Five Ways to Relate to Family Members Spiritually

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It can be quite difficult to express personal spirituality in family situations that are not particularly friendly toward religion. Especially if a family has experienced religion as judgmental or strident—and all it takes is one or two people to create that atmosphere—the door to spiritual conversations and expressions might be shut tightly.

But if we loosen up on our concept of spirituality, we might discover that we can relate quite spiritually with people who otherwise would resist religion.

1. Extend your gratitude practices to the people you love.

I believe more and more—and I think I’m with St. Ignatius Loyola on this—that gratitude is foundational to spiritual health. If I go through life in a posture of gratitude, that will transform so many situations that would otherwise deteriorate. What I need to remember is that gratitude toward God is key—but gratitude toward others is important too. If I make a practice of expressing to others, on a regular basis, what I’m grateful for in terms of their personality, gifts, efforts, and so on, I will be relating to people in a spiritually healthy way. And that will make a good impact sooner or later. I may help someone recognize her gifts, or I may help another be kinder to himself.

2. Help others become comfortable with silence.

People who can become comfortable when there’s no noise, activity, or talking will be better equipped to handle stress, problems, questions, and all sorts of emotions. I can help others make friends with silence by being silent with them, by showing them that I’m fine with sitting together for a while without saying anything, and by not rushing to get an answer or to form an opinion. I can model this sort of calm, and eventually others who spend time with me might just come to value that spiritual discipline as well.

3. Receive—always—a person as he or she is.

It can be especially difficult to withhold judgment with members of your own family or circle of friends, because we feel responsible for those we love. But if we can relax, trust God, and simply receive loved ones in whatever shape they’re in, they will be more likely to open up to us—maybe not right now, maybe some time from now—and allow us to be part of the conversation about the struggling marriage or the drug problem or the personality flaws that are making it difficult to hold down a job. Meeting a person first with judgment will send that person far away, even if she lives in the same house. And many people have been conditioned to think that if they turn to religion the first thing they will experience is God’s horrible judgment and anger. We have to model God’s open arms and forgiveness; otherwise how will anyone know the truth about Divine Love?

4. Reject cynicism and promote hope.

It can be a real challenge to reign in the negativity when people get together. If you have a certain friend or relative who has honed criticism and sarcasm to fine points, then pray for the patience to be just as energetic with encouragement and praise. When the conversation comes to a dark, thudding halt because everyone has helped everyone else become even more depressed about world affairs, dare to tell the story of someone doing a wonderful, brave thing. Of course you can’t always be on task with this, or it can seem that you’re arguing just as much as the other person, only with a positive emphasis. But hope is a spiritual practice, and sometimes we have to counter despair quite purposefully.

5. Care more about healing than about justice.

I am doing my best to swear off vengeance, because the world is rank with it, and we have to make a stand. I even refrain from seeing some films because it’s clear that vengeance is the major theme. I become vengeful easily enough on my own—I don’t need cultural reinforcement. So when dealing with daily issues, even conversations at a family gathering, I hope to not chime in about people getting what they deserve. And if a friend or family member is the one who’s receiving the harsh judgment, I may be the only voice advocating not for vengeance and punishment but for mercy and growth.

Well, these are just ideas. What do you think?

19 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you. This is very helpful to me, a mother of two young adults who think I’m a Jesus freak :>
    My son is 21, raised in the church, and is slowly understanding. My daughter is 19 and she is not at all “religious.” I think these practical, visual ways of just “being” will be something that she will notice.

  2. Me ha gustado leer las cinco posibilidades. El dejar a pçlas personas permanecer en silencio sin sentirse incómodas y respetadas en una escucha acogedora crea un clima de acogida incondicional necesario para hacer nacer la confianza.

  3. Fitting that today’s reading is about wisdom. It can become easy theorise but here you show us some practical ways to express wisdom in our lives. Thank you and may God continue to guide you in your work.

  4. I always look forward to reading your articles ! I agree with everything already said here. So helpful for the difficult times during the holidays. Thank you !

  5. I think your merciful and loving approach to conflict is beautiful, Vinita. You are consciously thinking of mercy and love in your interactions with others, blessings.

  6. I always know I’m in for a good read when I see Vinita wrote the essay and once again I was not disappointed I live alone but have friends who aoure very different from me in their way of looking at the world. Thank you for these helpful suggestions! Ann Plyler

  7. A lovely, wise post that is inspiring me to look at relationship in a new way. With the Holy Spirit guiding me, I pray I will put this spiritual wisdom into action in my encounters with others each and every day. God bless, Vinita!

  8. Thanks for these suggestions. They are so necessary and I am sure will lead to better relationships among family members. To you ,Vinita, my gratitude for sharing your creative reflections with us.
    daphne stockman

  9. Thank you so much for this article, so profound and practical. I remember my spiritual director’s reply when several years ago I was telling her about my adult children, who do not seem to have spiritual interest. Her reply was: God for the light not the darkness. I realised that I was always concentrating on what they were not instead of thinking who they were and who they could become. From that moment on I started to express my gratitude or pride when they were doing something that reflected goodness, etc. my relationship with them has changed a lot.

  10. As on most mornings during my devotional readings, God is answering my prayers through them. I’ve been fretting about my grown daughter’s issues and these steps will help me be more understanding and not so critical but keep asking- and accepting God’s grace!
    Thank you, Vinita!

  11. Beautifully written, Vinita! I always look forward to your articles when I see you’re the author. I will take these suggestions and hold them in my heart during these winter months.

  12. Vinita, you are a person of wisdom! This is so timely with the holidays coming and with many families divided with regard to COVID. Thank you for your very practical suggestions.

  13. I printed this to keep me in mind that I am not judge and jury of anyone, especially family and friends. I must leave that to God. To be merciful and a good example to other is my job!

  14. Right on. Your reflection will give many tools for participating in difficult social situations. Very timely for the upcoming holidays. Peace be with you…

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