Last week, out of curiosity, I flipped back through my calendar to count the number of weeks since our congregation last gathered together in person. I turned 17 pages before reaching the date. It had been 17 weeks since I’d last seen the children of the church in person! In those weeks, Holy Week and Easter passed, the children finished up a school year and many had birthdays. While 17 weeks is not a terribly long time in the grand scheme of things, in “child time” it’s an eternity. As each holiday or special event passes and children aren’t able to gather together, they are reminded of the difficulty and uncertainty of this unusual time.
While the circumstances and setting were very different, the experiences of the Israelites exiled from Jerusalem speak to the waiting and insecurity we are feeling. In this activity, passages from the Book of Isaiah provide a springboard for talking with your children about their feelings as the pandemic continues while also offering opportunities to talk about the hope and comfort we experience when recognizing God is with us through these difficult times.
Begin the time with your children by checking in with them about how they are feeling about continuing to social distance or quarantine. Be sure to tailor your discussion to the particular practices in your household. Ask them what they are finding the most difficult right now as well as what is making them feel safe.
Next, share that we have stories in the Bible about people experiencing challenges because they had to live very differently for an undetermined period of time. One of these stories is shared in the Old Testament. Offer a summary of the arc of building the temple in Jerusalem followed by the city’s invasion by foreign powers and the Israelite’s subsequent exile from their homeland. Alternately, you can share this video of the Godly Play story “Exile and Return” offered through the Godly Play Foundation. It succinctly synthesizes events and the responses of God’s people.
After talking about or watching a video about the exile, ask your children to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the Israelites forced to live in exile. Encourage them to focus on the challenges this change would have posed, including the uncertainty about when they would be able to return to the place they believed they were most closely connected to God. Once they have identified key elements of the Israelites’ experiences, ask them to think about how their own experiences of living through a pandemic might be like what it was like to live in exile. What feelings would the exiled people have had that are similar to what we are feeling right now? What concerns do we both share?
Build on this discussion by noting that the exiled people of God survived the exile and even found hope and comfort during this extended hard time. God chose particular people to speak to the larger population to help them. One of the people God asked to share a message of hope was the prophet Isaiah. Read aloud one of these texts to your children: Isaiah 40:1-11, 28-31 or Isaiah 43:1-7. You may also choose to read a version of one of these passages in a children’s Bible.
After the Scripture reading, ask your children to share what message God offered the exiled people through Isaiah. Be sure to note that God offers hope for the future and a promise to be with the people no matter what happens. Encourage your children to imagine how the Israelites must have felt hearing these words. Then talk about words or activities that have helped your children get through the big life changes that have happened during the pandemic. You may want to make a list of what they share to guide you during the final part of the lesson.
Finally, set the intention to draw on the things that have given your children hope and comfort thus far as well as adding new activities to their “pandemic survival toolbox.” Create a master list of messages and practices that help your family get through this challenging time. Place the list somewhere in your home where you can easily access it. Include the tried-and-true activities your children identified during your discussion. Also, add a few new ideas that you’d like to try out. Some novel practices you may want to include are:
- Pick a song that lifts your spirit and helps carry you through. At the end of each episode of the podcast Code Switch, the hosts ask someone to share a song that is “giving them life.” Find a song or two that does the same for your family.
- Notice signs of life in the natural world. Commit to spending a period of time each day or two outside looking at plants or animals noticing that they are surviving and thriving.
- Select or write a short prayer that your family repeats daily. Include a message of hope and of God’s steadfast love in that prayer to remind your family God is with you no matter how challenging life gets.
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.