Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Forman family of St. Peter Parish in Omaha has focused on spending more time together, including for prayer and spiritual reading. They are pictured in their northwest Omaha home on Sept. 11, reading a religious book to their children after supper and before prayer and bedtime. From left are Joseph, 2, Amanda, John, 4, Jeff and Francis Pio, 5. Also part of the gathering is the family’s goldendoodle, Fin. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

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God’s Hand in Hardship: Coronavirus pandemic and its struggles bring families opportunities for grace

Life has changed in the last seven months for Amanda and Jeff Forman.

The couple has focused more on their priorities for their young family: making more time for meals together, for dedicated times for prayer and spiritual reading – and just having more time to laugh and have fun together.

Something similar has happened for the Melissa and Steve Lind family. They have been forced away from many activities outside their home, but now their life is more family- and prayer-centered, with their children being educated at home and Melissa focusing more on her first calling, her vocation as wife and mother.

Like other families, these two have struggled because of the coronavirus pandemic. But they are also finding graces and opportunities to draw closer to God and each other, which otherwise might not have happened.

The Linds have been taking extra precautions against COVID-19 to protect the health of extended family members who have health conditions that make them vulnerable to the disease.

They have been spending more time at home, but have been unable to resume Mass attendance, and their children can’t be at school with other children.

FAMILY FOCUS

Life has changed, but in many ways it’s been for the better, Melissa Lind said.

Though she longs to be back at Mass with her parish family at St. Mary of the Seven Dolors in Osmond, she said she is now able to concentrate fully on her “domestic church,” her family, which includes children Clara, 11, Lila, 10, Charles, 3, and Maria, 1.

Lind has served her parish in many ways, including being one of her parish’s three organists/pianists. Then the pandemic forced her to step back.

“That forced time away from church helped me see my true calling: to my family at home,” she said.

“I thought that to serve Christ, I had to be serving in my parish. And I was having such a difficult time managing home and church life. While there were some joys, there wasn’t a lot of peace.

“And it wasn’t until stepping back that I could see that my family at home needed me so much more than my family at church, that to serve Christ is to serve those in front of me.”

PEACE IN PRIORITIES

Lind still plans to volunteer, but wants to do it as a family.

“I want it to be an enthusiastic endeavor that we all agree upon, not just me going out and volunteering while they feel abandoned. And I’ve finally reconciled myself with the guilt that comes from saying ‘no’ to those old commitments,” she said.

Lind believes her commitments will change with her state in life, and that she will be able to devote more time to her parish in the future.

“The biggest gift of the pandemic has been the realization that it’s OK to put my family first, and in fact God wants me to, not to the exclusion of all other good works,” she said. “But it’s like my family is a barometer: When I’m doing too much outside the home, we lose our peace and unity. When I stopped and focused on them, we seemed to function as a unit so much more peacefully and productively.”

THANKFUL FOR THE OPPORTUNITY

The Formans, of St. Peter Parish in Omaha, also have been isolated from many of their friends and family members. But the isolation hasn’t been all bad, Amanda Forman said.

“The pandemic caused our family to simplify and refocus on the most important priorities in our life,” she said.

“It wasn’t by choice, but I am so thankful we were given that opportunity. It was and still is hard to hear and see so many suffering around us during this pandemic.”

But when both parents were able to work from home, “with no outside obligations for our family, we were able to eat every meal together, make habits or routines that we had always desired for our family, but never got around to,” Forman said.

Those practices included setting aside a dedicated time to pray the Rosary as a family, reading more spiritual books, and for the parents, taking the time to wake up early for quiet prayer before the children were up and about.

FAMILY TIME

The Formans have a bustling household with children Francis Pio, 5, John, 4, Joseph, 2, a fourth child due in April, and a rambunctious goldendoodle named Fin.

Jeff is director of religious education at Mary Our Queen Parish in Omaha, while Amanda homeschools their children and works part-time from home for an Omaha nonprofit, Hope for the Poor.

Amanda and Jeff Forman pray with their sons before a meal at their home Sept. 11. The boys from left are John, Francis Pio and Joseph. The Formans are expecting another child, due in April. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

The pandemic has allowed the family more time together, “to laugh and just enjoy each other,” Amanda Forman said.

“It was a difficult transition on the boys when Jeff had to go back to the office,” she said, “but we have used it as an opportunity to teach the boys about how a father loves and provides for his family.”

It also was tough not being able to be at Mass when public Masses were suspended in the archdiocese, Forman said.

“It was great that so many churches were live-streaming their Masses, but, obviously, it’s not the same as being there in person and receiving the Lord in the Eucharist,” she said. “I think that although we wished that we were allowed to go to Mass, it gave us the opportunity to grow in obedience, trust and understanding.”

INCREASED PRAYER

Lind said her family has been praying more than ever. Steve Lind is Lutheran and participates in family prayer, but there are times, especially on Sundays and holy days, when Melissa and the children go to an empty church at St. Mary of the Seven Dolors to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.

Their prayers also have included the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which began as a prayerful way to stay connected with extended family and friends via Facebook; morning prayers using Magnificat, a monthly prayer publication; and praying the Angelus, a devotion that commemorates Christ’s Incarnation, at least once a day.

Prayer habits have “snowballed,” Lind said, with one devotion leading to another. Beginning that family life of prayer was the essential part, she said. “You’ve just got to get started.”

Lind has tried to keep the prayer routines simple and easy, “just sneaking in little extra servings,” over time.

“Even though we miss our worship at Mass and we long for Communion, our lives have opened up to expressing our love and praise together multiple times a day,” Lind said. “Prayer is like a thread running through our communal day, not just something we only experienced together on Sundays. It just kind of grew out of our efforts to keep faith alive while not attending Mass.”

‘LITURGICAL LIFE AT HOME’

Restrictions have eased for many families, but it remains important to build a family life of prayer, said Craig Dyke, director of the archdiocese’s Family Life Office.

The pandemic – and the resulting dispensation from the obligation to worship at Mass on Sundays and holy days – has awakened church leaders that “we really need to prepare families to live a liturgical life at home,” Dyke said.

That life should be interwoven with the Church calendar and its feast days and include regular discussions about the faith, and keeping in touch with each other and with neighbors during the pandemic, Dyke said.

For his family, some efforts have included making televised or live streamed Masses more reverent by arranging couches like pews and standing, sitting and kneeling at the appropriate times, he said.

They’ve dressed up – not necessarily in Easter Sunday’s finest, “but not in pajamas,” Dyke said, as a reminder that “this is sacred.”

To make Sunday special, his family – which includes his wife, Amy, and daughters Francesca, 21, Mary, 18, Anna, 15, Josephine, 12 and Gianna, 9 – has followed the remote Mass with a brunch in the kitchen.

The little things make a difference, Dyke said. “Let’s not make it complicated, which I tend to do, because it burns us out.”

‘WASTING TIME’

He encourages parents to follow Pope Francis’ advice to “waste time” with their children.

“It is one of the most important things that you can do each day,” the pope has said.

Simply loving children and enjoying time together “helps them know the love of God better than books,” Dyke said.

Forman said she is grateful for the moments of faith and fun that the pandemic has helped emphasize.

“We definitely have seen many opportunities to grow in our faith, and are thankful for those opportunities. If nothing else, it has allowed us to take a step back and remember the importance the sacraments have in our life, and how empty it can be without them. We just trust that if God allowed this pandemic to happen, he can and will bring about a greater good from it.

“Despite hardship, sickness and even death, Christ will triumph.”