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Theologically, family, has been long considered a “little church.” I think this concept can be very helpful to us practically and spiritually during this time of COVID-19 social isolation.

Our Canadian Prime Minister has just said, “stay home.”

For some (like introverted vacation-lovers), this is a joyful declaration, for others, their level of anxiety and distress has never been higher.

With the news that school is canceled through the end of the year, Facebook has just seen a flurry of sample home-schedules, online kids activities, and parents encouraging each other with words of solidarity and wine gifs.  I am loving all the practical supports being shared and this thriving online network.

We are all going to be home for a while, but the question needs to be asked - what is Home for?

Very uncomfortably, this time at home will exacerbate any underlying issues we have in our families and in ourselves already.  Marital tensions will hit a pressure point.  Child discipline concerns will hit hard.  Families will just have to deal with each other in a way they maybe never have before. This is all hard stuff.  There are no easy answers.  Each family will need to step up and work out their home life together.  This will be work some families have never done before and most of our home skills will be underdeveloped.

The idea of family as a small church brings some needed perspective to this conversation.

Church is a community of divine gratitude: a church gathers to give thanks for the sheer gift of life, the message of God’s goodness, particularly in Jesus, and a church encourages one another in living a life of service in the world.  A family is likewise a small community of gratitude and sharing, where people may be fed, encouraged, taught, loved, and mentored into the fullness of human life.

The historic Anglican approach to church leans even more deeply on the monastic traditions of the world, exploring “common life” together in the long term.  The ordered prayer life of the church is founded on the ordered prayer life of the monastery.  We see this in the historical pattern of morning prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer, and late-night compline which are based on the 9 daily prayers of the Benedictine tradition.  There are authority patterns in the church, just as there are in a monastery.  As well, the Benedictines balance life between Rest, Prayer, and Work.  We need balance for all things to thrive.

And, most centrally, the purpose of the life of the Church and the life of the Monastery is the same: growth in humility and gratitude for the sake of the world.

Humility is our understanding of our self and our place in the world.  Humility is seeing things just as they are.  Humility is reflecting on that conversation you just had with your 5 year old son and asking, “was that ego, or was it love?”  Humility is negotiating financial stresses with your wife and reflecting on how you might celebrate her gifting in that area and acknowledge your tendency to overspend.  Humility is bringing the whole family together to celebrate the small craft your daughter made and just delighting in each other.  Humility, is saying, without judgment of yourself, “Mom needs some time to rest.”  Humility is reaching out when things have stopped being healthy.  Humility is seeing things just as they are – in their beauty and frailty.  Humility is about turning from the ego-drive and committing yourself to being on the path of generosity irrespective of where the other folks in your household are at with it.  Humility is not judging another’s journey and challenges, ever, because you can never have the full story.  Even your spouse, even your child.  We are all a complex mix of personality, emotion, experience, biology, and spirituality.

Gratitude is our appropriate posture in the world according to what we have received and in relation to each other’s life.  Human spiritual health happens when we start at the right place: when we start at our first breath that was given to us, when we start from the divine gift of the big bang out of nothing and the rich creative life that has grown up lives around us.  We do not create our own food.  We do not create our own air.  We do not create our own being.  All is gift.  Church is a place where we gather to give thanks (Eucharist) for all these things together.  The Monastery is place where people turn their whole lives publicly towards this way of growing in gratitude and humility.

And so in our home life. 

COVID-19 will put us all close together – really close – for an unknown period of time.  We will engage the unknowing and confusion of the time.  We will be tried emotionally, financially, socially, relationally, and creatively.  It will be hard.  There will be “black days” where we are just done and when our home issues seem just too much to bear.  It is not if, but when. And, we need to say, also, that these days may bring us to the fullness of beauty, thanksgiving, growth, and joy.  Along with the dark days, we may find ourselves giving thanks for the gift of having so much time together.  The time off work might give us a chance to open up different relational time with our spouse.  Two date nights a week – why not?  Adventure outside with the family?  Yes!

And so, here are some churchy questions for families:

  • If you (and your spouse) are the ‘pastors’ of your small church which is your family, what do you all need this day and this week to not just ‘survive,’ but to grow together in humility and gratitude?
  • Rhythm and ritual are important for making it through the long-term.  What pattern of important things – work/prayer/fun/meals/cleaning can you design into your week that will help you live in good balance? (we just had a family meeting to chat through some of these things together, kid’s included.)
  • What rhythms of reflection do you need personally to stay healthy, reflect on your homelife, exercise, recover, grow personally, pray/meditate?
  • A church gathers week by week to give thanks.  How might you “practice” gratitude all together as a family?  Grace at meals? (religious or not)  A daily moment of thanksgiving?  A ‘gratitude sheet’ on the fridge?
  • How can you create a healing and generative space where your family can feel safe to admit wrongs exist in frailty, and step out in growth?  (Hint – it always begins with our own behaviour and responses.)
  • Service: how might your family practice serving the world even from your home?  Could you donate money to a front-line organization online and make a fuss over it?  Could you call or write a letter to someone who could use it?  Could you leave something kind on your neighbour’s porch?  I’ll bet kids would have lots of good ideas.  The best churches are intergenerational.

The way of humility is very difficult.  It takes courage to admit wrongs, to celebrate the successes of others, to let things go that do not matter.  It takes courage to be gentle with ourselves and with others when the pressures keep ramping up. 

But we can do it.

May it be so with God’s help.