By / Dec 27

As children fill their time during Christmas break and are exposed to their friends’ new devices, many parents are thinking anew about the gaming and technology options for their kids and how the digital world is shaping them, for good or ill. Brent Dusing, founder and CEO of TruPlay, answers questions below that help Christian parents think through bringing video games into their homes.  

Jill Waggoner: How does time on devices affect kids?  

Brent Dusing: On average, children are on their screens for 52 hours a week. Anxiety, suicide, and depression rates are at all-time highs for kids, which mirrors the rise of social media. The average age of males exposed to pornography is 11. While 62% of Americans over 40 believe in God, only 33% of Gen Z (the youngest generational cohort) do. That is a crisis. And it all has to do with the messages and intake they’re getting on screens. 

Devices are mobile, and kids are everywhere with them, so parents have less and less oversight and input. Content can also be exposed to children from their friends. You might have your own household rules, but once your child gets on a school bus and goes to school, you have little to no control over what they see. Your kid could be over at a friend’s house or at a sports practice when they are exposed to inappropriate content from someone else.  

This should be a growing concern for parents, as children in today’s world spend more time online than ever before. In a survey of 1,600 U.S. teens and tweens conducted in May 2022 by The Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institute, the data revealed that kids ages 11-18 play online for an average of 10 hours per day, not including watching television. When the content children are engaging with is not age-appropriate or safe for their developing minds and hearts, this can have a profound impact on their mental wellness. And yet, many parents are still not closely monitoring which games and apps their kids are using. Most have good intentions, but don’t know how to effectively shield their kids from harmful content, nor do they know where to find healthier options. 

If you’re an adult and you care about the next generation, you feel an obligation to act like an adult and protect children. We are supposed to do our best for children and that is not the way society is going today. As a Christian, you should care about the health, well-being, and spiritual maturity of children. There’s a lot wrong with our society, and children are always the victims. They are always the ones at the bottom as these negative effects trickle down. 

Our mission at TruPlay is bringing positive, awesome, world-class, fun entertainment to kids right where they are on a screen just like Jesus met people where they are. There’s a real God who loves them and wants children to know they’re special. There is real value in the Bible inspired by a wonderful God, and there’s hope and truth to be found. There is truth in Jesus Christ and that’s the message we want to send out. 

JW: What type of content is found in many video games that would be inappropriate for children? Is there a rating system that helps parents navigate this? 

BD: Many video games let gamers sell drugs, shoot police and innocent people, or engage with sexual content. There’s a lot of really gory and violent content, and those kinds of things dehumanize people. There is a rating system, but it’s easily circumvented by kids. The rating system is also hard for parents to discern what rating is deemed appropriate for their child. Not every parent has the time and the bandwidth to parse through all of it and play every video game or watch every cartoon ahead of time. It’s not necessarily realistic to expect that the parent is going to be able to have the time, but there are ways to stay involved in what our children are taking in online.  

Be encouraged it’s not all bad news online—there are gaming experts with deep industry experience committed to making high-quality digital entertainment for today’s kids and their parents. As you subscribe, download, and engage with safe content, you also support a demand for it. You don’t have to compromise on fun or entertainment to enjoy the world of digital entertainment. You just need to choose your sources wisely. 

JW:  What are the positives of video games that would encourage parents to consider them? 

BD: Video games do have real intellectual challenges, so they really are a way to build intellectual skills. They also build reaction time. There’s a lot of pilot and military training that takes place essentially with simulated games. Video games are a great way to tell stories and immerse people into worlds and narratives. Also, video games are a form of entertainment that helps contribute to enjoying life and having fun. Video games can be educational, and these claims are backed up by research

JW: What are the risks of online gaming where players can interact with other players? How should parents monitor this? 

BD: Since 2016, CyberSafeKids, an Irish charity that empowers children, parents, schools, and businesses to navigate the online world in a safer and more responsible way, has surveyed 38,614 children aged between 8 and 13. The organization conducted research in the 2021–2022 academic year to track the digital trends and usage of 4,408 children ages 8-12 years old. 

