A family retreat that incorporates prayer, bonding, teaching, and fun will pay dividends in the long run
Article from Catholic Answers Online Magazine by Michael and Alicia Hernon
Because of the pandemic and associated lockdowns, many of us spent far more time than normal with our families in 2020. But if you’re like us, not all of this time was spent as well as it could have been. The truth is that few families have the habits that allow them to go into challenges in an intentional way—prayerfully, thoughtfully, prepared to make the most of each situation.
When our two oldest children were preparing to enter junior high school some years back, we saw the writing on the wall. It wouldn’t be long before new relationships, burgeoning independence and any number of new activities would make it harder for us to connect with them. We wanted to reaffirm their bond with us, with their siblings, and most especially, with our Lord.
What better way to do this than to take our family on retreat? While there are some excellent retreat centers that offer programs for multiple families, we wanted a retreat for just our family.
Since we had no template for a self-directed family retreat, we knew that we would have to create it ourselves. Remembering that God expects us to do our best rather than to be perfect, we dove into planning and executing our family retreat. It was so transformational for us that we have been doing it every year since.
A family retreat is a time for you to be intentional about sharing your faith with your kids—to show them through your actions and your words that you prioritize your relationship with them and with God. Many times, we parents don’t know how to share the faith with our children, but a family retreat provides a perfect opportunity to begin. The amazing thing about family life is that it is a natural means for a relationship with God! Children’s experience with the family provides a foundation—whether strong or weak—for their own faith lives. So, when you strengthen family bonds, you are working to strengthen the faith of your children.
Setting aside time for spiritual growth and refreshment is critical for our overall well-being, and making a retreat is a great example of this important life lesson. In addition, separating yourself from the outside world—work, social media, and even household responsibilities—to focus on your family relationships shows your children that they are your first priority. Simply taking time for them and for God in this way sends a message more powerfully and clearly than words ever could.
What should a family retreat include? We have identified four elements:
- Family bonding activities
It is crucial that the retreat be fun for your kids! Buy the treats that you never get, break out the water guns and the silly string, splurge on a fun activity or at least new crayons and markers, all in order to make this time special in a variety of ways. Every family has fun differently, so take some time to prepare for the retreat by investigating the “fun factor” with your children. The enjoyment your kids have in the activities will serve as grease in the wheels for the bonding and prayer that you will do together.
Think of family bonding as the “team-building” aspect of the weekend. These activities are meant for every member of the family to participate in so that you strengthen both the bonds you have with each other and your identity as a family. Some activities could include shared picture drawing, listing positive attributes of each family member, creating a family crest, or building something together. Whatever you choose to do, remember that identity and belonging are incredibly important to young people. Even if your children remember nothing of what you say during the weekend, the bonds that you are fortifying will last a lifetime.
Your family’s prayerful connection to God is essential to your family’s unity. The time you have for family and individual prayer and should really be at the center of your time together, though it may take up the smallest portion of time. There is no greater gift you can give your children than the gift of a relationship with the loving God who will never fail them or leave them. This is your time to teach them how to pray and to model for them how to pray. When our family prays together aloud in song or speech, it is a taste of heaven. It is standing together before the One from “whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” (Eph 3:15)
Consider carefully the lessons you’d like your children to take from this time together—this is the heart of what you want to share with your children. God has given you the responsibility to teach your children and you should not shirk it out of your own insecurities, self-doubt, or laziness. Take time with your spouse to look at your family and the challenges that you are facing. Ask yourselves where you are and where you want to be. Pray together and ask God to show you where your family needs to grow then ask him for the wisdom to give your children direction. After having built up your children through the fun, bonding, and prayer times, their hearts will be more open to receiving the instruction that only you can give them.
“Sounds great!” you might be thinking. “But I think my spouse and I need a little more help.” We’re so glad you thought that! We have taken our own family retreat format and are offering it for free under the resources tab on our website, www.messyfamilyproject.org. Consider using this tool to grow in relationships with your family this summer. And have fun doing it!