When people want to make a major change in their lives, they usually make a New Year’s resolution. And that’s a good thing. However, we know that most New Year’s resolutions fail. Why? Mainly because these resolutions represent a clean break from previous behavior. So while there is a lot of merit in embracing a new start through a New Year’s resolution, there is a better way to make major changes in your life. And that is to work with your established habits in order to bring about new behavior.
One thing that will ensure success is to work to establish a ritual, rather than just a routine. What’s the difference? When you think of rituals in this context, don’t limit your thought to liturgical rituals. Rituals are very similar to routines. Routines are things that we do over and over again so that they become habit — part of our regular pattern. Rituals are too, but rituals are imbued with a greater meaning that reinforces the pattern even more strongly.
Establishing a ritual takes a bit more conscious effort than starting a new routine. There are four qualities of a ritual that we want to be sure to include:
- Defined roles A ritual has very clear-cut roles. It doesn’t matter if the same person performs those roles, or if you rotate the roles through the family. The important thing is that whenever you perform the ritual, someone plays these defined roles. For example, when my family does evening prayer, it is someone’s role to light the candles, someone’s role to read the Scripture, and then everyone’s role to offer a prayer of thanks and a prayer of petition. The kids fight over who gets to light the candles, but they know that someone gets that role every night.
- Active participation Even if every member of the family doesn’t have an opportunity to play a predefined role, a good ritual invites them in active participation. That’s why in our evening prayer, everyone offers a prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer of petition.
- Significance A ritual has deep meaning and purpose. More importantly, the significance of the ritual is clearly communicated within the ritual. In our evening prayer, my wife or I offer an opening prayer that states that we are gathering to acknowledge our loving God as the source of everything that is good in our lives.
- Positive emotional meaning For the ritual to have “sticking power,” it needs to be something that participants enjoy. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to be fun and exciting. Positive emotional meaning can take many forms. It can be a sense of family togetherness. It can be the communication of being loved. In fact, the “deeper” the emotional meaning, the more powerful the ritual will become. Now, to tell you the truth, this is the most difficult element of a ritual to instill in your family — especially with children who may lack full understanding. But perseverance pays off here.
By Jeff Arrowood