The research, released in September 2022, revealed the following staggering statistics:  

  • 26% of children have seen or experienced something online in the last year that bothered them, 
  • 29% of those children kept it to themselves rather than reporting it to their parents or someone else, 
  • 20% state that they have seen something online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about, 
  • 64% of children said that they’d been contacted by a stranger in an online game, and  
  • 26% report that they have friends and followers that they don’t know offline.  

In terms of social channels, they can be harmless fun, but there have been many incidents of sexual predators getting connected to children. Kids also can be vulnerable to bullying online, which can lead to children being susceptible to suicide.  

Ultimately, the most important thing is to monitor what kind of content the children are exposed to. Using parental controls on phones, tablets and laptops can help prevent exposure to harmful content. In addition, parents can help keep their children safe by taking these steps:

  • Talk regularly to your children about their online presence and let them know they can come to you with any concerns.                
  • Supervise their digital activities or participate with them when possible. 
  • Set age-appropriate limits on what kind of content they can view or interact with online. 
  • Seek out games and other content that are safe, healthy, and uplifting. 

Parents do have a choice as to what their kids engage with online, and their attention to it is critical. 

JW: What are healthy boundaries and parameters you would encourage for play time? 

BD: I think that families have to set their own parameters and boundaries with their children. For my family, we do allow some screen time, but we limit our children to 30 minutes a day during the school week and on weekends, there’s a little more time. We also have expectations for our children around grades, homework, sports practices, chores, and other responsibilities. 

We have given our children very clear guidelines around content choices. I think content choices are actually more important than the amount of screen time that a child is given. Parents should not feel guilty about their kids being online. There are many benefits and solid reasons for kids to spend time online, yet parameters are important. Households can implement healthy boundaries for how much screen time children are permitted each day. And at the end of the day, parents can collect phones and electronics from their children before they go to bed or keep phones in common areas of the house. 

By / Nov 30

November is National Adoption Month—a time where we raise awareness for children who are waiting for forever families, and celebrate families who have welcomed children home through adoption. After the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a landmark case that reversed the harmful precedents set in Roe v. Wade, more attention is rightly focused on the welfare of children, post-birth. 

Lifeline Children’s Services’ mission is to equip the Body of Christ to manifest the gospel to vulnerable children. We serve vulnerable children and families through private domestic and international adoption, family restoration, and pregnancy counseling. For over 40 years, Lifeline has sought to care for women by providing them with lifesaving options and practical support.

In this post-Roe world, there will be even more women who need support and resources. To that end, we should be working to support vulnerable children, women, and families. Every woman in this situation needs excellent options counseling, support and care before and after birth, as she is making the best decision for her and her child. While adoption is a beautiful, life-giving option, it is important to understand some of the nuances involved. Below are some commons misconceptions around adoption, as well as some ways to more accurately think through them.

Myth: Adoption and foster care are similar.

Fact: Making an adoption plan for a child is not the same as a child entering foster care. Foster care is an involuntary option in which the state takes custody of the child to investigate allegations of abuse or neglect. When a child enters foster care, the birth parents temporarily lose control. This might lead to a birth mother regaining custody, or it might lead to permanent separation and an adoption. If it leads to adoption, the birth parent does not have control, because parental rights have been terminated.

However, empowering a birth mother means that if she chooses to make an adoption plan for her child, she can be involved in the plan and know that her child has permanence and stability.

Myth: A woman will not have any control in making an adoption plan. 

Fact: When an expectant mother chooses adoption for her child, Lifeline helps her as she chooses a family that will care for the child spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically and who will also honor the birth family. It is important for a birth family and an adoptive family to have access to post-adoption support.

Myth: Adoption is an easy alternative to abortion.

Fact: Adoption is courageous and sacrificial, but it is not the easy way out. It takes thoughtfulness, commitment, and selflessness. While making an adoption plan comes with sadness, loss, and grief, most birth mothers say those tough feelings are paired with great hope, peace, and possibility. They know they have made a responsible, loving decision for their child.

Myth: More families are needed for adoption.   

Fact: For women making an adoption plan for their infant, there are waiting families, who are ready to care for both the child and honor the first family. However, there is a need for more families to become foster families.

Myth: It’s a “failed adoption” if a mother chooses to parent.

