Thoughts on Raising Children in the time of Covid-19
I like spaghetti squash. I do. I really do. However, I don’t like it one little bit when it’s sold to me as spaghetti. It’s not. Spaghetti is wonderful. Spaghetti is amazing. When offered spaghetti I can’t get enough. Spaghetti squash is no substitute for spaghetti. However, I can, when I need to, not eat spaghetti. And I can, joyfully, eat a meal of spaghetti squash. The difference? Expectation, honesty, and learning to embrace the given for what it is. And what spaghetti squash isn’t, is spaghetti. Each is their own joyful meal, yet the more one tries to pass itself off as the other, the more what isn’t exactly the same will be highlighted with every reluctant bite. Now, we may indeed have to lay spaghetti aside for our health, and spaghetti squash may be a worthy addition to our diet in such times or any time. However, if I’m served a big steaming plate of deceit, it will ruin an otherwise perfectly good meal. Like when Little Red Riding Hood spied a wolf wearing the nightgown and sleeping cap of her grandmother. “What big eyes, ears, and teeth you have grandma!” My tum-tum is not buying the ruse. Serve me spaghetti squash in all its honest glory, and my belly is content.
We now sit at life’s table, and we have been served a global pandemic. Each of us with varying levels of vulnerability, each of us with a different perspective, and each of us with a different response. But all of us have had something distasteful placed in front of us during this time. For our kids, who can occasionally be ‘picky eaters’ in the best of times, this can be especially disorienting and challenging. What was once familiar and tasted good has been taken from them and replaced with something that looks… different. Even children who are returning to school, church, camps, and other ‘normal’ activities are typically experiencing a dramatically ‘not normal’ version of what life once was. While the adults try to ‘squash’ every fear and make everything look as normal as possible, the kids wrinkle their nose because they know it’s not. It is spaghetti squash parading as spaghetti, and they know it tastes weird and they know, no matter how much sauce you pour on top, it is not the same. When the world can’t be what it once was, opportunities for dissatisfaction abound.
As we try to figure out how to live through this season of uncertainty, setting prudent expectations is important. However, attempting to calculate specifics can give us the sense that we need only conserve our emotional, spiritual, and psychological energies like rations and portion them out until the projected date arrives. “Oh, they said a vaccine may be available in November!” or “Oh, someone said herd immunity looks like it may happen in a few months! We just have to make it until then!” But we all thought this would blow over last spring, right? How many “escape hatches” proved to be locked? When those expectations fall short, and we’ve spent all our energy just getting there… well… our arms slack and our Shield of Faith drops because things didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. And when that shield hits the dirt, the archers of cynicism and despair are ready with arrows of discontent and despondency.
We can struggle much because of our expectations, can’t we? When our lives are radically altered, how much of our hurt comes from things not being like they were and the fear that they may never be that way again? If I expect spaghetti squash to be spaghetti, reality will fail me, and I will hate dinner, and I will long for the days when I could dig into a bowl of real, steaming hot, slurp-able spaghetti. But when I accept spaghetti squash for what it is, even if it’s not my favorite, but embrace the meal on its own terms, get creative, imagine, and improvise with what I’m given, I can then have the appreciation and contentedness that will allow me to make and enjoy an amazing meal. So what if we did that with life right now?
Now I in no way mean to diminish any of the challenges any of us face or the difficulties any of us have and will endure as we navigate this. And we do well to be honest about those heartaches, especially to our Heavenly Father. But this season of difficulty is the ‘given.’ The reality. So with that in mind, we must ask ourselves what response will help us and our children live through this time well. Can we accept this reality on its own terms? Not only for the dangers and the losses but also for its possibilities? A potential canvas that we have been given to paint on? A dance that we have been called into? Can we open our eyes to see not just what all this isn’t, but what all this might be?
There is a rule in improv comedy that you can only accept what your fellow improvisers contribute to the scene. It’s called “yes, and…”. You must embrace the supposed reality that has been created and given to you, and you may now contribute something to it. “No” is not allowed. If in a scene someone says, “I’m a knight, off to slay a dragon!” and their improv partner says, “No you’re not,” the scene is dead. But if their partner says, “Yes, and I believe the dragon has eaten your new Subaru!” now you have the makings of a scene because you have accepted the given and improvised something playful or beautiful or meaningful into the scene that you are a part of.
“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11b-13 (ESV)
Our kids are placed in a scene they didn’t write, and they are indeed facing dragons, make no mistake. Our kids will be changed by this time. But how will they be changed? Have you ever seen a child turn a cardboard box into a helmet fit for a knight and a paper towel tube into a sword? What we as adults see as unremarkable about a cardboard box – ‘garbage’ we call it – our children instead see possibilities. Our children can teach us how to be content with what is given to us and how to take that and improvise a beautiful world. Is that what Jesus meant when He said we must become like little children? Perhaps as we seek to lead them through this pandemic, we have something we need to learn from them too.
