Tired of Telling your Son During Family Prayer, Quit Licking the Table? Try this.

Praying together as a family often causes more vice (my frustration at my fidgety, goofy, distracted sons) than virtue to enter into the collective air that our family breathes.

Sing this. Listen to that. Stop licking the table. 

Family prayer can feel like I am doing something to my kids for my benefit, rather than raising their hearts and mind to God for their benefit. Recently, in confession, I admitted that family prayer was not working and it was something that I had stopped trying to do altogether.  Facepalm. 

During that confession the priest wisely counseled me to keep it simple, brief, and pure.  He said that family prayer doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, simply prayer with your family.  Another month went by and it wasn’t until I confessed it again that I was convicted something needed to change.

So here it is. We are committing to the following plan through the remainder of Lent.  

+ At night we will pray together the Act of Contrition (to help my 8 yr old prep for 1st Confession).

+ In the morning before the boys head out the door for school, we pray the suscipe by St Ignatius of Loyola.

Nothing fancy, but it’s prayers we say together as a family.

Voila! Family prayer.  

Am I a Full-Time Missionary or Just a Professional Christian?


At the 1996 summer Olympic games I had a life-altering exchange with a man from Atlanta trying to survive homelessness. I’ll never forget the date. It was July 26th, just hours before a bomb went off across town at Centennial Olympic Park

As I walked home from work that evening a man approached me and asked me for some money to buy a meal. After previously ignoring many similar encounters with others who were hungry and homeless in Atlanta, my heart was opened to suspend fear and judgment and respond to his request. I quickly reached for my wallet and handed him a $10 bill. He responded by saying something that I’ll never forget. He said “Thanks, I could tell that you gave to me from your heart.” 

It was true, that’s exactly what was going on inside of me.  Until that moment I was  giving (or not giving) from some other place - out of guilt or obligation or fear. 

As I continued walking home that night, I heard God say to me: “your life will be ministry.”  

Hearing this, (not audibly, but quite convincingly) has since given rise to most of my life’s major decisions (what I would do professionally, where I would live, who I would marry, deciding to be foster/adoptive parents, the list goes on).  

Anyway you slice it - that word has come true as I have spent the last sixteen years of my life, crisscrossing the country from Missouri to Arizona to Minnesota, in full-time ministry with college students and young adults.

What Jesus didn’t say was “ministry will be your life.”  

Even though it’s subtle, the difference between these two statements is profound, especially when multiplied over many years. Too often since then I have behaved as though Jesus spoke the second word to me, rather than the first.

On the good days there is no separation between who I am in ministry and the rest of my life.  On the bad days I am simply a professional Christian - one whose commitment to Christ is centered around a ‘ministry job’ and extends not much further.  When ‘life is ministry’ everything that I am doing is for the glory of God. When ministry is life, God gets the glory on the clock (I think) while the rest of life is centered around me, myself, and I.  

I am sure I am not the only one who struggles with the real challenges of remaining fully committed to Christ 40+ hours a week in service to the Church only to come home to an even more important mission among their family.

There have been many pitfalls I’ve discovered trying to have integrity as a disciple on mission in and out of work.  I’d like to share three of them that I fall into most often.  

#1 - Outside of work I don’t have energy or time to build relationships with anyone who isn’t already a serious Catholic.  This has been true since I first began in ministry, but especially since I left the front lines of work with college students a few years back (and landed in roles more ‘behind the scenes’) I have often lamented that I am not in relationship with anyone, day to day, who isn’t a committed Catholic. It gets harder to preach something to others that I so rarely practice myself.  My wife and I have had to come up with creative ways to close this gap.  It may sound too simplistic but we make an effort to pray for everyone on our street - because they happen to be the only people I see on a regular basis who aren’t serious Catholics. 

#2 - God only gets my attention at work. When life is ministry my spiritual life is aimed at succeeding in ministry. When it comes to praying I’m all over it on the job, but less so at home.  I intercede more for the next big event than what my wife and kids are going through.  I would be more likely to fast for a special need for one of my ministry efforts, than make a similar spiritual sacrifice for my family. Sounds messed up, huh? It is.  I’ve never been able to completely overcome this imbalance. 

#3 - My family gets whatever is leftover. It has taken me a long time to realize this third pitfall was happening to me.  For about half of the last sixteen years Jill and I were serving together.  Yet as soon as Jill and I become foster/adoptive parents and she stayed at home with the boys, this unhelpful dynamic began to surface.  I could be super-creative, energetic, and passionate about what was going on with my work with college students, but not have any vision or energy for family prayer, celebrating our sons’ feast days, or preparing them well for first communion. What gives?

Even though these three pitfalls are still a part of my life in some way or another, I guess it’s better to see them than not. If this describes you, I’d love to hear what practical habits you have put into place to sidestep these pitfalls in your own life. I’m still very much a work in progress.

Best Communication Advice I've Received

Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

Every couple of months Jill and I have the chance to speak to about 100 couples who are preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church.  Different speakers come in to talk about pertinent issues for engaged couples - handling finances, sex, kids, etc..  We get to talk about “communication.”  

I’m not sure how we landed that topic, but I’m glad that we did.  It’s a golden opportunity to pass along the best bit of relationship advice that we’ve ever received: seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

Across fifteen years of marriage this one piece of advice has prevented hundreds of relational meltdowns and along the way given us thousands of tangible opportunities to love (the verb, not the feeling) each other. 

I would say a marriage is only as strong as it’s communication and I think strong communication between any two people, (especially married couples), is simply one person sharing and the other person listening.  And by listening I mean a concerted effort to understand what the other person is saying. Not just “not talking”, not just “not preparing a thoughtful response”, but focusing on the person’s words (and body language) in order to understand what they are trying to communicate.  

So, as a result more of your sentences (especially when talking with your husband or wife) should begin with: 

  • "If I’m understanding you right you are saying…"  or "if I am hearing you correctly you are saying…".  
  • And then once you repeat back to the person what you understand them to be saying, your second move shouldn’t necessarily be your response, but more questions to aid your understanding.  

Again this serves the goal: to seek understanding before seeking to be understood. Most of the time we take the opposite approach (seeking to be understood) and if two people are doing that at the same time, neither one gets their wish and both, if in an argument, are left more frustrated afterward than before.

While not fool-proof this approach will diffuse many arguments before they begin and if regularly applied could save a relationship years of frustration or resentment or even better, rescue it from it’s ultimate demise. 

Question: What’s the best piece of “communication” advice you have received?