Fact: It is not a failure when a mom chooses to parent. Of course, this decision comes with great pain, loss, and grief for a perspective adoptive family. However, it is a part of Lifeline’s ministry for perspective adoptive parents to stand in the gap while these birth mothers make the best decision they can. It isn’t a failure if they were able to love her well during that time while she is deciding. If we want to empower women to make a good decision, and if we believe that parenting is a good decision, then, we shouldn’t call that decision a failure. Prospective adoptive families should be equipped to honor whatever is in that child and birth mother’s best interest.

Language matters!

It is vitally important to be precise and careful with language, because we communicate value and worth through our words. Scripture tells us that every single person is created in the image of God, and has innate dignity, worth and value. (Gen. 1:27; Psa. 139). Below are some helpful language changes to make, so that we’re clear with our language when discussing adoption.

Strive to use person-first language. This practice honors an individual and their inherent dignity before adding a qualifier. For example,

  • Instead of saying, “special needs child,” say “child who has a disability.” 
  • Instead of saying “adopted child,” say “person who was adopted.”

In addition, ​a woman does not give her child up for adoption; she makes an adoption plan. 

  • Instead of saying “a child was given up for adoption,” say “a mother made an adoption plan for her child.

Women who make an adoption plan are not bad mothers. People are unable to parent for a variety of reasons, and making an adoption plan is an incredibly loving decision. Always strive to honor all parties involved in an adoption—birth mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees.

As we seek to care for vulnerable women, children, and families, may we always extend the good news of the gospel while we care for those in our communities who need love and compassion.

By / Oct 3

Southern Baptists have a long history of following in the footsteps of the faith and serving those in need. When Jesus was on Earth, he did not bypass physical needs but met them and used them as a way to share how he was meeting the greatest need of all—the salvation of our souls. Likewise, Send Relief, a collaboration between NAMB and the IMB, seeks to address needs that arise from various circumstances while also sharing the hope of Jesus. One focus of the work at Send Relief is foster care and adoption, which is all the more important in a country without Roe. Josh Benton, vice president of North American ministry at Send Relief, answered a few of our questions about this aspect of their ministry and how churches can be involved. 

Lindsay Nicolet: How does foster care and adoption ministry fit within the mission of Send Relief? 

Josh Benton: Send Relief is the Southern Baptist compassion ministry which seeks to meet physical and spiritual needs in Jesus’ name. Working alongside churches, we care for the vulnerable and strengthen communities around the world. Caring for families and children is one of our five ministry focus areas. Our work in this area includes developing and supporting ministries focused on crisis pregnancy, serving at-risk families, and helping churches develop or support ministries to vulnerable families within their communities. 

LN: What projects is Send Relief involved in as you seek to engage in the foster care and adoption space? 

JB: Send Relief engages foster care and adoption in two specific ways. First, is through our ministry centers. We have 20 Send Relief ministry centers across North America. Two of them, Valdosta, Georgia, and Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, are child placement agencies for foster care and adoption. In addition to child placement, these locations provide training for foster and adoptive families. We also work with churches to help support vulnerable families in their communities with resources, counseling, and respite care, along with providing an opportunity for churches to go on mission trips to learn more about and get hands-on experience with foster care and adoption ministry.  

Second, Send Relief helps churches start a Family Advocacy Ministry, which we call a FAM. FAM is a step-by-step ministry strategy that helps churches serve and advocate for vulnerable children and families as well as those called to foster and adopt. Send Relief helps churches implement FAMs so they can have a gospel-centered impact on the lives of vulnerable children and families.

LN: How does God’s Word drive your work in this key area? 

JB: Scripture is clear about the call to care for vulnerable families. Genesis 1:26-27 establishes that all people are created and designed by God, in the image of God, and are therefore valued by God. Genesis 2 describes God’s intentional design for the family. Then, Genesis 3-4 shows the damaging impact of sin on all creation but, specifically, how sin creates brokenness in families. 

From Deuteronomy 10 to James 1 and several references in between, God not only calls his people to remain committed to his design for the family but to also care for the those without stable, intact families. Romans 8 also beautifully portrays adoption as a picture of our redemption through Christ.

