You’re not the only one feeling the press. Little eyes, little ears, little bodies and tender souls are doing their best to process this COVID-19 experience alongside their parents – with far fewer tools. Try as we might to conceal it from them, a new “homeschool life,” coupled with a new “work-from-home-world,” or worse, a “no-work-at-all-world” - positions often anxious children in full view of life’s troubling complications. While we likely have ways of processing the noise, it’s entirely possible that our children might be overlooked in the missionary equation that lies before them.
On one hand, this is to be expected. There is, after all, a lot to do in these days. For most, the volume of work and responsibility has not slowed down, but rather has found a new and higher gear. Work that once took minutes in the office, now takes much of the day in divided attention. There’s also church life to attend to. There are burdens to bear, video meetings to coordinate, people to love. Then there’s the mission that we’re called to embrace. People are dying, others are ill, still others grieving for economic loss or mental health setbacks. We know that we must attend to these needs and both declare and demonstrate the Good News with the hope Jesus brings.
But in these seasons of crisis, in our all-important busyness, there is often a subtle temptation to overlook the precious little lives that dwell in our very homes. We often forget that they are processing, perhaps for the first time, life in a broken world. They are coming to grips with a world where things like an invisible bug can wreak such havoc, and where death and destruction are suddenly normative realities. To neglect them in this season might be to miss our highest mission. To fail to engage them might be to miss the most formative season that we, as parents, caregivers, friends, and family may have to interpret the gospel with our children and disciple them to maturity.
Here’s a few suggestions on how to help your children to process the pandemic:
-Ask them individually about what they are feeling and thinking about the pain they observe so you can grow in attentiveness to their unique needs;
-Pray with and for your children and speak courageous words of hope as you pray;
-Take one day each week for family worship: share a Scripture passage that is relevant to the moment, provide a single point of application, allow the children to discuss their ideas, and pray together;
-Memorize Scripture together as a family—the message your kids need to hear is the same message you need as well;
-Model neighbor-love by finding strategic ways to care for your neighbors who are hurting or alone. Take time with your children to prepare a simple gift basket for neighbors, or pick up and deliver some necessary groceries;
-Teach children to be a blessing to others by making crafts, writing cards, or scheduling calls with those who may need an encouraging touch;
-As the economy reopens, frequent local businesses and allow your kids to hear stories of the impact of the virus on everyday people they see regularly. Offer to pray with employees in front of your kids;
-Make allowance for shortened attention spans if you are watching a church service online. Take time to pause the video and help children process what they are hearing with a question of personal application;
-Process grief with children—allow them to feel the emotions of life in a fallen world even if that is simply mourning the loss of school or a big event they were looking forward to; Prepare them for adulthood where disappointment is normal and maturity is reflected in the ability to persevere through pain;
-Look out for vulnerable children in your community who don’t enjoy the blessing of a stable family. Go out of your way to care for them and invite them into the rhythms of your family as opportunity allows;
-Allow your children to catch you finding ways to meet a need, so your children understand the personal responsibility they have in extending God’s kindness to all people;
-Limit how much you grumble or complain in front of your children, so they don’t simply equate this experience with frustration and loss, but learn to see opportunity;
-Participate in restorative disciplines with your children such as regular exercise, meaningful hobbies, and healthy eating;
-If possible, spend time outdoors together as a family—not only is experiencing God’s creation restorative, but being outside often creates opportunities for conversation that leads to mission;
-Learn to debrief experiences with children—as you experience shared evidences of grace or of brokenness, take time to process with your children about what these experiences say about God, or about the nature of our fallen world;
-Create anchor moments each day as a shared point of reflection—perhaps around breakfast, dinner, or bedtime. As a family, share ways you’ve seen God at work in the world that day;
-Invite children into the conversations that you are having with other members of the church and allow them to see how maturing believers process suffering and pain;
-In prayer, bring to the attention of your children the missionaries who are struggling under the weight of this pandemic in places where food scarcity and various public health crisis makes this experience even more overwhelming;
-Give generously in full view of your children—make more food than you need so you can share, tip extravagantly as you have opportunity, buy extra household supplies to give to neighbors.
-Actively trust God—teach children in word and deed that God can be trusted, and His faithfulness is never determined by circumstances.
This shared historical moment that you are experiencing as a family will undoubtedly leave an indelible and future-forming impression on your children – the question that remains; will it be one that increases or decreases your children’s passion for Christ? Spiritually wise parents will seize this opportunity to interpret, in ways their children can grasp, a myriad of teachable moments that will become foundational for their children’s spiritual and missional trajectory.
The little eyes, little ears, little bodies and tender souls that live in our homes are busy processing as best as they can. Our primary missionary-making pattern right now is to disciple these little hearts with the mind and mission of Christ. In doing so, we are equipping our children with the skills and habits that will disciple them through the inevitable storms of their future.
Matt Rogers is a pastor at The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, South Carolina. He has a Ph.D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Southeastern and an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.