Learning in a Pandemic: How Should we Approach this School Year?

All decisions are hard right now.  Should we have school?  Should we go to a restaurant?  Should we? Should we? Should we?

On top of the “should we” questions there are the inevitable “how” questions. How should we start back?  How should we do this?  How should we do that?  How should we?  How should we?  How should we?

To make matter worse, information—as one physician recently told me—is as clear as mud, which makes every decision that much harder.  And we, as a school, are not exempt from these difficulties.

In light of all these various questions and lack of clarity, it seems wise to formulate a general approach to learning in a pandemic, an approach that will shape our response as we move forward.

As Christians, our approach must be rooted in God’s Word.   Over the past few months, one special passage has provided a theological framework for us to make daily decisions during a pandemic.

We found our answers in James 4:13-17.

There James says, “Come now you who say today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.”  He introduces a plan evidently devised by some in the church, and James is not happy.

To be sure, he not unhappy because they are planning.  He is not against careful thought and diligent plans.  He does not even seem to be unhappy with the plan itself.

So, why is he upset?  It is not what they have included in their plan; it is what they have excluded.  More specifically, there are two important truths that are central to the Christian worldview missing from their diligent plans.

First, they have forgotten that by nature humans who are limited and finite.  He reminds them, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

As humans, we know far less than we think we do.  We may thing we will go somewhere tomorrow, but we really do not know what tomorrow holds.  How often do our plans changed from one day to the next?  Tied to this is the sobering reminder that our life is short.  He compares us to a morning fog that lasts for a short time and then vanishes in light of the sun.

Remembering this introduces a needed measure of humility to our planning.  We must plan, but we must plan in pencil, leaving space for change and flexibility.

We need to especially remember this as we live in a pandemic.  Things can change quickly, and we must change when change is needed.  Thus, any time we plan something like a school year, we must plan leaving space for the inevitable changes of life.

That being the case, why try?  Why attempt bold initiatives—like in-person learning during this season?

To address this, James introduces a second necessary part of a Christian worldview—the reality of God and His sovereignty.

James gives us a needed course correction when he writes, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills we will do this and that.’”  He reminds us even when the world seems out of control, they are not, for all things are in the hands of our Father, and he is good at his job.

In saying this, James is not advocating a formula to say before every move we make.  You do not have to say, “If the Lord wills, we will have lunch.”  Instead, the words point to an attitude of the heart, a heart that is satisfied with the wise rule and reign of God always willing to follow Jesus’ words, “Not my will but thine be done.”

This introduces a note of confidence in all our looks to the future.  If the Lord wills for us to have a full, in-person school year, nothing will stop that.  If he does not will it, we won’t have it.  It is in this confidence, we rest.

That brings us to the next question; namely, how do we live in light of these truths?  How does one move forward with humble confidence?

I believe James answers with verse 17.  “So,” he says, “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”  You could say he exhorts us to simply do the next right thing.  We do not have to take the next ten steps all at once.  Rather, we just live one day at a time, resting in the care of our wise King.  And if he gives us another, we will do it again.

So, we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  We regularly remind ourselves, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning.  Great is they faithfulness (Lam. 3:23).”

At the end of the day, we must learn to live one day at a time, and we must learn to live each day leaning on God.

That is how we will get through this school year.  This is how we will thrive in a pandemic—Living one day at a time while doing the next right thing God calls us to do.

And if you ask me, that is not a bad way to approach learning and leading in a pandemic.