices will have to be made, and there may be some unhappy moments when some people don’t get everything they want.
In addition to Sunday Mass attendance, spend some time praying together as a family. It could be rote prayers, the rosary or a number of other options depending on the family situation.
Spend some regular time together (without cellphones) doing something you enjoy. Try to laugh, have some fun or occasionally learn something together as a family.
Limit time on phones, computers and TVs. There are innumerable ways to set this up. Choose one and do it together as a family (including the parents). It’s important for the adults to lead with their own example.
Here is one last idea: Lent is a great opportunity to start something new. What if we said, “Hey family, this Lent let’s do something together.” That just might work, and it is definitely worth the sacrifice.