Have you been asked to write a confirmation retreat letter? You’re also in the right place for ideas for a Palanca or Kairos retreat letter (more on that later). Confirmation letters take a few forms. They are also referred to as affirmation letters or confirmation “love letters”.
Many people face apprehension and hesitation in writing them. This site is about GIFTS, and writing a touching and meaningful letter to a loved one is about the best gift you could ever give. Our words hold the greatest power to influence youth to stay strong in the path of their faith (a common theme of confirmation letters).
Confirmation letters are different than a brief sentiment in a confirmation card. A confirmation letter has a lot of thought put into it. It includes encourgement, support, well-chosen words of advice, and maybe a personal story.
What’s a Palanca letter?
Palanca letters are a broader term for letters of encouragement, not just confirmation retreat letters. However, they have become synonymous with confirmation retreat letters. Refer to the confirmation letter examples page for palanca letter examples.
Palanca is the Spanish word for lever or influence. A palanca letter is written to lift up, support, and encourage a friend or family member. Usually given while on a religious retreat or mission, palanca letters can even be sent to someone in prison.
What’s a Kairos Retreat?
A Kairos retreat is a Christian teen retreat modeled after the adult Catholic retreat “Cursillo.” It’s become a way for participants to escape the busyness of everyday life to meditate and reflect on things.
Your teen’s confirmation retreat might even be referred to as a Kairos retreat. The purpose is the same: a time for self-examination. The University of Portland studied the effect that Kairos retreats had on participants. Not surprisingly, participants reported having better relationships with others, as well as feeling more empathetic and resilient following their retreat.
Let me point out that this study was long-term. The amazing thing the study revealed was that participants still felt the positive effects of the event 3-5 years later. Wow. The positive mental health impact should be a lesson for all of us!
To be clear, retreat letters seem to be more of a Catholic tradition, but there are key ideas that anyone can use to write a faith-filled letter to another individual. With that said, let’s figure out together how to write a deeply personal confirmation retreat letter that rocks!
Confirmation letters from non-Catholics or non-Lutherans
If you’re thinking you’re the odd-person out because you’re not Catholic or Lutheran (or are an atheist), you’re wrong. Anyone can write a meaningful confirmation letter. Honestly, messages to teens are pretty universal. Encourage them to have faith in themselves, marvel at their strengths, share a personal story of overcoming an obstacle, and just overall support them.
Non-letter confirmation retreat letters
Yep, you read me right, non-letters. If you’re an artist, crafter, or just have the desire, you can go in a completely different direction. Print out inspirational quotes or messages or ink them in and make a collage. Clip out some inspirational pictures from magazines and work them into your mini piece of art.
For each of my kids’ 16th birthdays, I drew a meangingful picture of everything neat about them. It was memorable and super personable. A picture speaks a thousand words…
What to write in a confirmation letter
The website My Domestic Church does a wonderful job outlining what should be added to a confirmation letter. The letters I have written to my own children are so deeply private that I will not be sharing them here, but I can give you great confirmation letter examples!
Confirmation letters don’t have to be epic, long, or take quotes from the Bible. Just a nice, meaningful letter will do. The important thing is that you wrote it – your confirmandi will be thrilled to get it! Take some or none of the ideas below, it’s your letter, your way!
I have to tell you, receiving a letter from someone and knowing that they stopped and took time out of their life to write it sends a huge signal: you are important to me. Writing a confirmation letter is not as hard as you think. Here are ideas to get your writing juices flowing:
- Keep it casual and conversational with a sprinkle of holiness. Teens may not be comfortable with receiving such a personal letter, it’s an uncommon event. They will be open to “hearing” your words in a softer delivery style.
- Say nice things about them. Did you know that this is another communication strategy to get people to listen to you? Who wouldn’t gobble that up?
- Inject stories about when they were little. Another case in point, kids will be hanging on the edge of their seat to discover new tales of their childhood and important details of their life story. Talk about how you felt the day they were born, the process of naming them, everyday events that you remember, or something about your connection with them.
- Mention their contribution to the family dynamic. How cool to demonstrate that you have been paying attention and noticing the role your son, daughter, or relative plays in the family. Showing appreciation of these contributions (with specific examples) really hits home that they are valued.
- Spotlight obstacles that the confirmandi has overcome. They may not think of themselves as strong or a winner, unless you point it out. Don’t overlook small things, like figuring something out, finishing a project or “sticking it out” when they didn’t want to, or dealing with a difficult situation.
- Provide an example of what your own faith means to you. It’s incredibly helpful to give insight that all of us have a connection with God. Feel free to share a few words about what your faith means to you or what it means to you to be a Catholic, Lutheran, etc.
