The heartache of kids during COVID-19

By Pastor Ruttan

I have three children in elementary school. I love them. A lot. Raising them alongside my wife Laura is a sacred trust and privilege from God.

Maybe it’s obvious, but COVID-19 has taken a toll on children as well. Probably more than we think.

Sure, there are good days. But there are days of heartache too. Young people—whether they are five or fifteen—probably won’t use the term “heartache,”  but I still think it’s a good word to use.

Technically speaking, we know that the heart is a muscle that pumps blood. But we also use the word “heart” as a metaphor for something more. When we have strong instincts or feelings, we say they are “from the heart” because we know they’re rooted in something deep within us.

It follows, then, that when our heart “aches” we are expressing something deep. We are saying that our thoughts and feelings are somehow in pain or under strain.

If it’s hard for adults to articulate or resolve these heart-aches, how much more difficult is it for children?

Since the aggressive arrival COVID-19, many children have lost the safe and predictable structure of certain routines. They have lost physical contact with friends, beloved family members, teachers, youth group leaders, and coaches. They have lost jungle gyms, graduations, soccer practice and hangouts at the corner store.

My guess is that many of them are struggling to express themselves—to express their thoughts and feelings, their heart-ache.

With this in mind, let me suggest two things.

First, be honest about how difficult it is

We don’t do anyone any favours when we pretend that everything is hunky-dory when it’s not. Doesn’t that just teach our children to bury their thoughts and feelings, and that they’re deficient for sometimes feeling less than stellar?

Let them express their feelings. Instigate conversations. Be a person who welcomes honesty, and who is a stable presence when so many other things in their lives are not.

You don’t need to have all the answers; but it helps when you’re someone to whom the questions can be asked.

Second, place heartache in a Christ-centred context

This is the most important thing by far. And it’s why solid, biblical thinking and a Christian worldview make all the difference in the world. Now more than ever.

A “faith” that is marginally biblical is massively unhelpful.

Who said life was supposed to be about non-stop health and happiness? Certainty not Jesus. He invites us to love, know, glorify, and serve God, and to get involved in the ways he is renovating the world with his grace and truth. “…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). It is a life of humility, self-sacrifice, and joy, rooted specifically in God’s word.

With this in mind, here are some succinct, biblical truths which help us place heartache within a broad, life-sustaining Christ-centred worldview.

As you read, keep in mind that you don’t need to be an expert in theology. But as a follower of Jesus, you do need to take your discipleship seriously. Look at these truths—which are not new—and identify those which would specifically help your own child in their situation.

Although life can feel out-of-control, Jesus is always in control

In Revelation 19:16 Jesus is called “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” He is sovereign and “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

God knows us, is with us, and cares about us personally

Think of the care Jesus had for children (Mark 10:14), and also these words from Psalm 139:13: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

We can talk to God about how we’re feeling

Prayer is the gift that keeps increasing in value the more we understand and use it. Peter’s advice to the elders in 1 Peter 5:7 is for us all: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Bad things happen; but God can bring good out of bad

As Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Knowing and serving God brings us joy that will last

Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence…” As Christians, we know that this joy is complete in Christ: “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24).

Our lives always have purpose

Jesus’ great and glorious ethical command persists in a pandemic: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). There is always meaningful work to do.

Difficulties can make us stronger and wiser

In Romans 5, Paul explains how the peace we have with God in Christ is a source of hope and expands our perspective. As a result, we can even see how “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (verses 3,4).

No matter what happens in this life we have peace with God—forever

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Heartache is temporary, and there are always reasons to hope

We are a people who overcome because Jesus is the ultimate Overcomer who leads us into a future that is already his. Not only do we know that God will one day bring to fruition “a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13), but we know that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

There is a reason that historic Christianity has emphasized the importance of well-grounded, biblical thinking. It has the capacity and power to give us and our children help and hope through the darkest valleys of life—including this one.

Heartache is a part of life, but not the defining part.

When parenting our children, we acknowledge and take heartache seriously, seek to be honest, and place heartache in a Christ-centred context that will sustain them through the significant mountains and valleys of life’s journey.

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