‘With the bush fires and floods and now coronavirus, 2020 is looking more like the year God forgot.” (recent quote from an ABC reporter)
The coronavirus is disrupting our society in unprecedented ways. Fear and anxiety are rife, and many children are feeling the impact. How, then, do we as Christian parents, grandparents and carers help our children not only make sense of what’s happening, but deepen their trust in God during this pandemic?
Here are 7 things we can do.
1. Understand that children respond in a variety of ways
Every child is different, and so every child’s response to the pandemic will be different. We need to be prepared for this, if we’re to support our children well. A six-year old child is told to wash her hands for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. She takes it onboard, no questions asked, and becomes the hand washing police for everyone in her family. A 13-year-old girl defies her Youth leader’s instructions on social distancing and says “You’re not going to stop us hugging!”
What worries each child is also vastly different. A 10 year old girl asked to her mum, “Will I get coronavirus?’” A 5 year nephew asked his auntie, “Are we all going to die?” A 9 year boy looked at the pre-packaged biscuits at morning tea after Kids Church and asked, “Where’s all the good food gone?”
2. Know that silence is not the answer
We have a God who speaks. Our God-given privilege is to speak God’s truth into the lives of our children. To make him known so that our children see him, know him, love him and live for him.
Talk about how big God is. Everything and everyone in this world is only here because God spoke. His words are powerful. And he keeps this world going. Every breathe we take, every step we take, every day we live is a gift given to us by God. He made us, knows us and loves us - completely. And he will never ever leave us. (Read Psalm 139:1-18 with your children)
Talk about our eternal hope in Jesus. In the midst of the pain and uncertainty of life remind children that only one thing is certain. Jesus came back to life! Only those who trust in him have a sure and certain future. Death has no sting for the Christian (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). Our hope is not wishful thinking. But sure and certain. Children need the certainty that can only come through the gospel.
A brother and sister who’ve recently journeyed through the death of their younger sister reflected to their parents recently.
‘I’m a little bit nervous about it (coronavirus), but even if I die, I know that I have eternal life because of Jesus.’ (Elijah, 9).
‘We don’t need to be nervous or afraid. God is always with us even if we die.’ (Thea, 6).
As parents, there is so much outside of our control. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. And so there are many things we can’t promise our kids: ‘Will I go to school tomorrow?’ ‘Will I get coronavirus?’ ‘Will grandma die?’
But one thing we do know for sure: if we are in Christ, a rich welcome from God awaits us on the other side of death. (2 Peter 1:11) Our life the other side of death is free from suffering and pain, tears and fears. This is our sure and certain hope. (Why not memorise some of God’s sure and certain promises as a family: John 3:16, Romans 10:9, Acts 2:21, Acts 10:43b).
3. Encourage children to use their words
Encourage children to talk: To talk about their fears; to ask their questions, and to share their feelings - their highs and their lows - as you journey as a family though these uncertain times.
Sometimes we shut children down because we’re afraid of the questions they might ask:
Did God make coronavirus?
Can God stop coronavirus?
Why doesn’t God stop coronavirus?
Don’t soften answers to tough questions. Children are more robust than we think.
On the other hand, don’t over answer questions. Keep your answers simple. Don’t be afraid to say what you know and don’t know. Talk with other parents or your pastor who may have insight into how to answer your child’s question from Scripture. Our aim in answering their questions is to take them back to Jesus and the sure hope found only in him.
4. Pray with children
Prayer is not informing God. He already knows everything. Prayer is expressing our utter dependence on him. So, pray with your children. Model your dependency by praying out loud with them. Pray about your uncertainty and fears (age appropriately), your confidence that God is in control, your praise for the way you see him working for good, your desire to see people turn to him. We need to help our children mature in their prayerful dependence on their Father in heaven in everything. This only happens when we pray with them.
We have a God who can do the impossible. Nothing, not even a virus, is outside his control. So pray as a family to God who can do what for us seems impossible. And as impossible as it seems that God will stop this growing pandemic, our world’s biggest problem will always be hardened hearts. So pray big prayers with your children, that God will do the impossible and soften the hearts of people who have not turned to God. People who live with the fear of death because they’ve failed to fear God (Heb 2:15).
5. Encourage children to respond with love
Remind children of the character of our great God. He is a God who takes care of those who cannot take of themselves. The poor, the widow and the orphan. So as his people, we are to take care of those who cannot take of themselves.
It was beautiful to hear of girls in our church who stepped in when they saw some Chinese girls in their school being teased. These Chinese girls were being called, ‘Coronavirus! Coronavirus!’. Out of love, these Christian girls stood up for their Chinese peers.
Help children to think theologically about everything in life, even the washing of their hands. We wash our hands and practise safe distancing out of love for others.
6. Be careful what children see and hear
There are things children do not need to see or hear.
Be careful about conversations children are listening in on. Or news broadcasts they do not need to see. We can’t protect them from everything that’s unhelpful, but within our homes we can restrict their exposure.
7. Remind children that God uses everything, including coronavirus, to achieve His plans
I heard a missionary talk about a time when the country he was serving in was shut down due to an outbreak of disease. They were unable to meet as a church family for a number for weeks. At the end of isolation period he saw how God had acted in a wonderful way. Parents who, in the past didn’t read the bible or pray together as a family, had been reading the bible and praying with their children. They were talking daily about their faith in the midst of the suffering that surrounded them. For some it was the first time they’d taken seriously their God-given mandate to raise their children to fear and love the Lord.
We don’t know what God is going to do in all this. But we know he will accomplish his purposes. He will call people to himself through the pandemic. And he will grow his people to become more and more like his Son. Of that we can be certain.
First publish on The Gospel Coalition Australia, March, 2020