Relationships that last, especially in families and congregations, have a sense of shared meaning. Shared meaning is bounded by trustworthiness and commitment, built on a “you’ve got my back and I’ve got yours” attitude and grounded in solid conflict management. 

Shared meaning addresses a sense of greater purpose and answers the question: What is our mission or legacy? Some families write a family mission statement and seek to live into that. In healthy enough families, shared meaning arises naturally. But it’s possible that, for most of us, we must be intentional about naming our shared meaning and then walking in the light of that aspirational goal. Without intention, we may easily slip into the easiest ways to navigate life, leaving purposeful intention in the dust. 

As a pastor, how can your family – biological or congregational – create shared meaning?

Consider the following five steps:

  1. Identify or create shared rituals of connection. Rituals of connection are acts or activities that are enacted regularly, with intent, that underscore the fact that “we belong together.” A ritual of connection can be as brief as saying “I love you” every time you part company or it can be more developed, like having a “family council” once a week or once a month to share joys and identify problems. Consider holy Communion and baptism or other acts in which your congregation regularly engages as church-level “rituals of connection.” What are one or two shared rituals of connection you can create for your family or church?
  2. Identify or create shared goals and life mission. How would you answer the question, “We are a family who…” How do you embody your answer? For example, if you say that “We are a family who cares about people on the margins of society,” what do you do to live that life mission? How might this question about shared goals and mission be applied to your church family?
  3. Support one another’s basic roles in life. This is not a glamorous recommendation, but it is nonetheless important. How do you express gratitude for the common tasks that each family member does to make the family day happen? Whose roles have gone unnoticed or undervalued? Is someone overburdened while others reap the benefits? How can the burden of many family basic roles be acknowledged and then shared more equitably? Today, can you express gratitude to one or two family members whose role might have been forgotten or taken for granted?
  4. Ask: What is my legacy? Without being morbid, how do you want to be remembered by your children, your family, your friends, your church? Are you presently acting in accordance with the kind of person God has called to you be and has enabled you to become through the transformative work of the Holy Spirit? Are you willing to take the risk to ask a trusted friend or colleague to speak truth into your life by asking them, “Am I living the life of faithfulness?” Can you take a few minutes before God and write down how you want to be remembered based on how God has created you?
  5. Create a family journal. This is a type of ritual of connection for families and ongoing groups. Purchase a special journal, one that will be dedicated solely for this purpose. In this journal, record the special moments that occur in your family life. Add a picture and a comment. It could be digital, but turning the pages and seeing handwriting could add a depth of meaning that might be missing from viewing on a screen. Keep the journal in an accessible place where entries can readily be made. Did your daughter or son get an “A” in math after studying hard for a test? Did the adults in the family complete a challenging work assignment? Who came to visit with your family? Take note and celebrate! What special moments have taken place recently (or are coming up soon) that you can document in a family journal?