10 Sep 2020
During lockdown I was told that there are usually three stages to a crisis. I see these responses in the lives of the families I know, including my own.
1. Emergency response. The first weeks of lockdown. Hard work. Getting by. Running on adrenaline. Late nights. Early mornings. The crisis feels very real. Is our family safe? Is there food on the table? Eventually, we realise that lockdown isn’t ending anytime soon.
2. Recovery response. The continuing months of lockdown. We are tired. We can’t keep up this pace. Home-schooling has to ramp down a little. We need daily exercise. We need more sleep. However hard we try, there is still a lot of shouting. The novelty of online church has worn off. We are emotionally exhausted, nervous that normal is a long way off.
3. Rebuilding response. We come out of rigid lockdown blinking into this new normal. We have learnt new skills. We have coped by adapting. We can now see how God has answered our prayers. We have family memories that are not all bad. We can talk about how God will care for us in the uncertain future as he has cared for us through the difficult months gone by. We mourn with those who bear the scars of these dark months.
This strange season can be an opportunity for our families. Children can see their parents struggling to keep Christ in their routines. Parents can see the need for Christ to be central in family life, now that Sunday School, volunteer leaders and the support of the church family feel more distant. Necessity is the mother of invention. By God’s grace, we might all emerge with new skills and fresh confidence for the task of raising our children to know Christ.
The default setting for parents is often guilt and tiredness. We suspect that every other family is functioning beautifully, wearing pristine clothes, permanently holding hands and smiling with the Bible open on the kitchen table. The shock is that even church leaders can struggle to keep their family on the straight and narrow. So look out for stories of moderate success to share widely. Don’t set the bar high. No tales of daily, long, meandering, universally-loved Bible times! Instead, share news of the Dad who has just led his first ever family Bible time. Find the family who have discovered that each of them can pray a prayer. Inspire parents that Jesus is found in the debris, the confusion and the tears of normal life, not in the staged social media pictures.
There is at least one advantage to online church. For the first time, parents are not terrified that their children will let them down in public. Instead, they can help their children engage by talking them through the service like an expert commentator during a football game. “Hey listen, the preacher says this is the most important bit.” “We’re praying now. Let’s settle down.” “Can you draw what it would look like if we did that for our neighbours?” “We always stand to sing, because …”
It might be that the first step we take in meeting again as a church family is some form of all age service. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if when we attempted that, we found that our families were well-prepared and willing?
We are now desperate for human contact. We want to be told that we’re doing great. We want to be reminded that the Spirit is not locked down, but is at work through our efforts. Who can offer everyday encouragement to the families in your church? Church leaders can help by considering the needs of families in their plans. But there are usually others better placed to drop off brownies to the mothers of pre-schoolers. There might be older parents who have already walked the path, who can help younger parents by asking good questions without inducing guilt. It may be hard to find someone to walk with parents of teenagers through dark seasons when communication appears to have stopped, but it’s worth trying.
Most of all, remind parents that for every season of parenting, there is one who understands, loves and cares for their children even more than they do.
This article first appeared in Evangelicals Now