Lead With Grace. Follow With Love. Repeat.5
For most of us, just a few weeks ago, life was barreling on at the speed of light and then one day, it all just stopped. We woke up, and we were suddenly on an eternal snow day.
We could go outside, but not be with those that we love. We could drive around, but we shouldn’t go anywhere. I know, as an adult, most mornings I wake up and have to remind myself that all this is really happening. We are living through a worldwide pandemic and subsequent global financial meltdown. It is often too much for me to take in, to process, to understand my role in all this mess.
And then I think, what if I was a child? How much more halting would all this be? Sure, there are days spent in jammies and more TV and screen time than ever allowed, but all this kid-in-a-candy-store lifestyle is tinged with a hint of the thought that none of this is as it should be. Whether or not your kiddos say it, they are feeling it. They are wearing this invisible anxiety like an overcoat, not sure how or where they can take it off.
To settle all of us, the church must continue its important outreach ministries. And I have loved seeing Meadowood stepping in to do what it always does – fill in the gaps in our lives where doubt, fear and anxiety creep in and replace it with the love of Christ shown through the love of His children.
Now, this outreach is just done digitally: I’ve watched videos from Kent Epling reading scripture to the youth or highlighting the continuing efforts of Master’s Market to serve our community’s neediest. I’ve seen Whiz Kids mentors load up Easter baskets for their students and deliver the Good News to each and every kid in their care. And, I’ve seen so many Sunday School teachers for every single age of kiddo send cards, make calls and post videos sharing both encouragement, their love and God’s word with their students. It’s been inspiring. And comforting. Kim Compton has been sharing some of this work on social media using #thisiswhatchurchlookslike, and I love it.
We are forced right now to reevaluate what relationship with others looks like. But here’s the catch: The results of our relationships need to be the same. We must strive to make sure the love of Christ shines through and the love we have for others is apparent, even if we cannot be together physically right now.
For my part, I get the privilege of leading Children’s Church at Meadowood. I’ve led this group since my first born left the nursery. He’s now in the youth group, and my littlest will officially graduate from Children’s Church this summer. I learned from the Children’s Church master, Penny Corbin, who led the group of 4-8 year olds for more than a decade with the calm assurance that the chaotic nature inherent in a small child would be safe and loved while in her care.
From her, I learned the most important lessons on what matters most in Children’s Ministry (digital or otherwise): It all begins and ends with love. It doesn’t matter what else we do – what stories we tell, what crafts we do, what verses we memorize — if each child doesn’t leave with the understanding that they are uniquely and totally loved by, first, the Creator and then also by me and the adults all around them then we’ve missed our mark.
I’ve been leading a virtual Children’s Church for weeks during this social distancing experiment. The first one got to me so much that I cried at the end. I think it was because I was so overcome with the limitations that a digital interface provides – I couldn’t hug those sweet babes. I couldn’t high five their progress. I couldn’t get down on my knees and look them in their eyes and tell them they are loved down to their core for no other reason but because God made them.
And yet, these relational limitations are also the very same reason that we must continue to do all these digital outreach — to make sure these kids have the consistency of seeing our faces and hearing our voices, even if they can’t feel our hugs. They need to be reassured that we’re still here, and that we’re not going anywhere. We are the visual representation of Christ on earth to these children, and our ever-steady presence sends them the consistent message that they aren’t all alone. God is with them and is leading us through this.
Children thrive on consistency. And repetition. And structure. And, life through COVID-19 has removed much of these things in their lives. Even when we fill their lives with new routines and digital learning, their days are still much different than before. And, that’s why we must remember that as muddled and confusing as this all is to us adults every day, it feels even more out-of-control and jarring to the littlest among us.
Now is not a time to regress in our relationships with others, especially the children in our lives, even though it is more difficult to find ways to meaningfully connect. Instead, it is a time to find intentional ways to reach out to those we love. It is the time to show grace to the big and small people in our lives who may be acting out because the stress of all of this seems to be too much.
Lead with grace, follow with love. Repeat.
I’m reminded of 1 Peter 4:8 often when relating to children, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” This verse always reminds me of how anger and frustration over small infractions always melts away when a child throws their arms around me for a hug or gives me a craft they’ve created or tells me they love me too. And the opposite is true as well, the fears and anxieties swirling in their little brains will be calmed and replaced with reassurance when shown love.
If you aren’t sure how to lead your child right now, lean towards love. If you are not sure how to connect with them right now, lead with love.
Show them Christ’s love. Show them your love. Let the other stuff take a back seat right now. There will be time for all that. Calm their anxieties and reassure their fears with love. Let them know that they can take off that invisible coat. Christ’s love is big enough to hold it.
So, as we write the rule books for how to survive a worldwide pandemic (and be in relationship with others while we do it), start and end your rules with love.
And, dare I say, when all this is finally over, do the same thing then too.