Family Life Month
Family values learned
as a child still important
in Sister's life
By Sr. Laura Zelten, OSF
As we celebrate family life, I think about some of the values that were instilled in me as a child. These values continue to be at the center of my life in Franciscan family as a Sister of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, and I believe these values will help every family nurture loving relationships.
When I was a child, I didn't know that my parents were teaching my three sisters and me many of the same values that St. Francis taught his followers: prayer, simplicity, humility and conversion.
Prayer was a daily part of our family life. We worshipped together at church and prayed together around the kitchen table. We turned to Jesus in thanksgiving, and we prayed for help and understanding. My parents weren't afraid to talk about their faith. We learned that God is present and at all times--in celebration and crisis.
Today when violence is so visible, it is important for children to know that God's love is constant. When parents teach their children to pray and relate to God with reverence and love, they also learn to relate to one another with reverence and love.
St. Francis prayed in solitude and quiet, but he also offered his daily activities as prayer to God. He found God in the faces and lives of the people around him. We are called to cherish the presence of God within and around us, to become a living prayer: the presence of Christ to others, and to see Christ in each life that touches ours.
Another Franciscan value that I learned at an early age was simplicity. In our family, we shared everything. At Christmas one year, one of my sisters got a doll, one got a dollhouse, one was given a doll's bed, and I received some doll's clothes. We also shared our clothes, the chores, and our time. We learned that each of us did not have to own a lot of material things, but rather that we could enjoy life more fully if we shared our gifts. We also became more aware of each other's needs.
If we follow Jesus' model of humility, then we don't live for our selves, but we live in service to others. We learn to love and support others' diversity of gifts. St. Francis served God by caring for the poor and for nature. Parents can teach their children that they can find real joy in putting the needs of others before their own. How different our relationships become when we live as happy, humble servants to one another rather than competing for others' attention.
When I say conversion, you may think of converting another to your way of thinking, but I am talking about a different kind of conversion that means being flexible and knowing that life is ever changing. It is important today for parents to instill in their children a sense that change is good, that we don't need to be afraid of change. Our routines make it easy for us to get set in our ways and to resist change. While we recognize that change is not always easy, we should also appreciate the new avenues that are opened when we accept change and open ourselves to new challenges.
My parents always encouraged us to explore and develop our talents. When I was in high school, my Mom encouraged me to take an art class, even though I resisted the idea. I did take that art class, and although I didn't become a Michelangelo, I did learn from the techniques that artists use. Today I know that my life is enriched by the work of many artists. In an atmosphere of openness and conversion, children will not only discover and learn to share their own talents with others, but they will also appreciate and be enriched by other's diverse gifts.
As our changing world challenges us to change, we also grow closer to God and see God from different perspectives, not only from our own view. As we grow and change, our view grows bigger and hopefully our Christian faith grows too.
When I think of Franciscan conversion, the word reconciliation also comes to mind. We all mess up sometimes right? But if we are nurtured in an environment of conversion, continually turning to Jesus' example of love, we can learn to be forgiving. And since we are human and will continue to make mistakes, forgiveness and reconciliation are necessary in all of our relationships--especially with those closest to us.
As Christian families and Christian communities we realize that loving relationships do not just happen. By sharing special moments together we come to recognize the needs and dreams of our loved ones. By making our own needs known and listening to others, we learn to appreciate our unity and diversity.
Sr. Zelten serves as Director of Vocation Ministry for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross (Bay Settlement) in Green Bay.