Column Entry, Let’s Talk Family: “Rituals as Connection,” by Jonathan Pettigrew and Diane Badzinski

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Column: Let’s Talk Family: Conversations about Faith and Family Flourishing

Column entry: Rituals as Connection

By Jonathan Pettigrew, PhD, Arizona State University; Diane Badzinski, PhD, Colorado Christian University

Column Description: Let’s Talk Family: Conversations about Faith and Family Flourishing is a monthly column offering a space to consider research-based, biblically-sound practices for family communication. We all have families. And we all experience messy family communication from time to time. Our column focuses on what works and doesn’t work for helping families be a little less messy and a lot more rewarding. Please join the conversation.

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Rituals as Connection

The Last Supper—Jesus’s final meal with his apostles before his crucifixion is the quintessential ritual of the Christian faith.  Luke 22:7–20 (NIV) records:

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Jesus established communion, a rite of the church, as a reinterpretation of the Jewish Passover Seder. God’s passionate promises to bring his people out of Egypt, deliver them from slavery, redeem them, take them as his own, and establish them in a promised home (see Exodus 6:6–8) were integrated into Jesus’s reinterpretation. Rituals, which are patterned behaviors and routines that hold positive meaning, are not just for religious services. They also are a powerful way to strengthen family relationships.

What are some of the most important rituals in your life? Maybe you’re thinking that a ritual requires special clothing and people chanting. A ritual could be something like that—just think of Sunday morning, when the crowd gathers, starts singing and chanting together, then football players run into a stadium—but it doesn’t have to be. There are formal, prescribed rituals, like a graduation or a wedding ceremony. But, rituals can also be informal like wearing the same socks every game to show team spirit, wearing matching pajamas on Christmas Eve, or eating jelly beans at Easter.

There are lots of different kinds of rituals, but we want to focus on daily and weekly rituals that can enhance your relationships. A particular type of these rituals is known as patterned interactions. Here’s an example.

When I [Jonathan] and my friends were in college, one of our friends had a little sister named Bethany. On the way out the door, he would call out to her, “Bye-Beth-I-love-you.” He said it so quickly that we couldn’t understand what he was saying. Being the good friends that we were, we teased him. Eventually, we reconstructed the sounds and came up with new words for them—Bomb Eleven. We didn’t know much about phonetics, but if you try saying “Bye-Beth-I-love you” really fast (with a slight Texas accent) that’s what we thought it sounded like. From then on, when anyone in our friend group had to take off, we’d all yell “Bomb Eleven!”

Viola—a patterned interaction was born.

In families, like in friend groups, patterned interactions give a sense of identity, belonging, comfort, and predictability. These kinds of rituals create connections. In Family Communication and the Christian Faith, we share the example of a bedtime routine. This nightly routine can symbolize love and stability for parents and children. The predictability of the routine can make kids feel safe and parents feel needed. The ritual might include such preparations such as washing faces, brushing teeth, and changing into pajamas. It might then move into reading a favorite book and offering a prayer of thankfulness.

Don’t be fooled. This bedtime ritual may have greater significance than you might think at first blush. When my [Diane] son was little, I often read him the book Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch. A few weeks ago my son, now a 28-year old pediatrician, sent me a photo of the Love You Forever book cover. He texted, “Remember this book? Love you forever mom! I saw it [the book] at the hospital and it brought back memories.” My son’s remembrance of this ritual brought tears to my eyes, and strengthened the bond between us. Your daily rituals and patterned interactions can do the same.

What are some daily rituals you might enact with your family members? Some common examples could include a couple drinking their first cup of coffee together each morning, a father making breakfast every Saturday morning, an older child walking his younger sibling to school each day, a grandparent attending all home volleyball games, a mother regularly texting encouragements, or maybe leaving a written “I love you” note on a desk or in a lunchbox.

Research shows that developing daily ways to connect is more important than an annual vacation ritual. Sure, we all want to have some amazing vacations, but finding connection in the midst of daily life matters more.

Here are a few practical suggestions for starting and sustaining rituals for connection.

  • Try a few different kinds of “everyday ways” of connecting and see what sticks.
  • Make the rituals meaningful.
  • Adapt your rituals as life changes.
  • Focus on connection not perfection.
  • Shoot for practicing the ritual two or three times a week—don’t overshoot.
  • Make the ritual fun (After all, laughter still is good medicine, and it is a great way to bring families together).

Try creating some rituals. Let us know how it goes. Or, to join the conversation let us know: what are some family rituals that have been significant in your life? We’d appreciate hearing from you.

And, in celebration of the Resurrected-Ritual-Reinterpreter, Happy Easter,

—Jonathan Pettigrew and Diane M. Badzinski

* The views of any CCSN columnists are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCSN. We invite and embrace a wide range of views and critiques on important communication and cultural issues from a Christian perspective. The CCSN is a community of Jesus followers who study communication. We do not support or promote a particular social, political, or denominational agenda. 


Steven J. Wolin and Linda A. Bennett, “Family Rituals,” Family Process 23, no. 3 (1984): 401-420.

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