- Reference the confirmation saint name (Catholic). In the Catholic faith, confirmandi’s select a saint name of choice to take as their confirmation name. Youth study the saint’s attributes and faith story. You can recognize the similarities between the youth and saint, or highlight these attributes and expound on them.
- Give advice to stay strong in their faith, especially for future events. Teens often decrease time with their church after confirmation. It’s natural for youth to question religion, or what that looks like when committing to the faith of a future spouse. Post-high school friendships and pressure can challenge one’s convictions. Young adults find that they are not equipped to defend their faith when others “bully” and test them.
- Include a favorite prayer or Bible verse. Give examples of how you pray. Even silly prayers count! Young adults can have a misconception about prayer and that it can only be done a certain way. Moms may murmer a prayer while changing a diaper, truck drivers may engage in prayer during driving. Demonstrate how prayer is normal and a part of every day life. Even better: give an example how your prayers were answered.
- Congratulate them! This goes with the second point on the list. Make sure to tell them how special they are, how proud you are of them.
If possible, handwrite the letter. Handwritten letters are a “live touch” to the person who wrote them – years later they will be even more treasured.
Don’t feel that the letter has to be a book in length. Yes, confirmation letters tend to be long because there is opportunity to touch on so many topics. But let’s be real, this is not in everyone’s wheelhouse. Mom and dad can squish their letters together if the letter seems too short. I’m giving you permission to do that! Quality over quantity!
Make the letters as personal as you can. “Prove” you have been watching them (but not in a creepy way, lol!). Many times, teens feel invisible, that no one is paying attention to them. Prove them wrong!
Stay upbeat and focus on the positive, leave your own baggage at the door. I don’t live in a cave, I know that some people have doubts about their faith and/or church. This is not the time for preaching or getting on a soap box. Your letter is a GIFT. Offer the best you have to give.
Writing a letter to your child may offer the opportunity to say the words that you have struggled to say to them in person. You might never feel comfortable enough even after they have read the letter.
Letters may be the first step in opening a door for future conversations. If so, consider it a “breaking the ice” letter. Many of us are stuck in a parent-child relationship and don’t know how to move into the next phase of more adult conversations. The absolute best advice is take it in baby steps.
Simply experiment with several small conversations or grab those teachable moments. Challenge yourself to go beyond a one-time conversation, into the land of many.
Confirmation letters to a son, grandson, godson, or nephew
People often get stuck writing a confirmation letter to the young males in their life. Finding the right words to put down on paper for a son’s confirmation retreat letter may be awkward (or godson, nephew, or grandson). It’s true that all teenagers explore their individuality at this time, pulling away from parents and loved ones, or even testing limits. A strained relationship can make it hard to be warm and compassionate to them (this goes for girls, too!).
In addition, you may have never written this type of letter. It may be a time to focus on what you have in common, rather than your differences. Sharing a story of what you felt at his age may help him realize he is not alone in same experiences.
Neutral topics are always safe. If you are attempting to deliver a compliment, make sure it is given with a whole heart, with no “but” or side spins.
Young men wonder if they will find love or a soulmate, just like young women do. You can assure them that God has a plan for everyone. Letting the person know they are loveable matters.
The focus should be on the confirmandi, not you, or your accomplishments (or your wishes that he aspire to dreams or goals you have for him). Just convey that you love him for him, faults included. Go for the gold and say “I love you” if you have not up to this point.
Some people find it easier to give an inspiring quote penned by someone else. There is plenty to go around! Opening up and telling a story about how you failed and grew from it is great content for a confirmation retreat letter. It takes a mature person to reveal their flaws to another human; it says “I trust telling you this.” It makes mom or dad more human.
Maybe now is the time to give more explanation to a back story, a story that would help your son, grandson, or nephew understand a little better about you are your behavior.
Here is a big one: ask for forgiveness. There may be a unique situation that you didn’t handle well, and you can admit that.
If the youth seems to be short on confidence, boost it. Compliment his strengths, be specific and name situations where he excelled. Even if the boy seems to have plenty of confidence, it could be a cover up.
Many people find it more comfortable to keep the letter light and humorous. If that works better for you, great! It’s just as important though, to not make fun of your son’s efforts to be serious and explore his faith. Honor your son by respecting the important event.
Religious letter closings
Hopefully, you have been in the flow writing your retreat letter, and signing off will be effortless. But if you’re seeking just the right way to end the letter, here are a few ideas. Make sure to sign off warmly. The closing is as important as the opening.
- We are honored to be your parents.
- We love you.
- I am proud of you.
- I am so proud of the person that you have become.
- Wishing you all God’s blessings on your Confirmation day.
- May you feel a new closeness to God.
- Sending you all my love and prayers for a wonderful retreat.
- May God always be in your life, may He always answer your prayers and never leave you.
