Trials and suffering in our lives can be anywhere from stretching to downright devastating. However, I think most people would 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 tragic accident like what happened recently, 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 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.
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.
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? How can we teach our children to endure suffering in light of the hope of the gospel? I’d like to share five things we try to teach our children so that they learn to view suffering through a gospel lens.
1. Suffering is a result of sin in the world, and we shouldn’t be surprised by it (1 Pet. 4:12-13).
It’s important that we help our children understand that when sin entered the world, death did, too (Rom. 5:12). 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 don’t understand that we are all sinners who deserve to die for our sins, then they will expect to be happy and comfortable in this life and may become angry at God when they aren’t.
Teaching our children the doctrine of sin and the hope that we have in Christ is vitally important in helping them 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, when appropriate, ways that you have struggled in your life and how you have found 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 mistakes and endured perplexing circumstances, yet desired to follow Jesus and were used in mighty ways.
2. Don’t view suffering as only a bad thing that should be avoided (Ps. 119:71-76).
Though it’s uncomfortable, we should consider how we view suffering. We can often see this in 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 God is Lord over it, and though we are sinners in desperate need of him, Christ has died and defeated death so that our pain would be used for our good?
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.
Yet, as we grow to understand and believe that God allows suffering in our lives to draw us to 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 comes to me with questions, I try 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.”
3. Talk to the Lord about your feelings, questions and fears (Ps. 22:1-2).
Many children will bottle up their feelings, especially if they think that they shouldn’t feel the way they do or don’t know what to do with them. We have seen our own children struggle with anger, discouragement, weariness and confusion. 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 helpful to show them that they aren’t alone in feeling this way. As the Psalmists’ 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 and trust him.
4. Look for ways that God has been faithful, even when it’s hard to see (Ps. 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. It’s been neat to see how this has encouraged us all, including the kids, to look for God’s faithfulness within the trials. This has also helped us 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. Wait on the Lord with and eternal perspective (Rom. 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. But, one of the blessings that I’ve seen the Lord bring out of the pain 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 often hard, 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 me 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.
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 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 confronted with the pain of living in a broken and hostile world.
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 successes. While we plant the seed, only the Lord can give it life. While we water the soil, only the Lord can grow our children up in him. God doesn’t 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 as you learn to walk your own children through the trials they’ll face—with confidence in the hope and truth of the gospel.
This article was originally published here.