Trials and suffering in our lives can be anything 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.
But in this world, suffer they will. 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 financially strained. 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 have wreaked havoc in his life and ours; 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.
What do we do when suffering strikes our kids? How do we prepare our children for a world that involves disappointment, pain, and loss?
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Do we view suffering as purely harmful and something to be avoided at all costs? Or do we have a Biblical view of it?
While suffering is not a good thing in and of itself, if we view it as Christians who know the God who is Lord of all, then we are able to trust that He will use whatever He sends to draw us closer to Him and mold us to be more like Him.
So when pain enters our lives, how do we respond? Does it drive us (with all of our confused emotions, and sometimes shaken faith) to Jesus, and to greater dependence on Him?
Of course, we won’t do this perfectly because we are still in the process of being made more like Christ. But our children are watching, and they are 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.
Parents, 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. Our suffering is an opportunity to show them how faith brings joy and perseverance when life hurts.
PRAY FOR WIDSOM
When is it a parent’s job to protect and seek to rescue our children from the pain of the world?
When is it a parent’s job to support them through it and allow God to use their trials to draw them to Him?
There may not always be—in fact, often will not be—black-and-white answers; and we will always have the tendency to want to rescue and protect our children. So let’s remember to ask ourselves these questions and to seek His wisdom through prayer and godly Christian counsel whenever we’re faced with these circumstances.
REMEMBER WHO IS IN CONTROL – AND WHO IS 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 never allowing our kids to learn from anything, good or bad.
There is great freedom in realizing that God has entrusted us with children whom 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 love that is perfectly knowledgeable and perfectly untainted by mixed motives and ongoing sin.
The best thing that we can give our children is parents who seek to know and love Christ above all else. Pray for wisdom and guidance in raising them then entrust their lives into His hand.
How then do we help our children endure suffering in light of the Gospel?
1. TEACH KIDS THAT SUFFERING IS NOT ONLY A BAD THING TO BE AVOIDED
Do we pray primarily for our trials to be taken away, and for things we want? Do we pray with and in front of our children? Aim to pray with confidence, recognizing that God is Lord, that we all sin, and that Christ has died and defeated death, so that our pain will not be wasted, but will instead be used for good.
When our children suffer, we can teach them to pray for faith and growth and endurance more than for their circumstances to be changed. I’ve learned this the hard way. After years upon years of praying for my oldest to be free from all that torments him and causes so much pain began to make him 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.
But 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 an enemy, something to get out of as quickly as possible.
Now when one of my children comes 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 quickly reflect on all that God has done through the pain He has allowed, and respond, “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 help us love Him more, love the world less, and become more like Him in the process.”
2. TEACH KIDS THAT SUFFERING IS NOT A SURPRISE
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. Suffering is not always (and often is not) a direct result of specific sin in our lives, but is rather the result of the overarching sin of the world. Because of sin, we can’t expect to be always happy and comfortable in this life. But that is the beautiful hope that awaits us in the world to come.
We need to share with our children ways that we have struggled with sin and suffering in our own lives (in an age–appropriate ways), and how we’ve needed forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us. We need to tell them about the great men and women of the Bible who made some pretty huge mistakes and endured perplexing circumstances, yet desired to follow Jesus, found the strength to carry on, and to do great things even amid their difficulties.
3. TEACH KIDS TO TALK TO JESUS ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS, QUESTIONS, AND FEARS
Many children will bottle up their feelings, especially if they think they shouldn’t feel the way they do or they don’t know what to do with those feelings. Telling parents is great first step—then we need to lead them to take those conversations to Jesus. He can help more than we can, and He will be there even when we cannot.
We’ve seen our own children struggle with anger, discouragement, weariness, and confusion because each day is such a struggle. They can’t understand why God hasn’t answered their prayers for healing. So it’s important that we help them learn to talk about feelings they may not understand, and then teach them to talk to Christ honestly about them.
Reading the psalms out loud with your children can be very helpful to show them that they aren’t alone in feeling the way they do. The psalms will teach them that it’s OK to bring their honest feelings to the Lord, as long as we don’t get stuck there, and are willing to learn from Him and be reminded of what is true about Him.
4. TEACH KIDS TO LOOK FOR WAYS GOD HAS BEEN FAITHFUL
While it’s important to help our kids 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. We are not only to “continue steadfastly in prayer”—we are to be “watchful in it with thanksgiving” Colossians 4:2.
Recently, in a really, really hard time for us as a family, I created a faithfulness tree. It’s made of nothing more than construction paper, and 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 yhr wall with little green leaves that display ways we see God’s faithfulness to us and care of us. What’s been such a blessing to see is how this has encouraged all of us all to look for God’s faithfulness within the trials.
5. TEACH KIDS TO WAIT FOR ETERNITY
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
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. But one of the blessings is seeing the Lord awaken them to the reality that this is 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 they are enduring is forcing them to search for a deeper meaning in their suffering and a purpose for their lives.
So when our children come to us, not understanding why something is happening and just wanting it to go away, let’s use the opportunity to lead them to Jesus and to help them learn to wait on Him and trust His promises.
Suffering will come to our children, sooner or later, when they are young or when they are grown. If we do not use the trials they face when they’re young to guide them in these truths, 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.
Wonderfully, we can rest assured that our children’s souls are not relying on us. Yes, we bear responsibility in what we do with the time we are given as their parents, but the Lord remains bigger than both our greatest failures and our greatest successes. And He can use our trials and struggles—and our responses to them—to teach our kids the life lessons they most need to grasp:
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
Home is around the corner,
*First published at setapart.net Aug. 20, 2019. Republished with permission.
Sarah is a Christ-following stay-at-home mom with 4 kids under the age of 13. When she’s not wearing her mom hat, she enjoys getting away with her husband, studying her Bible with a cup of coffee by her side, and catching her breath from the demands and stresses of life. In her spare time, which is pretty much never, she has grown to love writing and speaking about what the Lord is teaching her in His Word and through the trials that He has allowed in her life. She has had the privilege of writing for Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Revive Our Hearts, Christianity Today, Unlocking the Bible, Crosswalk, and Challies.com, and has co-authored (along with Kristen Wetherell) Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering (2017). Sarah and her husband, Jeff, have released a follow-up book for marriages navigating the trials of life, called Together Through the Storms: Biblical Encouragements For Your Marriage When Life Hurts.
Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton
Suffering is real. But so is hope. Kristen and Sarah have walked through, and are walking in, difficult times. So these thirty biblical reflections are full of realism about the hurts of life yet overwhelmingly full of hope about the God who gives life.
Joni Eareckson Tada
Find practical, Biblical encouragement. There is no easy answer when it comes to processing pain and suffering. But, Joni shows you how to stay encouraged and how to fix your eyes on the truth. She covers the 5 ways suffering can strengthen—not weaken—your walk with God and she shares the 10 key ways to make sense of suffering.
Raising a child with chronic illness – a blessing in disguise. Parenting a child with chronic illness requires more strength, resolve, perseverance and courage than we likely ever dreamed possible, yet it also blesses us with the gifts of compassion, perspective, presence, and profound love as we are daily drawn closer to Christ.