by Donald Marsden, Associate Director
God’s word tells us, “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing” (Psalm 127:3 GNT). But during the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of parents are suddenly stuck at home vexed by cabin fever and thinking, “What are we going to do with these kids?!”
Historians tell us there has been nothing like this global health crisis since the worldwide influenza pandemic of 1918, which broke out just after World War I and killed 50 million people. Extreme measures were called for then as they are now.
But family life has changed a great deal since 1918. A century ago, about 40% of families in the US lived on farms, and 60% of the population lived in rural areas. Today just 1% of Americans live on farms.
If you lived on a family farm, your life might not be affected at all by a stay-at-home order. For one thing, most of your waking hours would be spent on the farmstead with your closest kin. You‘d already be isolated from most of the world, and nobody would be out of work—on a family farm, there’s always plenty of work for everyone. Kids grow up around gardens and farm animals. Parents and older siblings care for the youngest children, and train them to help with the work. Every child is expected to take on farm chores as soon as he or she is capable. No one is superfluous because the work is unending. You need to plow the fields, sow the seeds, hoe the weeds, harvest the crops, clean the vegetables, gather the eggs, cook the meals and clean up. You repair broken machines and mend torn clothing. The cycle never ends. Children go to school after they do their farm chores. During the intensive growing season, when extra hands are needed on the farm, schools go on break.
In 2020 this kind of life is very distant to most Americans. But a government imposed stay-at-home order is forcing us to spend a lot of time together as families. For those accustomed to sending the kids off to school, driving off to work, working out at the gym and dropping the kids off at Sunday School to go to worship, this arrangement seems awkward and unwieldy.
In several apostolic letters of the New Testament, we find what scholars refer to as “household codes.” I’m referring to Ephesians 5:22-6:10, Colossians 3:18-4:1, 1 Peter 2:18-3:7, and Titus 2:1-10. The fact that these lists of duties—for husbands and wives, parents and children, household managers and laborers—are repeated a number of times in the New Testament, listing household members in a similar order and with similar concerns about their various relationships, tells us that the early church considered the family to be a strategic group for showcasing the Kingdom of God. Simply put, in other words, God has placed people in families for the purpose of His mission.
Living in a family means daily taking up the cross to follow Jesus by serving one another, just as “Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25). Living together, caring for one another and embodying the love of Christ toward one another is the primary community context for those living in families to be formed as mature followers of Jesus.
Now that we’ve been forced into close proximity on a daily basis with our families, how can we make the most of the opportunity presented to us? I wrote above about life on the family farm because, in many ways, it is the best context for vibrant, thriving families. Even though we can’t suddenly move back to that economic reality, we can learn from its example and come closer to bringing about its benefits. Rather than chafing under the necessity to be at home with the kids all day, we can use this opportunity to strengthen our capacities as parents. Because, in fact, when parents work at home or from home, they are much better placed to do the things that God commands parents to do with their children.
Here are some of the basics of living into your mission as a family:
- Expose your family to God’s word. The scriptures encourage and direct parents to teach God’s word to their children. The scriptures tell us that the home is the place for reflection on God’s word. “Get these words inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 MSG). Sunday School teachers and youth pastors are intended to partner with and complement what parents do, not stand in as substitutes for them. Let your children know what the word of God means to you. The conversations you have with your children about the word of God will live in their memories for life.
- Create the habit of family worship. Start and end the day with a time of family prayer. If you’re not in the habit of doing this, start with small, achievable goals. Read a psalm like Psalm 8, Psalm 23 or Psalm 100. Say the Lord’s prayer together. You can expand on this with your own freely spoken prayer requests and thanksgivings as you grow comfortable with the habit. Pray for followers of Jesus around the world, many of whom are facing difficult trials these days. The habit of morning and evening prayer helps establish a routine to order family life. Right now all of us are struggling because our routines have been upended. In prayer, we invite God to order our lives and guide us throughout our days.
- Put your kids to work. You have a golden opportunity to strengthen your role as your children’s guide and instructor for the basics of life. Grocery store shelves are often empty now, in part because Americans can’t eat in restaurants. We are cooking at home more. Cook meals together with your children. Let them help you clean the dishes. Teach them to garden or let them help with simple home repairs. When families share in household tasks, family bonds are strengthened and the money you save on eating out can be given to support God’s mission anywhere in the world.
- Practice generosity. Right now a lot of people around us are suffering because they have lost their jobs or don’t have safe homes in which to shelter. Reach out to bless someone with a financial gift or word of encouragement and support. You won’t have to look far before you find a person or a community in need.
If you’d like to read more from Associate Director Donald Marsden about families in mission, check out his “Me & My House in Mission” blog.