Words that originate from the heart create loving, secure families

Do you ever wonder if God is around when your children are playing baseball or soccer? Studying? Or even at the Shabbat dinner table? How about when you are arguing with your teenager?

Is God there for you and your children when you need God the most?

Maybe we don't think about such questions very often, but around the new year they arise again. Year after year we realize something needs to change in our family life.

After attending High Holy Day services in past years, perhaps we felt uplifted and a bit transformed. We told ourselves that our spiritual revelations were somehow going to make a difference in our lives and for our family.

We searched for a way to express this new dedication. But two weeks later, at the dinner table, we found ourselves back in the same familiar arguments. And we came face to face with the fact that our spiritual experiences don't magically transform our everyday relationships. The inspiration we felt during the journey home from synagogue sure seemed far away.

So when people ask me how they can bring spiritual inspiration into their family life, I invariably answer with one word: communication.

Angry, hurtful, demeaning and belittling talk tears down the fabric of families. But talk that focuses on forgiveness, commitment, patience, love, respect and truth paves the way for real spirituality to take root in a family.

In Judaism, how we speak to and treat each other is a manifestation of our spirituality. Jewish tradition teaches, "Words that emanate from the heart enter into the heart of another."

Here are some basic steps to create the backdrop for keeping God's presence in the family:

*Commitment talk.

Remember your deep abiding commitment to each other. When listening, resist the impulse to interrupt. Ask each other to repeat something if you missed it. Stay away from argument.

*Love talk.

Always keep in mind the importance of the love you have for one another. Find ways to say "I love you." Never assume that everyone knows it already. Say "I love you," even if you think a family member doesn't want to hear it or will be embarrassed.

*Patient talk.

Refraining from trying to push your own opinion is the highest form of patience. When something is important to one family member and not to the another, listen and don't judge. Their feelings are their experiences and are important. You don't have to agree with them. Just recognize and honor them.

*Truth talk.

The truth requires that sometimes you need to say, "I don't understand." Try to remember that you can't read each others' minds. Make it a point to let others know when you don't understand something they have said or something they are going through. Don't pretend that you know what the other person is saying.

*Complimentary talk.

Be on the lookout for reasons to compliment each other. Be specific and to the point. Also look for ways to reassure each other when someone fails.

*Respect talk.

Respect each other's silences and time alone. Sometimes silence can be the best way to work out problems and spiritual dilemmas.

*Forgiveness talk.

Asking for forgiveness is often best expressed through a gift or a card. It is a statement of renewed relationship that goes beyond words.

Your family will never be perfect, but it can be loving, close and secure.