With this in mind, we can sum up how Scripture provides the truths that cultivate Send Relief’s perspective on serving in foster care and adoption ministry with a few statements:

  • Every person is created in the image of God, therefore, all people have value.
  • God designed the family and desires all to be in a family.
  • Christ calls us to reflect his compassion and care for the vulnerable.
  • Foster care and adoption portray how God redeems through a personal faith in Christ. 

LN: What challenges arise with serving children in need and families in today’s culture? And how have/will these change in a post-Roe era?

JB: The challenges for serving vulnerable children and families are significant. Here are a few key statistics from and the Administration for Children and Families

  • Each year more than 250,000 children enter the foster care system in the United States.
  • At any given time, there are on average over 400,000 children in the foster care system.
  • Each year more than 23,000 children age out of the foster care system when they turn 18 or 21, depending on a state’s laws.
  • Currently, more than 115,000 children in foster care are waiting to be adopted.
  • The average age of a child in foster care is 8 years old.
  • Troubling statistics for children who age out of the system:
    • Likely to experience job loss and homelessness
    • 70% of human trafficking victims spent time in foster care
    • 71% of women who age out experience pregnancy within one year 
    • 65% of individuals who are incarcerated aged out of the foster care system

These challenges will likely intensify in our post-Roe world. These are all harrowing statistics, but one of the most significant issues is that there are more children in need provides an opportunity for churches to fill the gap. With more than 115,000 children in the foster care system who are waiting to be adopted each year, churches can play a role by recruiting families to foster and adopt, mentoring vulnerable families, and providing communities of care for those who are fostering and/or adopting.

LN: How can pastors and ministry leaders create a culture of equipping families to care for children?

JB: No matter what community, city, or state you are in, vulnerable families are present. This isn’t a ministry opportunity that is somewhere else; it’s everywhere. Pastors and church leaders have an important role of recognizing the need that exists, articulating the biblical call to meet the need, and blessing those in their congregation who are led to pursue the ministry opportunity. Send Relief has resources on our FAM page to help pastors and churches pursue ministry to vulnerable families and children.

LN: What are some practical things that local churches can do to come alongside this mission to serve families and those involved in foster care and adoption?

JB: There are several ways churches join Send Relief to serve vulnerable families. One of the most important things is to recognize that there are many ways to serve. There is a great need for families to foster and adopt. Encourage those who are called but also understand not everyone feels that call, and there are multiple ways to serve outside of adopting and fostering. Here are specific ways churches can serve:

  • Praying diligently and consistently for vulnerable children and families
  • Developing a relationship with a local child welfare office
  • Raising awareness about the needs of vulnerable children and families
  • Recruiting families to consider adopting or fostering
  • Providing resources, as well as emotional and spiritual support, to biological families experiencing crisis
  • Helping to meet physical and financial needs of foster and adoptive families
  • Mentoring single mothers
  • Supporting and encouraging local child welfare workers
  • Providing meals or respite care to foster and adoptive families
  • Going on a mission trip at a Send Relief ministry center that serves vulnerable families

For more information on the Dobbs decision and its effects, visit

By / Sep 14

“Lord, please protect my children.” From the earliest days of parenting, Christian moms and dads have prayed these words a thousand times—I know I have—prayers for safety through the night, protection at school, and preservation from harm and evil. As a parent in the 21st century, these words are never far from our lips and hearts—and for good reason. Recent statistics have raised the alarm. A 2019 survey by Lifeway said that two-thirds of “American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.” More teens are not only walking out of church, but are walking away from the Bible’s teaching about gender and sexuality. The currents of today’s culture seem to be more treacherous than ever before.

Yet these dark waters are nothing new. In the New Testament, Jesus prayed for the safeguarding of his own in the world. He said, “I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15, CSB). And in the Old Testament, Psalm 78—that justly famous chapter on the next generation—also sounds the alarm over two perilous currents that endanger God’s children. In its 72 verses, Asaph unfolds a cautionary tale in two acts.

Act 1: Psalm 78:9-39 highlights the bad example of the Ephraimites—one of the tribes of Israel. In the day of battle, Ephraimite archers, armed with bows, turned back (Ps. 78:9-10). And this was not a neutral battlefield decision made in the fog of war. This was retreat.

