The Family as the Body of Christ in Miniature
The family has been called many names: a school of love and virtue, the most basic social unit of society, the nucleus of civilization, the moral centre, a domestic church … Have you ever thought to look at the family as the Body of Christ in miniature?
Personally, I really like this image. Maybe it's because I always loved the way “the body” metaphor was applied to the people of God being one in Christ. I think it’s a simple, yet incredibly profound and articulate way in which to sum up the identity of every Christian as being simultaneously unique but also an integral part of a whole.
And it makes sense to me to think of the family in the same terms, just on a very elementary level. Each of us is a unique member but together we make up the family.
I would even go so far as to say that it is very beneficial to think of the family in this way, especially when we take into consideration what “the body” metaphor implies about our role as an integral component of a whole entity. Mainly, that we have a responsibility towards one another—a social, moral, and spiritual responsibility to make sure that we are all well so that the whole can be well.
Even though we often posit that it’s only the parents who have any responsibility towards their children, we know it can’t be so. The family is anything but a one-way street! Children are similarly tasked to care for and assist their parents (and siblings, grandparents, etc.) in their faith journey, their growth in virtue, and their pursuit of holiness.
Intercessory prayer is one of the great charisms of the Church and it’s so powerful ... In the family, intercessory prayer takes on a special dimension.
1. Show your kids what it means to make a gift of self.
When our kids are small we demand little of them in the way of sacrifice, but we do teach them something very important about sacrifice, and we do so quite naturally and often unconsciously. Think back to when your kids were little (or now if that’s the case) and they asked if you could give them some money so they could buy a gift for the other parent or a sibling. When these questions arise from our 3 and 4 year olds, many of us say something along the lines of, “That’s very kind but you don’t need to buy anything. Just do something nice for them and that will be the greatest gift.” And our little ones run off delighted knowing that they are worth so much more than anything they could buy at a store. They know they are a gift.
Sadly, when our kids get a little older, that answer seldom satisfies them and I don’t think it’s because they’ve lost a sense of their worth, but because they’ve learned that it’s often just easier to buy something than do something for someone else, especially if it’s the sibling you’re constantly butting heads with. As parents then, we ought to revisit this lesson and be intentional about it. You can start by paying attention to how your kids interact with one another and with the other parent, notice when self-sacrificial behaviour takes place, and acknowledge it. Better yet if they overhear this praise being relayed to another adult!
And don’t forget that it’s equally important to also show them that you value their presence most and be generous with your time even when it’s inconvenient. Older kids know when you’re busy but make time for them anyway, and they’re able to appreciate this gift of self the same way as adults.
2. Teach them to share their gifts.
This is one of those things that is sometimes easier said than done. Many adults will tell you that they don’t know what their gifts are so it’s no surprise that some kids will have trouble with this too. I think that a lot of the time it comes down to the word “gift” and what it means. As a society, we tend to define “gift” in very narrow terms, usually to mean a musical or artistic talent or extraordinary proficiency in sports or academia. And while it’s not wrong to define it this way, people who lack an outward aptitude for any of these will often tell you that they just don’t have a gift, and that’s simply not true. We all have gifts! Some of us have a gift for learning new languages, others for painting beautiful portraits, and others for being able to keep a very organized closet. When it comes to gifts, it’s best to think outside the box and be creative.
Now that we’re all on the same page as to what constitutes a gift, let’s address why we share our gifts and why it’s important to do so. I’d say it can be summed up in one word: love. We express love through our gifts—love of something like music, art, learning, but also love towards someone—a spouse, child, friend, parent, and of course God. Imagine if Mozart, Monet, or C.S. Lewis never shared their gifts with the world … you may not be a composer or a writer, but the world not only wants but needs the gifts you have just as much!
So take note of what your kids are good at, even if it seems simple and ordinary, and give them a friendly nudge when an occasion for unsolicited gift-giving arises. And don’t forget to follow your own advice too!
3. Teach them the power of intercessory prayer.
Intercessory prayer is one of the great charisms of the Church and it’s so powerful! Through intercessory prayer we support one another—the members of the Body of Christ—in growth, in our struggles, in our pain. I can think of so many examples when intercessory prayer has achieved the seemingly impossible. Of course, we always should pray for God’s Will to be done for any given situation and not simply to get what we want and lose heart when we don’t get it. Even if our prayers are not answered the way we hoped they would be, those prayers are not wasted. When we pray for healing and the person isn’t healed, that’s not an unanswered prayer. It just may be that our prayer helped give this person peace, maybe it reconciled their broken family, or maybe it helped lighten the family’s grief.
In the family, intercessory prayer takes on a special dimension. As parents, we have the privilege to know our children better than anyone else, to know their struggles and their vices, and we ought to take note of these because we are their main intercessor and we can tailor our prayers in specific ways to help them grow in virtue. You are also your spouses’ main intercessor and they are yours; you can help them grow in holiness by praying for the graces they need most at a given time.
This is a tremendous blessing bestowed upon the family! Teach your children to not only pray for you, for their siblings, grandparents, and other family members, but to pray for them with specific intentions. If they’re too young to discern what others need prayers for, just tell them.