As regular readers know, in addition to writing for publications such as The Art of Simple, I am a pastor serving a congregation in the Chicago area. In an effort to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus, my church made the painful but necessary call to move our worship online. I was tasked with offering the children’s message. What follows is adapted from my original manuscript for The Art of Simple community. I hope it helps parents communicate clearly and calmly with their children about the seriousness of this unprecedented situation.

Weird seems to be the new normal. It is weird to worship at home around your computer, and it is weird to know that you’re going to be home from school for three whole weeks.

By now you have of course heard about the coronavirus, which is making people sick with an illness called COVID-19.

Maybe you have heard of Mister Rogers. He was a minister who was very famous because he made a television show for children. Whenever anything scary happened in the world—a fire or a tornado or anything like that—he would tell children to look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

In the case of the coronavirus, there are very smart scientists all over the world studying what it is and figuring out how we can stop it. There are also so many doctors, nurses, and other medical workers treating people who are sick.

But there are a LOT more helpers who are, together, going to make a really big difference. Look in the mirror, friends: we are the helpers this time around.

The thing about the coronavirus is this: it doesn’t actually make kids very sick. That is great news!

But, even if you got COVID-19 and were only a little bit sick, you could pass it on to people who could get very sick. People older than 60 and people who have weak immune systems are especially at risk.

That is why we are all supposed to wash our hands really well, over and over again. That is why we are supposed to cover our sneezes, and break the habit of touching our faces. And, that is why you won’t be going to school for the next few weeks.

It is weird but true. At our church we are always talking about how Jesus taught us to love our neighbors. And right now, the best way for all of us to love our neighbors—the best way to be the helpers—is to stay home.

Some of you probably think that sounds fun, but lots of you are feeling pretty disappointed. Maybe your family was supposed to take a special trip, or you were supposed to have a special performance or game or event.

It is totally okay to feel sad about those things, even if you know you are doing the right thing by helping in this way.

There are a few other things you can do to be a helper in the days ahead.

First, just like all of this is new and weird to you, I want you to remember that this is also new and weird to all the grown-ups—moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, pastors and teachers.

We’ve never done this before. You might have to be patient with your grown-ups as they figure out how to do school online, for example. If you notice them getting stressed out, maybe you could share a word of encouragement. You might also have to practice being patient with your sisters and brothers, too—when everyone is all cooped up in the same house, we could easily get cranky with one another. Keep in mind that this is a hard situation for everyone.

Second, I want you to remember the people who are having the hardest time, and to pray for them. Obviously the people who are sick. But let’s also pray for people who are poor and hungry—life was already harder for them and now they might have even less money and less food.

Third, there have been a lot of conversations about how we can care for all the people who might be struggling with feelings of loneliness or worry at this time.

Normally, one of the most meaningful parts of my job as a minister is to show up and join hands and pray with people who are having a hard time. Once again, it is SO WEIRD that I can’t do this!

But here’s where kids can again be the helpers.

I would really love it if you would take some time in the days ahead to draw or paint a picture and ask a grown-up to email it to a friend or family member who is also stuck at home. It can be a picture of anything, and you can add an encouraging message if you want. Maybe you could even have your grown-up share it online with the hashtag #BeTheHelpers!

I think this will be a great way to brighten the days of people who could easily feel a bit lonely when they’re not supposed to leave the house.

Even if we have to be apart for awhile, we will get through this together.