Act 2: Psalm 78:40-66 tells another tale of failure. When the generation whom God had rescued out of the greenhouse of Egypt, encountered an idolatrous culture, they embraced it. “They enraged [God] with their high places and provoked his jealousy with their carved images” (Ps. 78:58). This isn’t retreat. This is surrender.

Constant threats

Together these two cautionary tales are a matched set. They offer side-by-side contrasts of the two undercurrents that threatened God’s people. Both accounts deliberately use the word “bow” (as in bow and arrow) to describe the problem (78:9 & 78:57, the only occurrences in this chapter). The Ephraimites carried bows but did not use them. The Exodus generation were like bows that did not work. Both verses also use the same Hebrew word, which means “twisted” (hphk), a word used only one other time (78:44). The Ephraimites “turned back,” while the Exodus generation “turned away” (twisted) like a warped bow.

The Ephraimites turned from risk in order to save their lives. This is running away out of fear of something bad. In contrast, the Exodus generation turned to idolatry to meet their needs. This is blending in out of hope for something better. And aren’t these the two missteps of every generation?

On the one hand, we are tempted to flee from the enemy—just like the Ephraimites. We are tempted to run from the threats and dangers of our day, of our culture. And on the other hand, we are also tempted to embrace the enemy—just like the Exodus generation. We are tempted to assimilate with the opportunities and benefits of our day, of our culture.

Yet as Jesus prayed, every generation must remain “in the world,” yet they are not “of the world” (John 17:14-15). But, with the riptides of withdrawal on the one hand and capitulation on the other, how do we as parents steer a course between these two perennial threats? 

A countercultural people

Psalm 78’s answer might surprise you. The root problem with both the Ephraimite’s retreat and the Exodus generation’s surrender is the same. In their present moment, they had forgotten the works of God in the past. So Asaph, the author of this psalm, rehearses what each group should have remembered.

Act 1: When the Ephraimite archers went out to battle, they should’ve recalled how God had previously provided for them. They should’ve recalled his provision in opening the Red Sea (78:13), in leading them through the wilderness by day and night (78:14), in giving water in the desert (78:15-16), and in sending bread from heaven and meat to eat (78:17-28). In spite of all this, the Ephraimites did not trust God’s ability to provide (78:17-22; 32-33; 37). Yet God, showing compassion, continued to provide for his people (78:38-39).

Act 2: Similarly, Asaph recounts the works of the Lord which the Exodus generation should have remembered. God sent plagues on Egypt and all their false gods (78:42-51). God delivered his people, but swallowed up their enemy at the Red Sea (78:52-53). He brought his people into the land, but drove out the nations before them and gave their land to his own people (78:54-55). In sum, God wielded supernatural power to deliver his people and defeat their enemies.

Both groups failed because they forgot what the Lord had done. The Ephraimites gave up because they didn’t remember how God had provided what they needed, and the Exodus generation gave in because they didn’t remember how God had defeated their enemies. 

But isn’t that counter-intuitive? It’s not what I would have written. 

A counterintuitive counterculture

On the one hand, if I had sketched out the history lesson for the Ephraimites, who fled from battle, I’d have wanted them to remember that God is a warrior who defeats his enemies. But Asaph puts this truth with the other bad example. 

And, on the other hand, if I were summoning the Exodus generation to remember what God had done, I might say: Don’t look to idols to provide what you need—because God has always provided for you. 

But that is not what Asaph says. Instead, he says, when you face the enemy, remember how God has provided. And when you’re tempted to idolatry, remember how God has triumphed over his enemies.

This is counterintuitive. And this is wisdom. Because, if we face hostility under the banner—“God will defeat you”—we might be overly optimistic of what God will do through us. We’d be tempted to relate to the culture in pride and combativeness: “We will crush you people.” Instead, we can face cultural opposition calmly knowing that “God will provide.” 

Or if we face the promises of idolatry, armed only with—“God will meet my needs”—then we might be overly pessimistic about what God can do around us. We’d be tempted to relate to the culture in fear and doubt: “Is this really the right and better way for everyone?” Instead, we should face the lure of idolatry confidently knowing that our God has routed any supposed rivals and is infinitely superior to them all.

Bringing it home

We must protect ourselves and our children against the lure of an idolatrous culture that is increasingly hostile toward Christianity in a demonstrable way. We must not retreat. We must not give up out of fear of something bad. But we must stand with the calm assurance that no matter what happens, our God will provide. 

