My NPT partner, Lawrence, put me onto this interesting article/study. Go figure that in the midst of a 120 mile hike we'd be talking about what makes some people more resilient than others...
It comes as no surprise to hear someone say that the family—the very building block of society—is in crisis. So it should also come as no surprise to hear that many studies have been done on this troubling situation. Most of these studies focus on what it is that’s tearing modern families apart. But a number of years ago, a few psychologists decided that it would be much more helpful to study strong, successful families to see what was keeping them together.
Their research began by studying the children. They gave the kids a “do you know?” test, and the focus was on their family stories. The children were asked questions like: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know how your parents met? Do you know about a serious illness or other family tragedy? Do you know the story of your birth?
The result? They found that the more kids know about their family history, the higher their self-esteem and the stronger their sense of control over their lives. Children are happier and far healthier emotionally when they know their family story.
As the researchers took their study deeper, they realized that there are essentially three different family stories. The first is the upward climb: “When we came to this country, we had nothing. But we worked hard, and your grandfather opened this store. Your father graduated from high school. Now you’re headed off to college…” The second is the downward spiral: “Once upon a time, we had it all! Then there was the fire, and we lost everything…” But the happiest, healthiest kids heard a third story—one marked by both ups and downs: “Our family has come a long way. Your grandfather built a strong business and was a pillar of the community. And your mother served on the hospital board. But we’ve also had our setbacks. Your uncle went to jail. And your father lost his job. But no matter what has happened, we’ve always stuck together as a family.” (cf. B. Feiler, NY Times, 3/15/13)
How would you do on a “do you know?” test when it comes to our saintly ancestors? What so you know about the saints after whom our churches were named? What do you know about the saint after whom you were named? Believe it or not, the lives of the saints and the history of the Church make for some very fascinating reading!
But it makes a difference how we hear this family story. There are some who speak of the saints in a constant upward climb; they make them so otherworldly that we could never hope to follow their example. Then there are others who get caught in a downward spiral; they can see nothing but corruption in the Church’s past and crisis in her present. But the Catholic family story that is most healthy and helpful—and which just also happens to be most accurate—is one marked by both ups and downs. (Doesn’t that sound like the Beatitudes, where Jesus can declare the poor and the mourning, the thirsty and the persecuted, to be “blessed”?) We must never forget: every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.
If you want to have a stronger family, if you want your children to be able to bounce back better in the face of adversity, then keep retelling the family story—including both the good times and the bad. What is needed in our homes is just as much needed in our Church. Learn the Church’s history! Get to know the saints! Do so and, as God’s children, we’ll build a much happier, healthier, and holier family.