By Sarah Hembrook
There is no doubt that the last 15 months have been like nothing we have experienced before. Our lives stopped on a dime, and things haven’t looked the same since. Sometimes it’s easy for us to forget that our kids have faced this pandemic head on. One day they were playing on the playground at school, and the next day schools closed. They didn’t get to say goodbye to their teachers or friends. Some of them were moving on to new schools and would never get to see the hallways of their beloved school again. They have faced disappointment after disappointment. Trips have been cancelled, grandparents haven’t been seen in over a year, they can’t spend the night at their friend’s houses or go to the movies—but despite all of these things kids are the ones who have adapted the best. They have held onto hope and made the best out of a scary situation. Maybe if we take a minute to stop and listen, we can learn something from children.
I recently sat down with six 5th graders and we talked about the pandemic. I wanted to know what they saw as the biggest struggle over the last year and a half, what they have learned, and where they have seen the good—or God—throughout all of this. In true kid fashion, their answers did not disappoint.
The first question I asked was, “What has been the hardest part about the pandemic for you?” They all shared a few looks with each other before echoing very similar responses back to me—missing friends, school, and church. What is the commonality in all these answers? People! Community! They miss the feeling they get when they can share life with others, whether it’s at church or school. They all felt a sense of loss of community.
After lamenting over the sense of loss for a bit, we went onto the next question. “What is something you learned living during a pandemic?” The answers varied from, “I learned how to do long division,” to “I learned how to wear a mask to do everything.” Out of all their responses, one girl’s answer really stuck with me. She said, “The whole atmosphere of a building changes.” When I asked her to elaborate, she said how nothing feels the same anymore. Grocery stores feel “weird,” and the “entire school building feels like a different place.” People look at you if you sneeze. “Everyone started the school year feeling really scared and now it’s just become a normal feeling, but it’s different.” I sat with that response for a minute and let the truth of it sink in. Things don’t feel the same as they did before COVID, and I can’t help but wonder if this new reality will be our children’s future, or will things look like they did “before COVID” again someday?
The final question was my favorite. I asked the kids, “Where have you seen God in all of this?” I wish I could bottle up the feeling in the room when I asked them this question. The feeling of hope was almost tangible. The coolest part was that every single kid in that room saw God in others. A few said they saw God when they sat down and watched church live streamed with their families; another said he saw God when he was able to come back to the children’s bell choir and our Director of Music Ministry smiled at him, and another said she saw God in her small group leaders at Bible study. Every single child saw God’s face in someone else’s face or actions. How powerful is that?
Reflecting on my conversation with these children made me think about all we can learn from them. I think it’s fair to say they are the ones who have been affected most drastically by all the changes the last year has brought, yet they continue to show their strength and endurance. They naturally look for the good in situations. They see good in others, and they generate hope in the good they see. I think we all need to harness our inner 5th grader and remember that even in the darkest moments, there is always hope.
Arrange for adults (other than their parents, if possible) to sit down with the children or youth in your congregation, just to ask questions and listen to their experiences of the pandemic. Remember to lift them up in prayer during worship.
About the Author
Sarah Hembrook works as the Director of Children and Family Ministries at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Springfield, IL and is finishing off her first year at Luther Seminary as an MA CYF student.