Trials and suffering in our lives can be anywhere from stretching to down right devastating. However, I think most people would probably agree that as painful as it is to endure suffering in our own lives, it can be even more painful to watch our children suffer. Whether it’s a bully at school, a friend who hurts their feelings, the loss of a loved one, a broken heart, or life-altering illness, all of our children will be faced with the realities of a broken world.
All four of my children have endured suffering since they took their first breath. They each suffer immensely from the physical, emotional, and neurological pain of Lyme disease. They have all watched our family go from being financially comfortable to being on unemployment. They frequently feel left out of parties and school activities because of special diets and chronic pain. Our oldest is tormented by thoughts and behaviors that turn him into someone else. And our younger three have had to grapple with the devastating effects of growing up with an older sibling whose neurological Lyme disease causes them so much pain.
So that leads me to the question. What do we do when suffering strikes in our kid’s lives? How do we prepare our children for a world that involves disappointment, pain, and loss?
Lead by example in response to our own suffering.
It’s good to ask ourselves – do we view suffering as purely harmful and something to be avoided at all costs? Or do we have an accurate biblical view of it?
While suffering is not a good thing in and of itself, if we view it through the gospel lens of Lord, Sin, Savior, Faith – we are able to trust that the Lord will use what the enemy meant for our harm to create us more into his likeness and bring him glory.
So when pain enters our life, how do we respond? Does it create a hard, bitter, fearful, controlling, grumbling spirit within us? Or does it drive us (with all of our confused emotions, and sometimes shaken faith) into the Word and to greater dependence on Christ?
Of course we won’t do this perfectly because we are still in the process of being sanctified. However, our children are watching and learning from our responses to the irritations we face, the detours that leave us frazzled and frustrated, and the devastating circumstances that sometimes leave us fighting for any sense of hope.
We are the ones who will begin to shape our children’s view of suffering and the power of the gospel in light of it.
Pray for wisdom to know how to best respond to our children’s trials.
When is it our job to protect and seek to rescue them from the pain of the world? When is it our job just to support them through it and allow God to use their trials to draw them to him?
Of course, this may not always be a black and white answer and we will always have the tendency to want to rescue and protect our children. Therefore, we need to seek wisdom through the Word, prayer, and Christian counsel when faced with these circumstances.
Remember that God is in control of our children’s lives, we are not.
If we think that we have the ability to control our children’s lives, we will have a tendency to become hover parents, living in fear of what we can’t control, and running the risk of putting ourselves in the place of God.
But there is great freedom in realizing that God has entrusted us with children he created for his purposes under his sovereign plan. We can teach our children about the Lord, but only he has the power to save them. We can help protect our children, but only the Lord is truly sovereign over what happens in their lives. We can love our children, but only the Lord can love them with a perfect love.
The best thing that we can give our children are parents who seek to know and love Christ above all else. After that, we pray for wisdom and guidance in raising them, and then trust their lives into his hand.
How then do we help teach our children to endure suffering in light of the gospel?
I’d like to share 5 ways that I have seen God guide us in helping our children understand and learn to view suffering with a gospel lens.
1. We need to teach our children not to view suffering as only a bad thing that should be avoided. (Psalm 119:71-76)
Consider how we pray. Do we mainly pray for our trials to be taken away or for things that we want? Or do we pray with confidence that he is Lord over it, that we are sinners in desperate need of him and that Christ has died and defeated death so that our pain would not be wasted but be used for our good? Do we pray in faith that we can trust him to equip us and give us his strength to endure as we wait on him?
This isn’t easy when we, as parents, are struggling to understand and grapple with painful circumstances in our own lives, or are dealing with the heartache of watching our kids suffer.
However, as we grow to understand and believe that God allows suffering in our lives to both draw us to him and give us greater life in him, we can gently share these truths with our children.
I’ve seen this happen in my own heart. Years upon years of praying for my oldest to be free from all that torments him and causes so much pain in our home began to make my son question why God wouldn’t answer our prayers to heal him. For a long time I struggled to answer him because I couldn’t understand why the Lord was continuing to allow so much pain in such a little child’s life. However, over the years, my prayers began to change.
I found myself praying that Jesus would help me trust him more and give me the strength to keep going. I began to experience sweet blessings within the deep heartache that I never would have found if I had only viewed our trials as my enemy and something to get out of as quickly as possible.
Now when one of my children come to me with the question, “Why do I have to be sick and all my friends aren’t?” Or, “Mommy, why did you give me this sickness?”, or “Why does my brother hurt me so much?”I have to quickly reflect on all that God has done through the pain he has allowed and respond with, “I don’t know why God has allowed all of this, but I do know that it’s not being wasted and that he is allowing it to make us love him more, love the world less, and become more like him in the process.”
