by Shelly Melia, Associate Dean, Graduate School of Ministry, Dallas Baptist University
Are you wondering how well children are coping with all the changes in their lives related to COVID?
Will they be able to bounce back from the adversity, risk, and stress caused by the coronavirus? Can they “re-enter” their world without fear or anxiety?
One way to begin to answer these questions is to consider the concept of children and resilience.
In the new book, Bridging Theory and Practice in Children's Spirituality: New Directions for Education, Ministry, and Discipleship, five key protective factors for children are outlined to help children become resilient in the face of crises.
These factors include:
Family dynamics and relationships
Faith and spirituality
While all five areas are important, perhaps those interested in spiritual formation will benefit from a more robust discussion related to the faith and spirituality of children.
At the core of a child’s faith or spirituality is often the belief that God is always in control and meaning and hope can be found in trusting God’s plan. However, it may be more difficult for children (and adults) to maintain and take comfort in that core belief when the world appears to be out of control and unfair. Thus, a crisis like COVID provides a teachable moment in which parents and ministers have the opportunity to maintain or strengthen the protective factor of faith or spirituality in the life of a child.
The concept of capturing teachable moments is found throughout the Bible. One of the most common and most used passage to illustrate this is Deuteronomy 6. The command to teach children at all times and in all ways emphasizes the need for faith conversations to be pervasive in every area of life. While this passage is foundational to faith formation in children, there is another passage that may be helpful in providing practical application of faith and spirituality as a protective factor during times of crisis to help produce resilience in children.
In 1 Samuel 7, the people of Israel experienced a stunning victory over the Phillistines. Samuel anchored this teachable moment by taking a stone and placing it in the area between Mizpah and Shen. Samuel names the stone “Ebenezer” which means “thus far the Lord has helped us.” Samuel wanted the Israelites to have a concrete and visual reminder of God’s work in their lives. Samuel wanted them to always remember it was God who had helped them.
How does the story of Samuel and the Ebenezer stone relate to what children are going through today? Just as Samuel understood the importance of acknowledging God’s help in fighting and defeating the Phillistines, we need to understand that maintaining or strengthening a child’s faith or spirituality during times of crises often requires a look back at the ways God has worked in the past in order to trust that God is in control and at work today.
This can occur in numerous ways but here are some ideas to help raise an Ebenezer in a COVID-shaped world:
Recall and retell stories from the past of God’s provision and protection in your own life. Children benefit from hearing the stories of how God has been at work in previous generations. Perhaps this is an important opportunity for the older generation to speak into the lives of children and their parents (Psalms 78:4).
Consider creating an “Ebenezer” memorial of God’s work in the world. It could be some sort of visual reminder or simply ask children to look for evidence of God’s work in the world right now.
Set the example by weaving “I saw God at work today….” statements throughout your conversations and lessons.
Point out how God is using your faith community to minister to people who are hurting or in need.
Include children in serving the needs of the community. Children recover faster and cope better when they are able to help others. Making a card for first responders, sending a digital greeting to someone who is lonely, or collecting food for a food pantry are all simple ways children can be involved.
Highlight stories and characters in the Bible who experienced God’s comfort during difficult times (Job, Joseph, Paul, etc).
Remind children that struggle is normal and to be expected (John 16:33).
Utilize Bible verses to instill hope and peace about the future.
Encourage children to pray about their concerns regularly.
Similar to the impact of 9/11 on millennials, the COVID crisis will likely be one of the defining moments for our youngest generation. May we be faithful and intentional to “raise an Ebenezer” so that their faith and spirituality can play an important role in their ability to be resilient and re-enter the world with minimal fear and anxiety.
Dr. Melia is the Program Director for the Master of Arts in Children’s Ministry and the Master of Arts in Family Ministry at Dallas Baptist University. Prior to serving at DBU, Shelly served in full-time children’s ministry for over 25 years. She is also a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in grief and resilience.