Several years ago, some new friends we’d met through church invited our family over for supper. On the wall of their home, my husband and I noticed a large sign that read “God, Golf, Disneyworld.” Curious, we asked the couple about it.
It turns out, the sign represented their family’s annual intention. At the beginning of September, they had had a meeting and had decided, as a family, what would be the focus of their year. Together, they had decided that God, golfing together, and finally going on the trip to Disneyworld they had always been dreaming of would be the center of their year. The children created a sign to be hung in their home, and from that moment, every decision they made – individually and as a family – had to lead, in some way, to their agreed upon goals. When the wife was considering going back to work full-time in the Catholic school system, they asked each other “Will this lead us toward our goals of serving God?” When they were contemplating placing their child in a spring hockey program, they considered whether it would make him a better golfer, or take away from his time to golf with his family. When the husband was offered a promotion, together they weighed whether the pay increase would help them reach their vacation goals, or whether the added hours and responsibility would make it more difficult to take time off. Every action they took and every major decision they made derived from their shared intention to grow closer to God, to spend time golfing together as family, and to finally take their dream vacation. We were inspired by their focus on their goal, their solidarity in making it the center of their family life, and their resolve to make it happen.
“From the heart’s intentions come the desires and the deepest decisions that determine our actions,” says Pope Francis of the sixth beatitude in guadete et exsultate. The virtue of Purity of Heart calls for this same oneness in what we believe, what we say, what we decide, and what we do.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Inspired by our friends’ purity of focus, my husband and I started having what we call our Gustafson Annual General Meeting. At some point in the week before or after the first day of school, we sneak away to our neighbourhood pub and tuck ourselves into a corner booth, and while we wait for our drinks to arrive, Jamie pulls out his laptop and pulls up his budgeting spreadsheets while I review the minutes from last year’s AGM. Once our order arrives, we get to work, discussing everything from children’s chores to menu plans to fitness goals. But the main objective of the evening is to come up with our annual family intention, a motto that will direct our desires, inform our deepest decisions, and determine our actions during the upcoming year.
Of course, as St. Vincent de Paul says, “to be truly simple, we ought to have no other end than to please Him alone”; loving and serving God is always the underlying influence in every family intention we devise. But in making our annual intention or motto concrete and specific, my husband and I have found that two questions generally reveal where our focus needs to be, and what we need to avoid to keep our hearts, and family, “free of all that tarnishes love”:
When is our family at our best?
When is our family at our worst?
Through discussing these two questions (“we’re at our best when we’re relaxed and having fun together”; “we’re at our worst when we’re rushed and disorganized”), and presenting them to the kids, we try to come up with a motto that will give us a purity of focus that will guide us to becoming a better, more united, and more God-loving family throughout the year.