During this global pandemic, stay-at-home orders have unexpectedly provided time for families to be together. This new environment brings unexpected joys and challenges. As schools close, churches move online, and parents work from home to prevent the spread of Covid-19, parents consider how to shepherd their children during this unprecedented time in history.
While I am not presently pastoring a church, I am reminded during this time that God calls us to shepherd our first congregation – our families (1 Tim. 3:4). In particular, there is a need to shepherd our children’s hearts at a time when anxiety, stress, and a range of emotions are present more than we can ever imagine. In a matter of days, a “new normal” was thrust upon our children. It was unexpected and neither they nor we were prepared for this.
Our comfort is that we know that the Covid-19 pandemic did not catch God by surprise and he is indeed the Good Shepherd through what may feel like the “valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23). His presence is our comfort.
Enjoy Unexpected Opportunities
The present reality of staying at home is characteristic of the house church in Scripture (Rom. 16:3; 1Cor. 16:19; Philemon 1:2; etc.) and in many closed countries today where homes are the primary place of ministry. There is a providential moment that we have been given to capture the heart of what it means to shepherd the flock of God by discipling our children.
If you are like me, the days are beginning to blur into one another as the rhythms of the day, week, month, and season have been altered. As the lockdown continues, my children keep asking, “What day of the week is it?” There is a real struggle to keep in perspective what is in front of us as we navigate something we have never experienced before.
As a family, we are working hard taking one day at a time and making the most of each. Passages of Scripture like Lamentations 3:22–23 that state that God’s steadfast love is new every morning are profoundly significant. Rather than worrying what tomorrow may hold, we can take heart that today has enough worries of its own (Matt. 6:34). Because each day has enough worry of its own, we try to check in each day with our children.
See Beauty Amid the Ashes
While this season presents many reasons to lament our losses (lives, jobs, milestones, graduations, etc.), there are opportunities to celebrate what God is providing during this time. One of those blessings has been a renewal of the call to take seriously the covenantal responsibility of raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
In the past year, our family moved to St. Louis from Philadelphia. In addition to the many transitions my children have endured (new home, school, friends, etc.), I can’t imagine what they are going through emotionally during a global pandemic. They have already been grieving the multitude of changes that moving brings. As a father, I may never fully understand the amount of loss they are experiencing through the many changes prior to this pandemic. With every change in our lives there are losses and gains, and yet this juncture has magnified our need to re-adjust to the new normals.
The imagery in Isaiah 61, of God providing beauty instead of ashes, gives another perspective on how to view the pandemic. In the midst of what appears to be ashes, our souls marvel at the beauty and wonder of God. Jerram Barrs shares in his apologetics class about neighbors who stop on their walks by his house to admire the beauty of flowers in his garden. During this time it is important that we pause and choose to look, see, and admire the loveliness around us.
We manage our children’s emotional care by seeking to create beautiful and fun physical spaces. Some examples of our activities are:
- We take walks in our neighborhood to greet neighbors from afar and admire God’s creation.
- We purposefully eat meals outside on our deck when weather permits.
- We go to a basketball court to play a family game of H-O-R-S-E every day to create a rhythm of daily expectancy. It is not a matter of if we play but when.
- We created a weekly Saturday dinner version of “Chopped” where two people (my daughter and I) engage in a cook-off and the rest of the family eats the meal and chooses the winner.
- For home school, we created PBL (project-based learning) time. For example, my son and daughter had a debate on the positive and negative effects of Minecraft. While my son lost the debate, he gained skills on research, public speaking, and creating a slide deck. We also practiced writing checks, painted signs for neighbors to see in our window as they walk by, sewed masks, embroidered items, and learned how to do yard work.
- To check in on others, we created family Zoom parties where we eat meals on Zoom with another family.
- We are creating new traditions in the new normal.
Pray Honestly about Your Questions
Every night, our family has evening prayers at 9 p.m. (hint: set a daily alarm on all your family members’ devices). During this time, we read Scripture, share prayer requests, and spend time praying together (hint #2: keep it short).
One day I saw on a friend’s social media post an activity to help children during this pandemic that our family has adopted. The activity is to ask the following three questions of one another before we pray.
- What has the coronavirus taken away from you today? (What do you need to grieve or lament?)
- What has the coronavirus not taken away from you today? (What do you need to pay attention to?)
- What has the coronavirus given you today? (How has God blessed you, in spite of, or because of, COVID-19?)
These questions have been a great tool to help me emotionally navigate shepherding our children as we gauge on a daily basis what they may be going through. It has been a joy to see how each day our answers show a range of emotions much like the Psalms (lament, thanksgiving, etc.). It is no surprise how the Psalms can provide us language to express how we are feeling when we lack our own words. For example, my daughter has asked during this pandemic for a journaling Bible in which she puts the Bible into word pictures and shares with her friends.
I’ll leave you with the following examples from our prayer time this past Palm Sunday.
- What has Covid-19 taken away from you today? — Covid-19 has taken away the corporate worship of God. (My children have really been missing going to church especially as we approached Passion Week.)
- What has Covid-19 not taken away from you today? — Covid-19 has not taken away family. (My children have been enjoying the regular family activities.)
- What has Covid-19 given you today? — Covid-19 has given gratitude. (Nice weather, a flower in the garden, and a game of H-O-R-S-E have been some examples of things we have been thankful for.)
This is a time when you can create a new normal. Upheaval brings new opportunities. In our new normal, consider how to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2).
Dr. Robert Kim is Assistant Professor of Applied Theology and Church Planting, and Philip and Rebecca Douglass Chair of Church Planting and Christian Formation at Covenant Seminary.