Whether we lose the culture war, whether we are marginalized and canceled, whether we are slandered as bigots and hate-mongers, whether they take away our constitutional liberties—despite all these things, our God will still provide.

And we must not surrender. We must not give in out of hope for something better. But we must resist the little compromises, the tiny bargains, the costly silences in confidence that we know how this story will end. We humbly know that it is not the world nor us who sits on the throne of this world, “and though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.”

Recalling this balance—that God will provide and deliver—will help us and the next generation to engage our culture without wavering, and without fear. 

By / Jul 6

I don’t think I have ever met a parent who didn’t hope to respond patiently and attentively when their child was sad, frustrated, or anxious. And there is plenty to lead our children to these emotions, from the pandemic to wars to social media. But the hope parents have of responding well can often be circumvented by our own emotions, thoughts, and even historical habits of relating. Suddenly we find ourselves reacting in ways that don’t align with the love we have for our children.

As I spend time in my counseling practice with parents, I discover that they love their children deeply and yet sometimes struggle to communicate that love when emotions are running high. They may not even have words for what is stirring ominously in their own minds and hearts when their child can’t seem to get his shoes on fast enough or put his laundry in the hamper, let alone when he yells or refuses to obey. 

What is happening in our hearts and minds? 

This is the million dollar question I hear in just about every counseling session I have. I’m grateful for the question. It denotes the desire to grow and explore. We usually discover that the answer is multifaceted, with many different influencing factors. But I want to share one answer that keeps coming to the surface for many parents I encounter.

When conflict or tension arises with our children, we feel carried away from the present moment and pulled into the past or into the future. 

We may feel pulled into the future with questions such as: 

  • What should I be teaching my child right now so this won’t happen again? 
  • What if this problem is a sign of a more serious issue that I’m not seeing?
  • What if I’m parenting wrongly and it messes up my kid for the rest of his life?
  • What will other people think of my parenting?

Or we may feel pulled into the past with questions such as:

  • Why didn’t I correct this behavior sooner?
  • What if I’m behaving just like my parents behaved with me?
  • What if I have already done too much damage?
  • How did we end up like this?

When we are pulled into the past or the future, we cannot be fully present. We cannot focus on what’s right in front of us. We need the ability to slow down enough to notice how we’re experiencing the moment, and we also need to notice how our child is experiencing the moment. We will miss very important information if our minds are busy with the questions of the past or the future.

In Scripture we see a heavenly Father who is fully present with us in all that we experience. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (ESV). Psalm 121:3 says, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.” And Jesus says in Matthew 28:20 that he is with us to the very end of the age. 

4 ways to be more present with our children

God is present with us in every moment, and as parents we too are meant to tangibly represent the presence of provision, protection, and leadership. So how can we be more fully present with our children through their hard emotions? 

Slow Down. Many of us struggle to regularly pay attention to our own bodies, emotions, and minds. If we are not self-aware, we won’t be very good at awareness of others. And self-awareness requires a slow pace that includes reflection and meditation. 

We do this best in the presence of God, since our identity is in him, and he knows everything happening inside and around us. And if I don’t set aside time to slow down in reflection and meditation on his Word, I will not instinctively slow down in a moment that is difficult. The practice of reflective meditation before God is beautiful in itself because we are spending time in his presence, but it’s also a training ground for life’s obstacles. If I know who I am and have a strong connection to my heavenly Father, I am more likely to respond in a way that truly reflects my identity.

Attune. Think of musical instruments in an orchestra. When the instruments are individually tuned and then attuned to each other, beautiful music can be created. Attuning to our children means leaning in toward them and seeking to know them in the present moment. But if we do not first seek to know ourselves in body, mind, and heart before the Lord, we will be trying to ‘tune up’ our children while our own instruments remain out of tune. We can attune to ourselves by slowing down, asking God for help, and then getting on the child’s level (figuratively or even literally). We can ask what is happening for him at this moment, and then seek to listen and understand. 

