“America’s Mothers Are in Crisis” blared a February New York Times headline for an article arguing that mothers are “breaking” nationwide. Expected to do it all—work, homeschool, keep house, care for their families—many women left the workforce or hit a mental breaking point during 2020. But within the chaos, many Christian mothers are figuring out how to lean on their faith in new ways. Some moms are praying in new ways for and with their children or discovering spiritual formation habits inspired by staying at home during the pandemic. We asked ten mothers about what pandemic-inspired family discipleship habits they were hoping to cultivate or leave behind in the coming months and years.
Devi Abraham, Melbourne, Australia, writer and host of Where Do We Go from Here?, a podcast about sexual ethics
For our pandemic year, our sons studied at home and my husband worked from home, so we ate most of our meals together for the first time. Dining with two boys, seven and nine, ranged from the funny chaos of fart noises to deeper conversations about faith and mortality thanks to COVID-19. We prayed for our family in Germany, Sri Lanka, and Australia. We prayed for my sisters, both pregnant. We prayed that God would take the virus away.
Today, our lives in Melbourne are back to normal, but we keep meeting each other at the meal table. It is a practice that endures even when dinner is a bowl of two-minute noodles. It is impossible to ignore the climate in which we live, one where it seems as though the powerful can get away with anything and where the sounds of survivors are all around us, longing to be heard. I pray daily that my sons will recognize their weaknesses, that God will form in them a humility that will last; I pray that they will become aware of the way they move through the world, that they would seek not to harm anyone.
Tara Edelschick, Cambridge, Massachusetts, stay-at-home mom and author
One day in 2009, Zach, Ezra, and I sat on the floor crying. We had been homeschooling for six months, and it wasn’t getting easier. They hated family Scripture memory and Bible study. They rebelled against my color-coded schedule, built on 15-minute increments. Fast-forward 11 years, and I saw the pandemic as another opportunity to fit in all of the disciplines we didn’t get right the first time we homeschooled. and I should have known better. “This is our chance to read the entire Bible before Zach leaves for college next year!” I thought. I made an insane chart with color-coded stickies for everything from service, prayer, and Bible to exercise and chores.
It didn’t go great. The boys nearly came to blows driving food to shut-ins. They complained every time I made them hang notes on our neighbors’ doors offering to do errands or bake cookies. And in spite of having a much freer schedule, we only read the Bible and prayed marginally more than we ever did.
In spite of our failures, we experienced God’s goodness deeply. Mostly, we experienced—again—that God abides in our actual lives, not the ones I dream up in color-coded charts. Eugene Peterson writes that discipleship is “a long obedience in the same direction.” As we come out of the pandemic, what I want to hang on to is the understanding that, for us, discipleship is a long obedience, in fits and starts, mostly in the same direction, toward a God who finds us wherever we are.
Courtney Ellis, Southern California, pastor and author of Almost Holy Mama: Life-Giving Spiritual Practices for Weary Parents
We’ve cultivated a family Sabbath for years—taking a day for “praying and playing,” as Eugene Peterson once put it. But when schools went digital, we rediscovered the gift of slower mornings. Now that we aren’t herding our children out the door at the crack of dawn while tossing pancakes at them like Frisbees, we gather around breakfast together at a reasonable hour and began the day with devotional readings. Afterward, we transition to the piano for a couple of worship songs—often accompanied by the two-year-old on a coffee can—and the kids close us in prayer. (The five-year-old most often thanked Jesus for poop.) Lord willing, the kids will go back to in-person school this fall, but we hope to keep the rhythm of daily mealtime devotions by shifting them to dinnertime.
The dearth of in-person connections has been achingly hard this year. I’ve learned that I can wear every hat under the sun for my kids—teacher, coach, chef, cheerleader, stuffed animal doctor—but I still fall far short of what they need, because God created us to thrive best in embodied community. With each incremental widening of our pandemic bubble—and the hope that this season is in its final throes!—we rejoice. As we transition to a new normal, I pray that the simplicity of our pandemic year has imprinted the steadfast love of Jesus on the hearts of my children. That they will always remember that when everything changed, God remained present, faithful, and good. Well, God and pancakes.
Marlena Graves, Toledo, Ohio, adjunct seminary professor and author of The Way Up Is Down: Finding Yourself by Forgetting Yourself
In March 2020, we purchased an Audible subscription. When school was canceled and then fully online, we started listening to books as a family on daily drives. We listened to the Harry Potter and Wings of Fire series. Now we are on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. All of the books consider aspects of good and evil. Now that school is in session, we go on weekly instead of daily drives and talk about these books, about God, and life and the myriad of implications of what we hear. We spend even more time in nature, mostly in our yard—joyously planting flowers and also contemplating our flowers, trees, birds, squirrels, and rabbits while engaging with passersby on the sidewalk.
Homeschooling was hard at first—before everyone got used to it. There were lots of sibling fights. Outside of that, we treasure our time together even more. These days have become precious. I know we will never have them again. I should add that I miss going to church as a family. I am glad for virtual church, but it’s not the same. I prefer to be there in person. I pray that my girls will know and love God deeply, be enamored with Christ, and treat others like he does.
