This article originally appeared at CatholicMom.com.
When we see how crazy this world is sometimes, we can be tempted to take our family and retreat to a desert island and leave it all behind. Well, that’s not really practical, but one thing you CAN do is take your family away on a Family Retreat to renew the relationships you have with each other and with God, our Heavenly Father. This can have a lasting impact on your kids, especially if you make it a yearly tradition.
Every year we take our kids away not just on a vacation, but on a retreat that we design ourselves to help us work on our family identity and relationships, but also to intentionally pray together as a family unit. The concept of a Family Retreat is something that we have developed within the Hernon family over the past twelve years. It grew out of our desire to reconnect with our children when our two oldest were entering junior high. Anticipating that the coming years would involve them in a plethora of activities, social connections, and burgeoning independence, 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.
Many times, we parents don’t know how to share the faith with our children. This retreat is a time for you to be intentional with your kids about sharing your faith. You are showing them through your actions AND your words that you prioritize your relationship with them and with God. 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, strong or weak, for their life of faith. When you strengthen family bonds, you will be strengthening the faith of your children.
You are also modeling for your children healthy living. It is important for all of us to unplug, get away, and focus on the bigger picture and on the big questions of life. Carving out time in our lives for spiritual growth and refreshment is important and you are modeling this for your children. In addition, separating yourself from the outside world—work, social media, even household responsibilities—to focus on your family relationships demonstrates that family is your first priority. You are making the sacrifice that you are asking them to make. Simply taking time for them and for God in this way sends a message more powerfully and clearly than words ever could.
What should your retreat include? We have identified four elements: prayer, teaching, family bonding activities, and fun! It is very, very important that this retreat is fun for your kids! Buy the sugar cereals or candy that you never get, allow them to attack you with silly string, buy new crayons or markers, all in order to make this time special in small ways. Every family has fun differently. If you don’t know what your kids consider to be fun, ask them! Take some time to prepare for the retreat by investigating the “fun factor” with your children. The enjoyment of the activities you do serves as “grease in the wheels” for the bonding and prayer that you will do together.
The next important element of the family retreat is family bonding. You can think of this as the “team-building” aspect of the weekend. Family bonding activities are meant for every member of the family to participate in so you strengthen the bonds you have with each other and also your identity as a family unit. Identity and belonging are incredibly important to young people. Even if your children remember nothing of what you say during the weekend, the bond that you are creating with them and between them and their siblings will last a lifetime.
Your family’s prayerful connection to God is essential to your survival and unity. The time you have for community prayer and individual prayer is very important and should really be at the center of your time together. There is no greater gift you can give your children than the gift of a relationship with a 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)
The teaching time of the retreat is really where you as parents have the opportunity to express the heart of what you want to share with your children and it is here that you develop the theme of the retreat. 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 want to be and where you are. Pray together and ask God to show you where your family needs to grow. We have often made the focus of our retreat spiritual growth, but maybe there are other things your family needs to focus on. This is not the time to deal with issues in a “back-door” manner, but instead, this teaching time is the opportunity to provide direct instruction on the big issues of life.
We have developed more resources for you to use to run your own Family Retreat that can be found on our website, MessyFamilyProject.org. Consider using this tool to grow in relationships with your family this summer.