Families have never been closer. Families have never been farther apart.
Like many of you, I’ve been sheltering in place with my spouse and kids for three months. We’ve eaten every meal together, spent every day together, argued and laughed and fumed and forgiven together.
But we can’t visit with friends and relatives like we used to do. We don’t get to catch up with co-workers over lunch or hang out with classmates after school. We’re stuck with the seven of us — which, I remind myself every day, could be a dream for the lonely.
Many families are separated under difficult or devastating circumstances: health care workers who have to self-quarantine from their spouse or children to keep them safe, older adults in nursing homes isolated without visitors and relatives with chronic conditions that make them too vulnerable for a social distancing backyard visit.
What place does faith have in family life right now?
I’ll be the first to admit we’re struggling. Online Mass is no substitute for the real thing — and our younger kids have as much trouble sitting still on the couch as in the pew. Faith formation classes were canceled. Vacation Bible school camps are over before they started.
I wish I had quick and easy answers for you. Ten ways to pray with your family during quarantine or six Scripture passages to inspire your Sundays at home together.
But all I have is solidarity for the struggle.
Now won’t last forever. I know this much is true. Someday our kids will be back in church, serving at the altar, running to hug their Sunday school teachers and squirming in the pews.
But what I wouldn’t give to wrangle a toddler in the gathering space or race to faith formation classes during rush hour or argue with kids about why we have to go to church.
Everyday hard never looked better than in the rearview mirror.
Yet God is here, too. Unlimited by time and space and social distancing. If anything, I’ve learned that grace pours out in strange and stronger ways during times of grief and loss.
While there’s no substitute for the sacraments and nothing can replace the support of in-person community, our faith lives do not have to dwindle during quarantine.
The work of faith formation is the work of the Holy Spirit. It does not depend on our programs, activities, curricula or camps. To dive deep into discipleship and learn what the Lord is asking from our lives, we must trust that God is already at work.
If we are the ones called to lead — as parents, grandparents, volunteers, catechists or parish staff — this does not mean we are the ones to do it all. Often it means quite the opposite: We let go of our plans and let the Spirit surprise us.
Families are struggling and suffering right now. We’re stuck together, and we’re flung apart. Neither is natural, and we’re aching for the end.
But in this hard moment, the tension between what was and what will be, God is here, too. Filling our hearts with grace and our lives with hope.
Before Jesus died, he left us with a promise: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always” (Jn 14:16).
The Spirit will remain with us (Jn 14:17), teach us (Jn 14:26) and guide us to truth (Jn 16:13).
No matter what happens — where we go, what we lose or whom we miss — the Holy Spirit abides with us. Together or apart, we are one in the Spirit as the family of God.