Thirty-one of Nashville’s Studio Singers pulled together a cell phone choir to record the hymn It Is Well With My Soul. Their powerful performance proclaiming the peace of Christ during these unparalleled times of Covid-19 has become an internet sensation. The story behind the lyrics may be the reason for this hymn’s current popularity: Horatio Spafford wrote the words at the very spot in the Atlantic Ocean where his four daughters were drowned. It’s a hymn expressing a deep and comforting faith, an anthem for grieving people reminding them of the hope of Christ as the abiding, true peace which attends their way.
As comforting and true as this hymn is, it is not the one I would choose as the banner hymn for the Covid-19 crisis. The lyrics omit some important biblical messages about pain and suffering for the here and now, such as the solace of knowing that Jesus completely identifies with our suffering because He too suffered and grieved as a man. As we weep in prayer, the One hearing our prayer empathizes as a fellow sufferer. Jesus comforted the grieving and told the body of Christ to go and do likewise.
Jesus also alleviated suffering and oppression. As His followers we are not to passively submit to fate or death. We are God’s image bearers tasked with taking care of the creation in order to do His will on earth as it is in heaven. We are to be researching cures for disease, developing immunizations, serving the sick, turning righteous indignation into justice seeking, and striving to improve the lives of others and ourselves as biblical responses to confronting suffering and oppression. Underlying all of this is the bedrock of God’s peace attending our souls.
Three Actions for Teachers to Consider
What does this mean for us in the classroom? Here are three practical ideas.
1. Offer students opportunities to express their emotions—even the negative ones of sadness, grief, fear, disappointment, doubts, and anger.
- Give attention to the unsaid good-byes to classmates or staff members who had to leave suddenly with no guarantees that they will ever be back.
- Process the missed experiences and disappointments—especially for high school seniors. Not all losses are tangible and may be difficult for students to identify or describe, but this doesn’t negate the impact they have on students’ lives.
- Assign writing prompts to explore the topics above or encourage students to journal.
- Assign relevant blogs or podcasts as a part of your curriculum; ask for student responses.
- Hold age-appropriate group discussions on these topics.
- Share with students your own prayers, insights, praises, emotions, and vulnerabilities.
- Communicate your availability to listen as students process difficult questions and thoughts. Be a safe person.
2. Offer pro-active opportunities for students to make a difference.
- Find safe ways for students to serve the school or local community during the pandemic. This could be tutoring a younger student on-line or donating to local food banks. Remind students that intercessory prayer is itself a service to the community.
- Have students reinvent the cancelled events they were anticipating: Easter celebrations, music recitals, dance or drama performances, banquets and proms, award nights, sporting competitions, special Senior recognitions, promotion and graduation ceremonies, etc.
- Have students join or create a community esprit de corps event such as clapping for the health care workers, creating rainbow displays for hope, placing bears in windows for children on walking bear hunts, etc. Provide opportunities to share their experiences.
3. Embrace the spiritual disciplines.
- Challenge yourself and your students (at their appropriate developmental level) to use this unusual time to practice more of the spiritual disciplines. You may want to study the disciplines or lead your students in such a study first.
- Select scriptural passages to pray through corporately. Choose passages that address a wide range of responses, from acknowledging emotional needs, calling for repentance, or acknowledging God’s presence and sovereignty.
Lastly, as we journey through this pandemic, keep in mind that any continuation of stress has a cumulative effect. The dam may break for students well after we thought things had settled. As you care for your students, I pray you will also rest in the care of our God and faith which, among everything else, is 100% therapeutic both now and in the time to come.
Helen Vaughan, Ph.D.
Senior Consultant for Transformational Education
TeachBeyond/ CATE Centre (Christians Advancing Transformational Education)