In the pandemic journal I’ve been keeping, it’s easy to trace the waves I’ve been riding: waves of optimism and loneliness, waves of resolution and resignation. Uncertainty is universal, especially as students look to the new academic year. To stare past September is to try seeing through fog.
Families face acute anxieties, especially working parents who might again be managing their children’s education from home. At the mercy of the virus and school-district officials, we’re reminded of how little control we have. As Christians, though, we also hold to real hope: even in trial, God is always up to something good.
Here are four invitations for families to embrace in uncertainty.
1. Embrace the value of waiting.
If uncertainty has been our common experience this year, patience has been our most necessary virtue. There’s still no expiration date on the disruption. Surely this is an invitation to remember that faith can be seeded when plans are on hold.
Faith can be seeded when plans are on hold.
Abraham’s story is perhaps the most vivid illustration of waiting on God. Given that few of us can manage patiently waiting in a grocery line for 25 minutes, we do well to think about the real hardship of waiting 25 years for God to make good on his word. The apostle Paul describes Abraham’s faith as the act of believing impossibilities, even of believing that God “calls into being things that are not” (Rom. 4:17). Waiting reveals where we place our hope—either in God’s immediate action or in his inviolable promises, which he never fails to keep (2 Pet. 3:9).
Pandemic life mirrors faith: it requires waiting in an in-between place. It reminds us disappointment and grief are part of the human experience. We can embrace this opportunity to remind our children (and ourselves): “Even when life isn’t good, God still is.”
2. Embrace the curriculum of the everyday.
When schools and businesses closed in the spring, my husband began working from home, our oldest daughter returned from university, and our younger children began distance learning. We renegotiated the simplest things, including private spaces of quiet. There were losses—and also gains. Our children began a new kind of curriculum, one made possible by our collective turn toward home. A curriculum, elementally, of loving our closest neighbor.
We can embrace this opportunity, uniquely provided by the pandemic, to remind our children (and ourselves) of this: ‘Even when life isn’t good, God still is.’
We also suddenly had more time for contending with the responsibilities of caring for our place. Everyone finally learned how to properly clean a bathroom. My husband and I managed chores more diligently than we ever had before: the regular vacuuming, dusting, emptying the dishwasher, and cleaning up after meals. Without the rush of evening and weekend activities, we could exercise our domestic responsibilities with more care.
This curriculum of the everyday also afforded more intentional discipleship of our children—the kind of organic spiritual conversations meant to happen in the hum and motion of everyday life: “as you sit in your house . . . and walk by the way . . . and lie down . . . and rise” (Deut. 6:7). Family meals—with everyone present—have been a welcome feature of pandemic life and, especially in the early months, we were diligent to read Scripture together at the table. (Like others, we need to renew our resolve!)
Being home together is challenging, but proximity affords new teaching opportunities—if we exercise the faith to imagine them.
3. Embrace belonging to the family of God.
When the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on March 11, we were out of the country on vacation. Upon our return, Canada required the seven of us to quarantine in our home, leaving us to depend on the bigger family of God to drop groceries and other necessities at our front door.
God has always envisioned a much bigger family than Mom, Dad, and 2.1 children. He incorporates the unmarried and the childless into his household called the family of God (1 Tim. 3:15). As the pandemic forces parents to discover the limits of our capacity, we must admit our needs to others.
Being home together makes for real challenges, but the proximity affords new teaching opportunities—if we exercise the faith to imagine them.
This academic year, there’s an invitation for Christians and churches to creatively (and safely) shoulder our collective burdens and discover a family bigger than our nuclear one. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, there is no isolated suffering (or celebration) in God’s family.
4. Embrace the ministry of neighboring.
The experience of the pandemic has, in many senses, been intensely local: city by city, county by county, state by state. Although I’ve long been a neighborhood lurker, regularly walking the local streets with my husband and our dog, I’ve noticed more and more people have emerged from their houses too. In this pandemic, we’re invited in new ways to pay closer attention to the people next door and across the street. It may be the first time we’ve learned their names.
I’d like to think this pandemic could give rise to a new verb as we discover what it means “to neighbor.” The act of neighboring isn’t something you can do well on social media. It’s what happens when you roll your garbage out to the curb and, seeing your neighbor in her slippers on the other side of the street, take the time to cross and converse.
In this pandemic, we’re invited in new ways to pay closer attention to the people next door and across the street.
As we head into fall, our routines and responsibilities have been disrupted. Uncertainty fogs our future and anxiety dogs our plans. But here, too, is an invitation from the whispering God of Elijah: be still and know that I am God.