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The single most important thing you can do for your family… may be the simplest: develop a strong common story.

Bruce Feiler, “The Stories that Bind Us.”

A Unifying Family Narrative

“Every family has a unifying narrative,” writes Feiler. “The healthiest version is called the “oscillating family narrative,” which essentially says, “we’ve had ups and downs in our family; we’ve known victories and setbacks, but no matter what happened, we always stuck together and got through it.”

Jonathan Grant affirms, “Children who have the most self-confidence and resilience know that they belong to something bigger than themselves, that they walk on a road that has been traveled by their kind before them.”

Journey through the Wastelands

The “oscillating narrative” resists both the fatalistic narrative that says “you can’t rely on anyone”… “life just never works out” – – and the triumphalistic narrative that says “there’s no room for mess or mistakes… life or people should be perfect.” The oscillating narrative acknowledges that our lives are a journey through mixed terrain, even through the wastelands.

Yet the wastelands in our lives play a legitimate role in our spiritual, moral, and sexual formation. It is in the badlands where our fantasies die, where our vision is clarified, and where we come to rely on God.

Grant says our culture’s “anaesthetic prerogative” seeks to avoid or alleviate legitimate forms of waiting or suffering. In the desert times, we need someone to practice the art of spiritual accompaniment. Our culture’s idolatry of youth has created a strange reversal within our communities of faith, yet he writes:

Older mentors play a critical role in spiritual formation, pointing past the adolescent period to what lies beyond. The art of spiritual accompaniment involves sharing a way of life with young people until, as adults they are ready to spiritually accompany someone else.

The absence of mentoring relationships heightens the influence of the popular myths of modernity. Although it is important to affirm the development of strong peer groups with our communities, we also need to reconnect the generations so that moral skills and wisdom can be passed down from one generation to another.

Needed: Parents for Spiritual Accompaniment

There is a modern myth that parents lack influence; tragically studies reveal a deep yearning among adolescents to have a closer relationship with their parents at the very time that their parents are choosing to give them “space.”

If there was one thing that you would change about your family, what would it be?

The most common response: young people wished they were closer to their parents.

“They wanted to know their parents better, to hear more stories about their parents’ pasts, to spend more time together and to get along better. When then asked why they were not as close to their parents as they wished they were, they said they did not know, they didn’t know how to do that, that their parents were too busy, and they simply did not know how to make that happen.”

Christian Smith, “Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adolescents.”

And where there are no natural parents fulfilling their legitimate roles, other influencers step into the void. We need parents; we need parenting; we need re-parenting; we need stories; we need stories rewritten and retold again and again.

Parents – One More Time:

The single most important thing you can do for your family… may be the simplest: develop a strong common story.

Much of the material above is either quoted directly or paraphrased from Jonathan Grant’s book, “Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age” in a section titled “The Storied Community.”

For more on this topic, see posts tagged “Rewriting Our Story.”