Last month my family was able to participate in our church’s Winter Family Getaway at a local hotel. Our family and marriage pastor organizes two retreats a year for families -- one in the winter and one in the summer. We attended both events last year and made such fond memories that we definitely wanted to sign up again. We also anticipated the annual post-Christmas energy crash and knew it would be helpful to have a big event to look forward to come mid-January. Turns out, when registration opened for the Getaway back in November, we were the first family to sign up!
This year I had very clear reasons for setting aside the time and energy for this trip. Here was an opportunity to play together as a family, to get to know other families in the church, to spend time praying and worshiping God together and to have dedicated teaching time for the adults in the areas of parenting and marriage. Here was a chance for our kids to play with the other kids in the church and learn from middle school, high school and college-aged role models who performed skits and led games and crafts.
And when I saw theme for this year’s weekend -- Home Tones -- I felt like the weekend was designed for me personally. I have been struggling to maintain a good attitude at home given the constant challenges of navigating the emotional and physical needs of small children. I find myself grumbling and complaining a lot and spending little time delighting in my children. I could definitely use a recharge and a few new techniques, especially heading into winter when everything becomes a bit more difficult from lack of sunlight and feeling cooped up in the house.
Wouldn’t you know that on the first night of a two night stay I came down with a stomach bug and spent our one full day of the retreat semi-conscious in our adjoining hotel rooms. And after Kyle threw up at breakfast on the first morning, he joined me in the time out zone. It turns out though that a hotel is a good place to be sick. They sell ginger ale and Instant Noodles in the lobby. There were activities to amuse those who were healthy as well as meals to feed them (so I didn’t have to cook!). And when a snowstorm whipped through and left single digit temperatures in its wake, we didn’t have to go anywhere.
But I missed half of the teaching -- the teaching I knew I really needed! Post-retreat and once healthy again, I decided to reflect on the material, beginning with the featured Bible verse:
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” Colossians 3:16 (NLT)
Our pastor selected this Bible verse for the kids to memorize and then wrote a song to drive home the core message embedded in its words as well as practical ways to brighten the tone of our homes. Filled with the message of Christ and thankful hearts, we are equipped to follow these practices:
1. Playing together
2. Praying together
3. Giving our treasures
4. Learning to forgive
Together we play
First, we can create great home tones by having fun together! Our family reviewed a handout of suggestions with instructions to pick a few. Our kids immediately latched onto the option of a video game tournament. (We don’t yet have any game system, although I think this in our short-term future.) Hide and seek ranked pretty high in our priorities too.
To God we pray
Second, we can pray together. This was one of the lessons I missed, but from the handout I gathered that the idea was to learn to pray in a broader way that just asking God to fill our wants and needs. The handout suggested considering four types of prayer:
A = Adoration (praising God and expressing our love for Him and His attributes)
C = Confession (repenting of our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness and grace)
T = Thanksgiving (thanking God for his many blessings)
S = Supplication (praying for your needs/desires and the needs of others in our community and our world; seeking the strength to be his ambassadors to build his kingdom)
Our treasures we give
Third, we can give our treasures -- our time and our money. The corresponding handout gave suggestions for ways kids can serve and work around the home, according to their age level. For kids who receive an allowance or who work for money, it also suggested teaching the concepts of tithing and savings. Further, it gave suggestions for how to spend money well -- to divide the money between using it to bless others, to buy things we need and to buy wants.
We learn to forgive
By the fourth lesson (and final morning) of the retreat, I was back in decent enough health to make it down to the ballroom to participate. We learned a technique for practicing forgiveness called The Peace Walk. Our kids were a bit too exhausted to fully engage in our pantomimed peace walk, but I think they got something out of it anyway. Here are the steps of the walk to follow after a conflict:
There were so many great takeaways, too many to put all in practice right away, but these lessons gave my husband and I ideas for what to change in our household.
We wanted to renew our efforts to play games with the kids after dinner.
We already pray with the kids before bed, asking each to thank God for something, but we thought we could start to add prayers for people outside of our family.
We have been considering giving the kids an allowance. If we ever get to it, we can approach a conversation about how to divide and spend and save money. We have tried to be transparent at relevant times with our kids about how we give and save regularly, so they understand it as routine practice.
And with forgiveness? We need continual practice, and the peace walk idea, while lengthy, reminded us to take the time to foster a community of repentance and forgiveness in our home...especially since it can be too easy to give a reactionary authoritative reprimand or punishment in response to an offense.
I have to thank the mom who designed the amazing logo for this Winter Family Getaway. Such detail and dedication go into planning these events! We are signed up for the Summer Getaway later this August, and all six of us are thrilled for the chance to continue times of fun and teaching with our church family.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.