Family Rituals

I read many years ago about a pastor who gathered his family each and every morning, before school and work, for scripture reading, morning devotions and prayer.

Let’s just say that the Dana family does not follow that minister’s example. Partly because that’s not my style, and partly because it’s all I can do to get the kids and me out of the house wearing clothes that are weather-appropriate, if not actually matching one another.

But at dinnertime, we do the ancient practice of examen with one another, although none of the kids know that that’s what it’s called. The examen is a spiritual practice inspired by Ignatius. It’s simple, really, and goes by many different names: highs and lows, roses and thorns, etc.

Our lingo is to describe our favorite and least favorite moments of the day. As the kids get older we will shift the language to “what are you most/least grateful for?” and “where did you feel [God’s] love today/where did you feel disconnected from [God’s] love?” You can read more about the examen for children here. I think it’s one of the most beneficial spiritual practices out there.

It’s a very sweet, even holy, time of day. It gives us a little glimpse into our children’s lives, which is precious since they spend much of the day away from us, at school and daycare. James participates too—we’ve been giving him a turn for several months, and his answers have provided some amusing non-sequiturs. But now he is starting to get it. And it seems important for the kids to hear about the moments of grace and challenge in their parents’ lives too, though we sometimes spare them the truly gory details…

I must be honest—sometimes their energy is all over the place. Sometimes one of them has left the table before we even make it through the five of us. We get sidetracked by conversations. And there are nights when it doesn’t happen at all. But when we’re all in good space for it, it’s great.

I especially love seeing how the kids receive one another’s answers. It’s not unusual for the kids to mention one another, especially in their least favorite moment. Caroline might say, “My least favorite moment was when Margaret wouldn’t stop bugging me.”

The first time this happened, I expected protestations and pouts from the offending sibling. But there was none of that. Instead, we just hear the negative stuff and receive it, and move on. Which is really the spirit of the examen: to look lovingly at the day and to appreciate the good and to acknowledge and let go of the bad.

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6 thoughts on “Family Rituals

  1. Roy Howard says:

    A practice similar to this is how our girls learned to pray and also were shaped in ordinary ways around table conversation into being Christians. (They are both in the 20s now and remember these practices.)

    • mamdblueroom says:

      A friend of mine passed along this comment via Facebook and asked me to post it:

      “When I attended the Montreat Worship and Music this summer, I was lucky and very blessed to stay with the K family all week. For at least a couple of those evenings, I didn’t have programs to go to, so I got to have dinner with the family. (In case you don’t know, their kids are 9 and 6). They practice their own ritual of examen at dinner, and I was very blessed to join in. It was exactly as you described in your blog! We got an interesting insight into the kids’ lives (they were attending a day camp that week). This is a practice that I’d like to start with my own kids (when/if that ever happens!).”

      Thanks H for writing!

  2. Susan says:

    Thank you for this. I’ve been mulling over how to better include spiritual practices in our family (me, husband, kids age 6 & 2) that are natural and grow with us (as opposed to something that is a daunting struggle and feels forced). I read a lot of theory, but sometimes struggle to find practical application tips. And this is a great one. Thank you again.

  3. Sarah E says:

    I did this with my sons at bedtime for YEARS – until middle school or so. Then we sort of did it at meals and in other conversations – and they linked it to the “highs/lows” they encountered in church school and youth groups after that time. Keep it up and thanks for sharing. It has remained a daily practice for me – usually at least once a day, often twice.

  4. jenn says:

    wow! i love this idea.. i have often been afraid that pastors kids are the ones that talk about God at home the least(you know the old cobblers kids have no shoes thing…) i have been searching for a realistic way to incorporate that moment of discussion and devotion into our daily lives.. way to go girl! i am totally going to steal this idea… also have you ever read the book “Sleeping with Bread” it is a great little read and has a whole section about the practice of examin

  5. Each night, Hunter’s bedtime ritual includes our asking him what made him happy or made him laugh that day, and what he had done that was kind, considerate, helpful or responsible.

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