Oh, that we may learn this contentment, this imagination, this gratitude! To have our eyes opened to see the majesty and potential for glory in all things! To learn that a spaghetti squash itself is a miracle of its own! Just like this time, with care, cultivation and the blessing of a loving God, can become something miraculous, too. Sentimentality can be a form of discontentment that may blind us to the difficulties of the past and the possibilities of the present. To be sure, there were challenges and dangers and insecurities that we all faced before Covid-19. And to be sure, there have been real losses of many kinds during this time. We rightly mourn those together. But what has not changed for one moment is that Jesus Christ is still here. God did not leave you when Covid-19 hit. He did not leave when the economy took a drop or jobs were lost. He did not leave you when your church shut its doors or your children’s school moved online. And He has not left you through any of the difficulties and heartaches that you have faced during this time.
God with us means God with us in all of what being with us would mean. The easy and the hard, the happy and the sad, for better, for worse. Wouldn’t one of the best things to give our kids be the unshakable belief that God is with them in this time, too? In ‘The Weight of Glory’ C. S. Lewis wrote, “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.” If the recognized presence of an Almighty God does not satisfy us, nothing else truly ever will. May we open our eyes to see the ways He is alive and moving all around us, regardless of where we find ourselves right now. May we learn how to be grateful in all things because we see our God in all things.
If dissatisfaction is the starvation of the soul, gratitude is its nourishment. Jesus gave thanks for the small loaves and meager fish before He then turned them into a feast for the multitudes. Embracing the given with gratitude and creativity can make a meal out of anything. Even spaghetti squash. We can do all things through Him who strengthens us. Gratitude can make a DVD and a couch full of loved ones rival the theater. Camping in your backyard with graham crackers and marshmallows warmed over a candle can be as enchanting as an arena concert. Worship around your table, with candles or Christmas lights or desk lamps, where your kids get to share their hearts and play their instruments and participate in the serving and the prayers can not replace the gathering of the corporate congregation, but when embraced with grateful hearts, it can be where the presence of our Holy God may also dwell. “Where two or more are gathered, there am I also” certainly must include the family dinner table, too. It’s also important, even as we evaluate what we might do better, to take a moment to be grateful for every large or small act of love that we are already doing for those within our care. It’s so difficult to teach our children not to be naïve or reckless, but to live wisely and courageously. To take the extra time to care for others and to put their trust in their God in a world with unlimited dangers and heartaches. Let us be grateful for the ways that God has helped us lay down our lives, the life we’ve known, the life that was comfortable – or at least familiar. Even though we may not be laying down our lives in a ‘mortal sense,’ these sacrifices are an act of greater love, too. Trying to live bravely while also accepting our limitations, and the limitations of our family, rather than letting fear of losing the familiar compel us to drag life back to normal because we just cannot fathom an existence other than the one we’ve been living (virus and vulnerabilities be hanged), can be complicated and sometimes lonely because every family may have a different response. But we are not alone. We are seen and known by our God, and no act of love that we do for Him and for those within our care no matter how small goes unnoticed by our Heavenly Father.
May we believe that God is good, even in this moment. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters of chaos in the beginning, that brought light from nothingness, can hover over our challenges, too. That Spirit can make light shine from the feelings of nothingness that we face today. May we be grateful for what He has already given, even if we don’t have the eyes to see just yet. Perhaps those eyes will open if we intentionally ask ourselves a few questions:
- How will we serve this time to our family as what it is, honest about all the challenges that lie ahead while finding the good that can come from it? How can we make ‘Spaghetti Squash,’ not just ‘Fake Spaghetti’?
- How can we calibrate our family’s expectations wisely, taking into account the ever-changing nature of this pandemic, while seeking to live a sustainable life now?
- How can our family say “Yes, and…” to this moment? What can we do to embrace the “given” and improvise something beautiful, joyful, or meaningful to the “scene”?
- Where have we seen God in all of this? How can we train our eyes to anticipate where we might see Him tomorrow?
- When this is all over, what will we have done for our children that will be fondly remembered?
This does not have to be a fruitless time. With the provision of our God, we can all gain ground against the darkness right where we are. None of us know when spaghetti will be back on the menu. That means we can either learn how to prepare spaghetti squash in a way that tastes good, or we can go hungry because it’s not what we ordered. If we could find our way to embracing the life that is truly life, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances and limitations, if we could see ourselves at the banquet table of the High King of Heaven, silverware in hand, as our God serves us everything He desires to give us if we will only let Him… If each meal at our dinner table was a mirror of that feast yet to come, gratefully received, our kids would empty their plates and ask for seconds.
…and they will be better prepared for whatever life is going to serve them next.
Adam is a vagabond of the arts. He is an animator by training, a media specialist by vocation and a writer by hobby. Though he “still hasn’t found what he’s looking for”, in his wandering through the arts he has found the firm conviction that God has been writing His story through our stories since the beginning, and He’s not done yet. Adam and his wife Sarah have 3 children and live in Northern Colorado. His artistic interests range from G.K. Chesterton to Looney Tunes.