Rachel Kang, Charlotte, North Carolina, writer and creator of Indelible Ink Writers
The pause of frequent family outings and weekly church events really forced us to slow down, embrace rhythms of rest, and truly spend time as a family gathered around the dinner table—actual television off, table set, phones away, intentional conversations, and saying grace with our Korean prayer of thanksgiving. We will hold tightly to this habit, even as the world changes and opens again.
We look forward to living life without hiding behind masks and can’t wait to be able to actually see our sons smiling as they are out and about and enjoying life. Every night, I’ve found myself praying the same prayer with and for my three-year-old son: “Dear Jesus, help me and help everyone.” It’s been the easiest utterance to whisper in a time with so much going on in the world—in a time that’s not been so easy to explain to a toddler. These seven words have been the safest and yet surest, most specific prayer we could pray, and will continue to.
Rebecca McLaughlin, Cambridge, Massachusetts, author of 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (And Answer) About Christianity
Before the pandemic hit, we had a routine of family Bible time at bedtime. I’d play the piano (extremely badly), or my husband would play the guitar. We’d sing one song, read a short Bible passage (working slowly through a book), ask a few questions of our eight- and ten-year-old girls, then pray. Our one-year-old would join for (and disrupt) as much as he could.
We’ve just continued with this since the world shut down, but the Friday night when we knew our kids weren’t going back to school and our church wouldn’t be in person for the foreseeable future, I remember thinking to myself, “This is our church right now.” Of course, we streamed the service in our living room that Sunday (and all the subsequent Sundays) until we could finally come back live, masked and distanced. But family Bible time—in all its messy, toddler-ransacked glory—was the one in-person thing we had. The pandemic has reminded us we don’t know what the future holds. I’m praying that my kids would hold on tight to Jesus as they reckon with this oft-forgotten truth.
Sharon Hodde Miller, Durham, North Carolina, teaching pastor at Bright City Church
When I look back on the past year and how it has changed our family, I need to be honest and admit how little of it was intentional. There were many months when we were simply doing our best to get by. My husband and I were leading our church and homeschooling our kids, all at the same time, which meant we were navigating each day like chickens with our heads cut off. We were not paragons of wisdom or spiritual discipline. Instead, I just yelled a lot.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit was much more intentional than we were able to be. Slowly and organically, God used this year to teach us how to be present to our kids—present to their thoughts, questions, and emotions—and how to release our desire to control them. We have, quite simply, become better parents because of this year. And it is complete grace. We brought our shortcomings to God, and he faithfully met us in them. There were many times when I failed as both a mom and as a wife. But all God required of me was the humility to apologize to my husband and kids, and the obedience to bring my weakness to him.
Sasha Parker, Winfield, Illinois, cohost of Christianity Today’s Adopting Hope podcast
My husband and I have nine children, five of whom came to us through adoption. The second week into quarantine, our youngest son Jude was rushed to the hospital for emergency brain surgery after complaining of headaches. Doctors determined that he needed to replace his shunt that manages his hydrocephalus. Pandemic-related restrictions allowed only one parent to go with him to the hospital.
Our brave little seven-year-old boy choked back tears as he realized he would be forced to take the two-hour ambulance ride alone to another hospital where a pediatric neurosurgeon would be waiting to perform the surgery. My husband followed closely behind the paramedic on that dark night, praying fervently for our sweet boy. The paramedic kept reminding our son Jude to look to the light out the back of the ambulance window to see his father’s headlights. They assured him that his dad would not leave him.
Nearly 13 months after this harrowing ordeal and horrible pandemic, this is exactly the message that I want my family to hold on to. What a powerful image this is for us as children of God. Though the night is very dark, and these days are full of uncertainty, there is a light shining down. Just as Jude was instructed to keep his eyes fixed upon his father, we too are reminded in Scripture, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (Isa. 26:3–4).
Courtney Reissig, Little Rock, Arkansas, writer, Bible teacher, and managing director of Risen Motherhood.
We are memorizing Scripture together as a family. We also are reading through books of the Bible at breakfast. We also started weekly dates with one kid during the pandemic, and that is something we’ve continued and hope to continue. It’s a sweet opportunity to slow down and spend time with one kid. We are praying that we would not waste this season of isolation and new normal. But also, that our kids would remember the extra time and look fondly on it. I’m praying that our kids would adjust well to change, perhaps better than their mom does! I hate change!
Chandra White-Cummings, Virginia Beach, Virginia, freelance writer and founder of CWC Media Group and the Race@Home project.
I’ve routinely said that my family had a “pandemic lifestyle” before the coronavirus hit the United States. Compromised immune systems and chronic illness plus unstable finances after becoming a full-time freelancer have frequently restricted our daily movements and made the pressure of skinny-jean-tight budgets a fact of life. But still, there’s been something about living through this period on a national scale that has reshaped us spiritually, and not every change has been a positive addition.
What I’ve most clearly noticed is that my sons and I see time differently now. The daily specter of a potentially fatal disease has shifted our thinking from seeing time as mainly the passing of minutes and hours to submission to the practical reality that whatever time we have, it’s literally given to us by God. We’ve talked often about our responsibilities as stewards of the time we have, challenging each other to be fruitful, not merely productive. Forgiveness is no longer a luxury that we dole out when we feel we can afford it. We keep very short accounts with one another because we sense the urgency of prompt obedience: What if this is our last disagreement? We’re praying for wisdom to choose wisely in how we pass our days.