“Are we there yet? How much longer?” Every parent dreads those two travel questions. I used to buy time by telling my daughters to wait for a sign with upcoming cities on it so we could calculate the amount of time to our next stop. This was a great plan in well-populated areas, but it didn’t work in some spots in Utah or the Canadian prairies where the only signs read “No Gas or Services for the Next 200 Miles” and there were very few mile markers.
Easter was a COVID-19 mile marker for many of us, ministry leaders and parents alike. It gave us something to aim for, to plan and work for. Now that Easter is past, the often painful novelty of and energy behind virtual ministry has started to wear off. Not only that, but the reality that our normal May and June “mile markers” may disappear is sinking in.
So where is the next there? In May and June “there” usually looks like graduations and proms, family vacations, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day celebrations, and Pentecost professions of faith. We are in the middle of prairies right now with no destination in sight and little to mark our journey’s progress.
What do we do now? Do we try to replicate all those milestones virtually? Or do we deliberately name the fact that most attempts at replication will fall short and perhaps create some new milestones that work with our current situation? Here are four considerations that might help us answer these questions:
Learn to live between the poles. Try thinking “both/and” rather than “either/or” right now. Polarity thinking focuses less on problems to be solved and more on finding multiple ways to arrive at a positive outcome. Before we rush to fill the milestone gap, let’s allow our youth and their families both time to grieve and opportunities to grow from this situation. Living between the two allows neither to be overwhelming. Another polarity to consider is “replicate/innovate.” Some parts of certain milestones can be easily reproduced online, and there will also be opportunities to do new things that only an online platform can support. Are we willing to try both? It may be important to ask whether a less-than-stellar replication might actually hurt grieving students and families.
Offer hope without making promises. “There’s a town in ten miles. We’ll be able to eat there”—I can’t tell you how many times I uttered that promise only to find that the only food available was gas station sandwiches. Communicate that we will in some way record and celebrate important milestones this year. People will not be forgotten, but the when and how will certainly be different.
Create “living wills and testaments.” Many of us know someone who has lived through similarly disruptive times, whether that disruption was living in occupied Holland during World War II or navigating a prolonged illness. Ask members of your congregation to share testimonies of their experiences living without the typical milestones. Ask them to share how God and their communities supported them during that time, and encourage them to “bequeath” some of the lessons they learned or hope they experienced to people who are grieving the loss of milestones today.
Don’t rush to a verdict. Let’s not be quick to say that many of these milestones have lost their meaning or purpose. Part of being human is the desire to make meaning out of our situations, to make sense of life events. For Christ-followers that includes asking where God is in all of this. I have heard folks speculating that the loss of proms and grad parties is God’s way of telling us our kids have become too entitled or our celebrations are out of control. Rushing to assign meaning to today’s events can often stifle our ability to lament and grieve. It can also encourage us to pronounce judgment in a time when we may need to lean into compassion and empathy instead. There are deep spiritual lessons to be learned, but it may be a bit before we’re ready to discern them.
My hope is that these four considerations will assist your community in drilling down to the core of your important mile markers—and perhaps to recalibrate and reinvigorate them in ways that wouldn’t have happened without this pandemic disruption. Share your ideas for celebrating graduations and other milestones in the comments below!