The Challenges of Summer Break
Ah, summer. The warmth of the sun; the kids home from school; the older kids starting their seasonal jobs; the summer reading list; and, hopefully, a family vacation just around the corner!
During summertime the Son of God and the sun in the sky are in fierce competition with each other. Sunday Mass is up against a new set of enjoyable and meaningful extra-curriculars. Unless we prepare our own hearts and our families, summer can quickly pass us by, and so can our relationship with God.
Unless we prepare our own hearts and our families, summer can quickly pass us by, and so can our relationship with God.
Summer provides us with new opportunities to be thankful for who we are, who we are with, and what we have. Being a family of gratitude is foundational to being a family of faith. When we practice gratitude, it naturally orders our lives. Our priorities fall into place in a healthy way.
When we focus on gratitude, God takes first place, as everything good comes from him. Attending Sunday Mass becomes important for different reasons. With gratitude in mind, church is where we worship and thank God. It is not where we check a box on our checklist of “things to do to avoid hell”—as some of our “fire insurance Catholics” are tempted to do.
Daily Gratitude Practice
Gratitude begins in our hearts. It starts with—and this sounds strange—desiring to desire to be grateful. Let me say that again: to grow in gratitude, sometimes we need to ask God for the desire to desire to be grateful. For many of us, unfortunately, gratitude is not a typical mindset. We are often focused on what needs fixed or corrected, what is wrong that needs to be righted. Gratitude is something we practice. It is a habit, a good one at that.
Here’s a little Catholic trivia: What is a good habit called? Answer: A virtue. And if you have ever prayed to God to grow in a particular virtue—say, patience or forgiveness . . . or gratitude—then you know that God does not snap his fingers and, “zap!” you become a virtuous person. There is no divine pixie dust to sprinkle on your head. Growth in virtue is work. So, again, because we often see what is lacking or what could be better, we have to pray for the desire to desire to be grateful.
Natural Openings for Grace and Growth
The summertime affords us many opportunities to cultivate gratitude in our families. Many of these opportunities happen organically. You don’t need to prepare in advance. But we do need to be mindful of these natural openings for grace and growth when they present themselves.
For example, seeing my children playing on the trampoline together, one afternoon, and noticing how they are not shoving each other or pulling each other’s hair for once—or jumping on top of each other! —I shouted, “I love you guys so much! Thanks for playing nicely.” They smiled and laughed a little. Later that afternoon, we had a snack together around the kitchen table. Grace, my four-year-old, said to me, “Thanks for the snack, Daddy-waddy.” I chuckled. And I thought about how contagious gratitude is. Just a few words of thanks to my kids resulted in a few words of thanks to me. It reminded me to ask the kids to give God gratitude. So we prayed a table blessing together.
Practicing gratitude by being mindful of our blessings is a great way to stay connected with God throughout the summer! Download a takeaway sheet with three simple ideas for families to practice gratitude at home this summer or any time of year.
This post is the first in a series of three posts guest authored by Dcn. Matthew Halbach, PhD. He is the Executive Director of Catechesis for William H. Sadlier, Inc. and a a member of the USCCB National Advisory Council. He earned his PhD in Catechetics from The Catholic University of America in 2014. He is married with six children. As the “Deacon Doctor,” Deacon Halbach will be a featured guest blogger throughout the summer on the Sadlier Religion Blog on the topic of Summer, Family and Faith. Subscribe now to catch the second and third posts in this exciting series.