I have thought a lot about what to say (if anything) in light of COVID-19 for a few hours now, and considered as many angles as my mind can contain: what is my pastoral response, my parental response, my response just as a person in community? What is true, as a Christ-follower, in these days, and what is helpful? Not easy questions to navigate, but this is where I landed.
A few years ago, I got really curious about why Jesus talked so much about sheep. I don’t live around a sheep farm to know, and it’s not as normative as it would have been in Jesus’ time. So what did those he taught know about sheep because of common practice that we just don’t understand in the same way. Here’s what I found:
Sheep are smart. They are trainable and they understand direction.
Within the flock there are very smart people making educated decisions on behalf of community. It is in our best interest to heed the advice and best practices they are either suggesting or even mandating. Because they are smart. Because they were made to understand this situation rationally. Because they have the flock’s best interest at heart.
Sheep are gregarious. They are social and they need each other. They’re not meant to be alone. They are made for community.
We might be the luckiest of generations to have had other smart people invent technology that allows us to stay connected. Isolation does not have to be lonely or disconnected. So please, check in on one another. If someone in your community struggles with anxiety, choose in to hard conversations and sit in the unknown with them. They need you. And they need the truth about what is happening around them.
Sheep know the voice of their shepherd intimately. In fact, they know dozens of voices intimately and trust the voices of both their friends and their shepherd.
Who is leading you and your thoughts during this crisis? Who are you allowing to influence your processing of information? Who do you trust to provide fact over fiction, over fear, over speculation? Filter the rest. Listen to a shepherd, a leader, and shut down the noise. If you are a leader, choose your posture wisely, discerning each step, each day. Unfollow unhelpful feeds. And before anything else, pray. The Shepherd knows your voice, too. Talk to him. Moreover, listen to him.
Sheep run from what frightens them but become unsafe if left alone. Maintaining distance from danger is good. Isolating from relationship isn’t.
Social distancing is proactive and the space is meant to protect one another. Wash your hands. Sneeze in your elbow. Disinfect toys. Stay close to home. Keep watch for those around you. Do different in the interest of others. This isn’t about you. This is about us.
Lambs learn from sheep. This matters most.
What are your kids learning from you this week, in these minute-by-minute shifts in our reality? What are they hearing you say and how are you helping them correct their understanding of what’s happening? You likely won’t be able to get ahead of all that your kids are hearing or reading. Access to information in this era is about mitigating risk.
Be honest with your kids. Tell them the truth. But tell them a truth that is not motivated by fear or panic. Teach them how to pragmatically protect themselves and their friends. And lead them back to the Shepherd every time. They are learning the sound of his voice but they are dependent on you to teach them. They are depending on you. They are being shaped by this experience and you have the most important voice in that shaping.
We have choices around how we spend these next weeks with our kids, and how we talk about what’s happening.
Choose wisely. Self-edit. Self-correct. Share. For goodness’ sake, please stop hoarding. If you have too much toilet paper or extra milk or something—anything—that you bought in a panic, offer up what you have to those who have not. Ask questions about who has lost access to what they need due to closures: feeding programs, medically fragile and immune-compromised people, parents who can’t find childcare but can’t afford to not work. How can you help? What can you offer? Don’t just be another sheep. Be a shepherd. Be Jesus.
And above all else, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIRV.
This doesn’t stop being true when things feel uncertain; it is evermore the Gospel and we are committed to it. While we live in the tension of Kingdom now-and-not-yet, we trust that Jesus is still on the Throne, that God is good, kind, generous, faithful, trustworthy and sovereign and the Holy Spirit is present. And that is more than enough for this season. We are not alone. We follow the Good Shepherd.
This post has also been published by the International Network for Children’s Ministers – check it out there!