On March 3, Nashville, where my children and I live, was hit by a tornado that devastated a miles-long swath of homes and businesses, including a neighborhood just minutes from our church (where I’m on staff). As we struggled to get our heads around the scope and devastation of this tragedy the world was churning with news of a pandemic unlike anything in my lifetime. As the downed trees and flattened houses were cleared away, COVID-19 crept in and began its ruinous work with affects we all now feel in all areas of life.
For the first time in my children’s eleven and fourteen years they’ve now encountered unexplainable, deadly tragedy. It’s been overwhelming to talk with them about all this, but it’s clearly a God-given opportunity. Here are a few things I’ve been learning as we talk about life in a post-tornado, pandemic ridden world.
A “bright side” isn’t the same thing as God working.
A few days ago my older daughter looked at me with tears in her eyes and said “I just can’t see the bright side in all this, Dad.” She was right. If we’re looking for a “bright side” to a tragedy that ruins lives, we won’t find it.
Instead we were able to talk about how God works in a thousand ways we can’t see through good and bad circumstances and how He is on His throne even as He is near to the brokenhearted. Neither she nor I fully grasp the extent of God’s work and what it means for Him to be sovereign, but we know it is better than a mere “bright side.”
It’s not about you.
Without question, the loss is real, and children feel it (especially older ones). They feel the loss of access to friends and church and activities they love. They feel the claustrophobia and cabin-fever of quarantine. And, just like us adults, they are tempted to make this about them and focus on their own unhappiness.
This is when they need to be reminded that this isn’t their hardship; it’s everyone’s. This is a time when the second greatest commandment matters most: “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). We consider others’ needs before our own. We serve those with greater needs and who are more vulnerable. Children need to have their eyes constantly lifted from their navels to their neighbors, especially when life is hard.
Mystery is ok.
I have never lived in a city struck by a deadly natural disaster. I have never lived through a pandemic. And I don’t know what God’s purpose in all this is. It’s OK to acknowledge the mystery and overwhelming nature of all this to our children. It’s OK to say “I don’t know” when they ask “why?”
It’s OK so long as we also acknowledge what we know to be true: God has a purpose, God is sovereign, God is good, God does keep promises, and God can be trusted. Children are often more adept at handling mystery than we are because they’re more adept at trusting God than we are too.
We have whole new opportunities to pray.
I am not good at praying with my kids. I’m inconsistent and it feels rote and trite oftentimes. There’s nothing like a global pandemic on the heels of a natural disaster to change that. We have victims to pray for. We have national, state, and church leaders to pray for. We can pray for hearts of compassion, wisdom, and strength. And we can pray that people would meet Jesus through this. It’s hard to pray rote and trite prayers when lives and souls are on the line, and tragedy brings that into stark relief.
Celebrate answers to prayer.
To celebrate answers to prayer we have to be looking for them, a thing we often forget to do after we pray (at least I do). A few of the things my children and I have been able to celebrate in recent weeks are the generosity and selflessness of God’s people responding to needs, unbelievers hearing the gospel through our church’s live stream because we had to move services online, and displaced students finding housing with followers of Jesus.
We may not know why all this is happening or what God is doing in full, but if we keep our eyes open, we will see some things He is doing. When we see them, and when we celebrate them, it is a faith-building event for all of us.