Talking to teens about God
I am 100% for writing confirmation letters to youth. Let’s be real for a moment. How often have you had a meaningful talk with your son, daughter, or grandchild? Ever? Those muscles need to be excercised!
Many people find talking to kids about religion and faith as uncomfortable as talking with them about sex.
Taking the advice from author Debra Haffner, communication should happen often, and in small bites. Ms. Haffner writes books on the topic of sexuality. In her book, “Beyond the Big Talk” she gives encouragement and solid advice how to address the issue of being uncomfortable speaking with your teen about sex.
Ms. Haffner not only holds a Master’s in Public Health from Yale University, she also holds a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary. Her book finally made me comfortable enough to speak to my kids, even if the message was a bit overdue.
The take away here is don’t let the confirmation retreat letter be your only communication about their faith and connection with God. Keep the conversation going, even after the confirmation retreat ends. There’s no rules that say those meaningful letters from parents and family are a one-time thing.
When confirmation retreats are uncomfortable
Back in the day, teens from my faith were encouraged to participate in weekend retreats. I believe they were referred to as “encounters” because the emphasis was encountering Christ. The high point of the weekend was when letters were ceremoniously presented to particpants. These letters came from parents, siblings, church members, etc.
It was a little weird to get letters from my parents, and I am sure weird for them to sit down and write them. I’m certain they experienced feelings of akwardness when they found out about the letter they were encouraged to write (probably by the youth minister or coordinator).
Retreats can bring up emotions
During the retreat, it was explained to us about the letters before they were presented. We were told that it was common for youth to feel moved to the point of tears and that it was OK to cry. Looking back, I feel that the hosts would feel disappointed if we didn’t cry!
It is important to point out that the retreat experience might turn into a painful event. Teens may find themselves connecting with feelings or dealing with issues that are too big for a high school confirmation retreat. If so, coordinators of the event should safely exit the teen from the event and encourage them to seek professional mental help.
I don’t want to freak anyone out (I’m the GGS practical mom, for Pete’s sake!). Some youth craved this level of closeness to God. For some youth, the retreat experience throws them further out of their comfort zone than they want to be.
Retreats can be awkward
My husband and I encouraged our own son to attend a retreat, but it was more religious zealous than we bargained for, and we didn’t encourage it again. I don’t think retreats are as prevalent as they used to be, due to lack of interest from youth (and less-involved parents).
There has been a trend to make these lower-pressure events. I was on a committee that lined up a youth retreat for our church. I very intentionally showed up at the event and was highly impressed. It was FUN! All the attending kids left very positive feedback.
I can’t say this of all religious youth events. Take care that the events do not leave kids feeling alienated and cause worse damage. This means your own church, or a non-ecumenical event. It’s your duty as a parent that if your kid participates in a retreat or youth event, it’s a positive one.
If it’s not, talk to the child and discuss what made them feel uncomfortable. One boy I knew had a fun time attending Christian music events, until individuals in leadership roles started to telling him his church he belonged to was bad.
“Dip the toe in!” is what I always say when introducing youth to bigger religious ideas. Having a healthy faith connection is important to a balanced life.
Your teen doesn’t want to go to a confirmation retreat
Ugh! The rebellious teenager! You put your foot down and they put down their foot louder. The tough thing is, the confirmation director may indicate that the retreat is “mandatory.” then you just look like the weak parent who has no control over their teen when they don’t show up.
Eye-rolling is usually typical at these type of events. If a teen likes the group of other students, they may be eager to join. I’m talking about the out of control teenager, a defiant teenager you may even fear.
OK, the retreat may not be for them. You might even feel the the teen could have a negative impact on other’s joy in the event. There are other ways to reach them, and you have to try.
Writing a letter is still an option, whether they attend the retreat or not. Does your kid feel ignored? Maybe one-on-one time with you or the sponsor would be much more productive than a group event. Or try an alternative event that they would be more receptive towards.
Don’t get me wrong, the hosts of the event try really hard to leave participants with a unforgettable experience. When things don’t work, they try to figure out what would improve the retreat, so kudos to them!
If tension and resistence is still high, then back off, and say a prayer for them.
There can be a lot of pressure to write the perfect confirmation retreat letter. You may come up with ideas later you wished you had included. Don’t let a closed opportunity stop you from sharing it! Consider making it an annual event to always share warm thoughts in birthday cards, Christmas letters, or other holiday celebrations in your faith.
Don’t forget to start thinking about confirmation retreat letters early. It’s customary to let sponsors, silbings, godparents, grandparents, friends, church family, or other key people in the confirmandi’s life in on it.
Let the important people in the teen’s life know so that they can get a head start on writing these letters. As a parent, you might feel uncomfortable asking others to write a letter, but think of what a surprise it will be when your son or daughter receives it!