2. We need to teach our children that suffering is a result of sin in the world and that we shouldn’t be surprised by it. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)
It’s important that we help our children understand that when sin entered the world, death entered the world. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised when we experience the inevitable sadness, brokenness, and pain of living in a world under the curse of sin. If our children do not understand that we are all sinners that deserve to die for our sins, then they will expect to be happy and comfortable in this life and angry at God when they aren’t.
Teaching our children the doctrine of sin and the gospel hope that we have in Christ is vitally important in teaching them to understand the reality of suffering and the hope that can be found within it. A great way to do this is to share with your children ways that you have struggled with sin and suffering in your own life (age appropriate) and how you have needed forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit to help you. We can also turn their eyes to all the great men and women of the Bible who made some pretty huge mistakes and endured perplexing circumstances, but desired to follow Jesus, and were therefore used in mighty ways.
3. We need to teach our children to talk to Jesus about their feelings, questions, and fears. (Psalm 22:1-2)
Many children will bottle their feelings, especially if they think that they shouldn’t feel the way they do or they don’t know what to do with them.
We have seen our own children struggle with anger, discouragement, weariness, and confusion because each day is such a struggle and they can’t understand why God hasn’t answered prayers for healing. So it’s important that we help them learn to talk about feelings that they may not understand and then teach them to talk to Christ honestly about them.
Leading by example in this, as well as reading the Psalms out loud can be very helpful to show them that they aren’t alone in feeling this way. As the Psalmist’s and many others show us in the Word, it’s ok to bring our honest feelings to the Lord, as long as we don’t get stuck there, and are willing to learn from him.
4. We need to teach our children to look for ways that God has been faithful, even when it’s hard to see it in the moment. (Psalm 34:1-6)
While it’s important to help them learn to talk to Jesus about their feelings and struggles, it’s even more important to teach them to praise God and look for ways that he has been faithful, even when it isn’t easy.
During the last several months, the trials have been so incredibly heavy on our family that it’s been easy to sink into a feeling of despair and hopelessness. I knew we needed something in front of us that would help keep our eyes on ways that God was being faithful in such a dark time. So I created a faithfulness tree – made of nothing more than construction paper. It’s not even close to Pinterest worthy, but it’s served its purpose. It’s simply a tree trunk and branches of paper taped on our wall with little green leaves that display ways we see God’s faithfulness.
This has helped our family see how God is providing and showing himself faithful. What has been so neat to see is how this has encouraged us all, including the kids, to look for God’s faithfulness within the trials.
This has also helped us all grow a greater spirit of thankfulness and humility as we have become more aware of ways God is so incredibly faithful, and how easily we can miss his provisions and goodness towards us.
5. Lastly, we need to teach our children to wait on the Lord with an eternal perspective. (Romans 5:1-5)
One of the hardest parts of watching our children suffer has been watching their little hearts grieve the loss of so much innocence at such a young age.
However, one of the blessings that I’ve seen the Lord bring out of the pain that they have experienced is an awakening to the reality of a world that cannot satisfy them. It has caused them to want to hear more about heaven and what there is beyond this world.
While it’s hard to hear each one of them express a desire to go to heaven now instead of living on this earth, I am thankful that the pain that they are enduring is forcing them to search for a deeper meaning in their suffering and a purpose for their lives.
Though they may not fully grasp the truths that they are learning right now, by God’s grace they are watching my husband and I continually turn to Christ in our honest struggles with prayer and faith, trusting that as we wait on him, he will be faithful to bring good out of all of this pain.
So when our children come to us, not understanding why something is happening and just wanting it to go away, let’s use this as an opportunity to lead them to Jesus and help them learn to wait on him and trust his promises.
Guide them with truth but rest in his sovereignty.
Friends, we are told that this life will not be easy and, if we are going to point our kids to Christ, in hope that they will trust their lives to him as their Savior, we also need to prepare them for the reality that suffering will come at some point.
If we do not use the trials that they face when they’re young to guide them in these truths, then it will be much harder for them to face a life of following Christ as they grow up and are faced with the pain of living in a broken and hostile world.
In the end, as much as we hope and desire to walk our children through trials and suffering with gospel hope and tools to navigate dark and disorienting paths, we will fail them at times. Just as they struggle, we struggle with our own inward battles, doubts, questions, emotions, fears, and sin.
Thankfully, our children’s outcome does not fully rely on us. Yes, we bear responsibility in what we do with the time that we are given as their parents, but the Lord remains bigger than both our greatest failures and greatest successes.
While we can plant the seed, only the Lord can give it life. While we can water the soil, only the Lord can grow our children up in him. It is God’s grace that he does not call us to walk this hard road on our own. I have never been more thankful for this truth than I am right now.
Though I can’t possibly know the struggles within your family, I pray that these things will be an encouragement and helpful guide as you learn to walk your own children through the trials they’ll face with confidence in the hope and truth of the gospel.