Parenting in the Pandemic That Will Not End

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When I was in high school, my English teacher Mr. Stegner taught me never to use rhetorical questions to move an essay along. “It’s lazy writing,” he would bark. “Just say what you have to say, no question marks about it.”

However, Mr. Stegner never wrote about the COVID pandemic, which seems to generate an endless parade of demoralizing whens and what ifs and whys that have no apparent answer.

When will school, and church, and work, and life, get back to normal?

What if my daughter never catches up academically? What if my son remains in a blue funk for the rest of his life?

Why does it feel like we are right back where we started in 2020? Wasn’t the finish line in sight?

Just when we thought our families could return to familiar rhythms, Omicron is forcing students of all ages back into online learning and wreaking havoc on their gatherings and activities. We don’t need the news to tell us kids are struggling, or even traumatized; we can see it in our own homes. We hear it in the voices of our college kids when they call. Disruptions to learning, to socialization, and to normal development have left America’s kids in a crisis of mental, emotional, and cognitive health. We parents are as weary and frustrated and “over it” as the kids are.

As Christians, we know that God is working for our good in all our circumstances, even the most painful ones. We know that our hope is in Christ, not in some elusive “return to normal” –  where our kids can play their basketball games and have their winter dance and take Spanish tests in person. We know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope….” but right now it feels as if, as Ted Lasso fans might say, “it’s the hope that kills you.”

Our questions dangle in the air unresolved, answered only by more questions: How do we live in hope, waiting for we know not what, exactly? How do we help our children grow and thrive in their current environment? With the Psalmist we cry, how long, O Lord?

Thanks be to God, “How?” is a question his Word answers: the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (Jn 16:13). But that answer feels frustratingly nonspecific, at least on the front end. Living and walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) is not a five-step plan to raising happy, well-adjusted disciples of Jesus. We swing our feet over the side of the bed and plant our feet in each uncertain day, not sure where strength and wisdom are going to come from. Only in retrospect can we see how God gave us what we needed and led us faithfully when we did not know what to do next.

We Christians walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Guaranteed to generate a hundred “likes,” that verse makes a quick and easy Instagram post, but – God help me – how do I actually live that way? (Yet another question.) Walking by faith is challenging (impossible) for someone like me who likes to make a plan, especially when my children need me to fix things.

Here’s all I know to do when it comes to walking by faith, and looking to the Holy Spirit for guidance: pray and ask for help; do the next right thing, often consisting of something super sexy like making toast or calling out spelling words; keep the cross in my line of sight, because the cross tells me God brings life from death, light out of darkness, and resurrection out of hopelessness.

Following in the footsteps of the faithful before us, we determine to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and … run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Heb. 12:1-2, emphasis mine). We do not know how or when this pandemic will end or what the long-term ramifications will be for our children. But we do not need to know, because we run our particular race by faith that our good God has set unfathomable joys before us.

For now, we have need of endurance (Heb. 10:36), because this race will not be over anytime soon. I for one am thankful God doesn’t jog alongside me coaching, “You’ve got this girl!” because he and I both know I am gassed and cramping. Instead, he whispers what my anguished heart needs most:

Continue in the things you have learned (2 Tim. 3:14). Continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast (Col. 1:21-23). Hold fast what you have (Rev. 3:10). Hold fast the faithful word (Titus 1:9). Hold fast the confidence (Heb. 3:5-6). Hold fast to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21). Abide in my Word (John 8:31). Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Heb. 6:11-12). You are kept by the power of God (1 Pet. 1:3-9). Let us not be weary in well doing (Gal. 6:9). Take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Eph. 6:13). Be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord… your labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 16:13). Continue in my love (John 15:9).

We are weak, but he is strong.

We thought we were back in charge of our daily destiny, but Omicron has forced us to confront our helplessness yet again. It feels like a cruel slap in the face, but it’s not. It is grace. In response to all our unanswered questions, frustrations, and fears, we confront reality: God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. These are not mere words, but the actual strength of God for parents and their children, even in the face of “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor 12:9, 10).

Now, may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work. Amen. (2 Thess 2:15-17).

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