“Opportunity” often gets described as the opposite side of “crisis.” While the coronavirus pandemic continues to be a crisis for our nation and our world, it also presents parents with unique opportunities, what Robert Havighurst called “teachable moments.”
First, model a life of faith over fear.
COVID-19 has stripped away much of what we consider important and valuable. Children are caught in this as well. Schools closed back in the spring and still face an uncertain future. Sports leagues and camps are not happening. Having a friend over to play or spend the night is out of the question. Trips and outings have been canceled.
As Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” It’s a crazy world out there and yet in the midst of so much fear, anxiety and uncertainty parents have been given a wonderful opportunity to talk and teach about what matters most.
My own children are 38 and 37 years old, but I still write them a letter every week. Every now and then I play the Dad card and try to let them know what I believe or how I feel about what is going on in our world. My wife and I want our kids to know that as believers in God and followers of Jesus we are choosing to live by faith, not in fear.
If they were still living under our roof today, they would hear that choice being expressed in our prayers and phone conversations. They would see it playing out in how we spend our time — my wife sewing masks, me making calls, writing notes and looking for ways to encourage others. If they were living with us, they might notice that every week we put a check for our church in the mail, small though that check often is. They would see our continued participation in Bible study, worship and small groups via the wonderful world of Zoom. In short, they would see that, like Daniel and his friends exiled and isolated in Babylon, we are trying to remain faithful to what we believe matters most.
“Like Daniel and his friends exiled and isolated in Babylon, we are trying to remain faithful to what we believe matters most.”
Psalm 31:14-15 says, “But I trust in you, O Lord. I say, `You are my God. My times are in your hands.’” Take advantage of the chaos created by coronavirus to remind your children that no matter what happens to us or around us, God is always with us. Show them how to live by faith, not in fear.
Second, teach children about the true nature and mission of the church.
In mid-March, I saw these words on an outdoor church sign: “All church activities canceled until March 31.” I knew what they meant, and in terms of church gatherings, they were correct — everything was canceled, not just at that church but at most churches, including my own. However, church activity continued on. As I wrote in my journal, “The activity that a church is called to engage in need not stop just because of the coronavirus. Worship, prayer, Bible study, giving, caring … these are all things we can continue to do, even though we cannot do them together.”
Giving, caring and serving are all activities children can participate in. As needs have increased, many churches have held special collections and drives. My church in Louisville collected food, toilet tissue, paper towels, dish detergent and several other items for a community ministry that serves our ZIP Code. We also had a workday in our community garden, and several children worked alongside their families.
“You won’t have to look very far to discover needs you and your family can meet and folks you can encourage.”
Even if your church doesn’t have anything like this going on, you won’t have to look very far to discover needs you and your family can meet and folks you can encourage. Help your children paint or color pictures for shut-ins or others who might be lonely. Make homemade get-well cards for folks in the hospital. Record a Bible reading or a song that can be shared via Facetime. Fix a snack box for the person who delivers your mail. Make goodies for first responders and other community servants. And don’t forget church helpers, including staff.
As you go about all of this, remind your children that when they serve others in these ways they are in fact serving Jesus and being the church.
Third, teach the priority of worship.
Pastor and teacher Steve Pettit says, “Every crisis in our lives is a call to worship a present-tense God.” Steve says Christians may not know how long difficult days are going to last but we do know what to do in such times. We turn to God in faith. We recognize God as our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble (Psalm 46:1). And that recognition and remembrance drives us to our knees.
Present circumstances — circumstances in which many churches are not meeting in person — make it a bit more difficult but no less important to include worship in our lives. Family worship may need to replace corporate worship experiences, at least for a little longer. Lots of kid-friendly resources are available for guided devotions that include Bible readings and prayer. Older children may be able to join in online worship, but they’re not going to watch if you don’t.
Circling back to what was said above about modeling faith over fear, our actions authenticate our priorities. The bottom line is that if something is important enough, you find a way and you take the time to do it. During a time when many are letting a lot of things slide, choose to make worship a priority for yourself and your children.
Fourth, worship together as a family at church.
This is an experience modern church programming has for the most part taken away.
Although planning and leading a separate worship experience for children was a major part of my job for 42 years, I never was a fan. My sense was that children best learned how to worship by worshiping with their parents and their faith family as opposed to being separated out from them. As I began to study and continued to learn, teachers and colleagues like Dan Aleshire gave voice to my intuitions.
In his excellent book Faithcare, Aleshire acknowledges the challenges of having children in worship with parents but says “These intrusions on my worship life, however, are merely congruent with the rest of my life, where the demands of good parenting have intruded into my civilized adult world.” As a parent, Aleshire tolerated these intrusions because his children needed to learn, and he realized he needed to be willing to do his part in teaching them.
He said: “If I want my children to discover the God of grace and learn to participate in the community of faith, I need to accept some interruptions of my worship. The teaching of Jesus, the mission of the church, and the nature of a community of faith all argue more for the effort required for including children than the convenience provided by excluding them.”
“With no child care and no separate worship experiences available for children, will parents opt to stay home?”
All of which brings us to the unusual state of church life in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. With safety precautions in place, many churches have begun to regather. However, most have decided not to offer anything beyond a corporate worship experience. This poses a problem for parents who are not used to having their children present with them during worship. With no child care and no separate worship experiences available for children, will parents opt to stay home? Or will they see this as an opportunity to worship together as a family and embrace the challenges that such togetherness presents?
After 42 years of working with children, I continue to believe the benefits of families being together in worship far outweigh any inconveniences and interruptions. I still remember the morning my daughter witnessed her first baptism. “What are they doing up there?” she whispered. And just like that, a door opened for a faith conversation. The same doors can open for you as you embrace the opportunity to worship together.
Children are going to remember 2020 as a time that challenged and changed life in important ways. But with a little effort on the part of parents, they can also remember 2020 as a time that brought them closer to God, to their family and to others.
Take advantage of the opportunities provided by these circumstances. You may have to be creative. You may have to be courageous. You will definitely have to be intentional, but there’s a lot at stake.
Remember that Christian truth can be contagious, more easily caught than taught. And unlike the coronavirus, the result is life.
David Garrard in 2018 retired from St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., where he served as minister to children for 42 years. He continues to pursue an active performing and speaking schedule as a professional magician.