Among the keys to a successful family life mentioned in The Family: A Proclamation to the World are the spiritual values of faith, repentance, forgiveness and prayer. Strong families share a belief in something greater than themselves. They agree about what is right and wrong and what is really important to them. These shared values give families purpose and help them unite on goals. Spirituality is thus a powerful source of strength for these families.
Different families define spirituality in different ways. Some emphasize faith in God and membership in an organized religion. Others focus on faith in humanity, moral behavior, and unity with all living things. Others mention practices such as prayer, meditation, and scripture study. Still others refer to conquering faults and developing virtues like honesty, integrity, and kindness. Whatever a family's specific beliefs, their spiritual values provide them with direction and unity.
Religious commitment strongly benefits children. Religious beliefs (such as a belief that God lives), private religious behavior (such as personal prayer and scripture study) and spiritual experiences (such as feeling the Spirit of God) are deterrents to a variety of negative behavior, including substance abuse, fighting, smoking, drinking, petting, premarital sex, vandalism, stealing, and truancy. In addition, religious couples have a lower rate of divorce and report being happier in their marriages than nonreligious couples.
Activities that foster spirituality include the following:
Handle the Day with Care. Some families make prayer an important daily practice. Before the rush of the day begins, gather for prayer. Encourage each member of the family to set aside time for personal prayer and meditation.
Inspiration Lane. Enrich your spirituality by taking evening walks in the park, around the lake, or any other natural setting you find comforting and inspiring. Plan an occasional hike in the mountains and take time to admire the beauties of nature. Spend time gazing into the star-filled sky at night and marvel at the wonder of the universe.
"I Was Thirsty and Ye Gave Me Drink." During a family council, make a list of ways you can build spiritual strength. This might include caring for the needy, holding regular family prayer, reading the scriptures or other inspirational literature together, attending church, or using a mild voice when speaking to each other. Choose one or two practices and work on them until they become a habit. Then move on to something else.
Bridle Your Anger. Anger experts say that anger develops more often in the family-in marriage and with children-than in any other human relationship. While anger may be viewed as a normal emotion, it is potentially dangerous. During a family night discussion, read inspirational literature about anger and its destructive effects. Then talk about bridles, whether you are a horseman or not. A bridle helps lead a horse where you want it to go. As much as we like horses, few of us would be willing to ride one without a bridle. Mention that anger is like an unbridled horse. Unless we harness it, we are at its mercy.
Next, list and discuss ways to effectively bridle anger, such as counting slowly to ten, deep breathing, splashing cold water on your face, taking a walk, chopping wood, listening to music, praying, and other approaches that have a calming influence. Challenge family members to use one or more of these techniques the next time they get angry.
Where Do We Stand? Examine your own values and philosophy of life. How do you respond to contemporary issues such as abortion, assisted suicide, and cohabitation? Share with your spouse and children.
Family Devotionals. Some families enhance their spirituality by holding regular family devotionals. During this time, family members sing hymns and read from inspirational books and then discuss how they can apply these principles to everyday situations and challenges.
Character Quest. Someone has said that spirituality is a victory over ourselves. Identify a weakness you have (like worrying too much or losing your temper). Plan how you will overcome it. Also, identify one of your strengths (honesty, compassion, etc.) and make a conscious effort to grow in this area.
A Worthy Cause. Visit with community organizations and neighbors and find out how you can be most helpful to them. Then volunteer your time, talents, muscle, and money to assist those in need. For example, as a family, you might volunteer to take food to the homeless or to shut-ins.
Design a Family Coat of Arms. What do you stand for as a family? Use a coat of arms, divided into several sections, to display you family values. Put the coat of arms on T-shirts or display it in a prominent place in your home. One family's coat of arms listed the values of honesty, uprightness, and fairness as major themes.
Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, and Kristi McLane, Research Assistant, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Duncan, S. F. (1999). Building family strengths (MT 9405). Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension Service.
- Duncan, S. F. (1994). The activity book: Activities for building family strengths (EB 128). Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension Service.
- Duncan, S. F. (2000). Practices for building marriage and family strengths. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 295-303). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.