Focus. As we listen to our child, we should keep our minds, emotions, and bodies fixed in the present. If we find our minds being pulled to the past or the future, we need to redirect. (This takes lots of practice, so we must be patient with ourselves as we do this work.) Once we seem to have an understanding of what the child is experiencing, we can move forward in wisdom about what needs to be done. By focusing on desired outcomes, we are seeking to do more than just react suddenly to a difficult moment. And focused attention flows out of slowing down and attuning.

Encourage. In difficult encounters, I also recommend dual encouragement: toward the child and toward yourself. Everyone has difficult moments, and we do not always respond in a way that demonstrates love and wisdom. However, we still need to be encouraged to keep moving forward. We encourage our children to keep growing, and we should do the same for ourselves. First Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” The Lord knows we need encouragement in order to fuel us in the work before us, so it’s good to also receive it—and even ask for it when you need it.

As we use this model of being fully present with our children, we will show ourselves to be SAFE (which is the acronym I created from the four principles above: Slow Down/Attune/Focus/Encourage). Our children feel safe and nurtured when we are fully present with them. And when we react suddenly and unhelpfully, by being pulled to the past or the future, the opportunity abounds for us to return to the present moment and demonstrate reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness.

One final note: it’s unreasonable to expect ourselves to use the SAFE model every time we have a difficult encounter with our children. But I’ve noticed that when we start to practice it, even just a little, our kids start to pick up on something different. They notice a change in our responses, and they welcome it. Not only are we doing something that nurtures awareness in the moment, we are also helping our children identify and find language for their own responses, which will foster their continued growth into emotional and spiritual health and enable them to navigate the everyday stresses of life.  

By / Jun 23

Helen Featherstone, in her classic work A Difference in the Family, explains that families affected by disability face all the same challenges that typical families face but with differences of degree. All families are responsible for providing for their children’s physical and mental health, emotional and spiritual well-being, education, safety, growth and enrichment, financial security, material needs, and social relationships—to name a few aspects of care. For parents of children with disabilities, the differences of degree are often significant in many, if not all, of these areas. 

The importance of advocacy for children with disabilities

Ensuring their children’s access to these things and appropriate adaptations in certain arenas often requires intensive advocacy on the part of parents of children with disabilities. Advocacy can be defined as “any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.” The need for unrelenting advocacy can be both daunting and discouraging for families affected by disability. In many cases, it continues not just through childhood but over the course of a person’s lifetime. 

One of my most memorable (but not most stellar) moments of advocacy on behalf of my son Tim—who has Down syndrome—came during his last year of high school. A group was meeting to discuss how to secure employment for Tim when he graduated. In the past, the vast majority of our meetings had been not only civil but collaborative and productive. At one point in this meeting, however, Tim’s job coach jumped out of her chair and pounded her fist on the table with the words, “It’s all about safety!” My response was as sarcastic as it was quick: “I thought it was all about getting a job while doing it as safely as possible! If it’s all about safety, why don’t we just get a cardboard box, a roll of duct tape, and a straw for air, and seal him up inside it?” As any good counselor will tell you: a sarcastic comeback is rooted in anger. 

Navigating advocacy wisely can be a “sticky wicket” for Christian parents. We serve a God of righteousness and justice who says the very foundation of his throne is built on these attributes (Ps. 89:14). At the same time, we encounter a world that too often is indifferent to righteousness or justice on behalf of people who are touched by disability. To make it even more complex, Christian parents—as fallen but redeemed persons made in the image of the Living God—do not always accurately reflect God’s character in our advocacy either. How can our redemption and our representation—by Christ our Advocate—transform the ways in which we engage others in advocating for change?

Becoming like Jesus in our advocacy 

Perhaps the most amazing gift that God gives to Christians is Jesus Christ’s role as our Advocate. By living a perfect life, dying a sacrificial death, rising in victorious power, and standing before the Father’s throne on our behalf (Heb. 9:24), Jesus is truly the Advocate above all advocates. As Norman Clayton’s old hymn “My Hope Is in the Lord” says, 

And now for me He stands
Before the Father’s throne
He shows His wounded hands
And names me as His own.

There is no greater privilege than being blessed by the advocacy of Christ through saving faith. Jesus’ advocacy has several dimensions that we too can reflect through the transforming power of his Spirit in our lives as he conforms us, more and more, to his image. 

First, Jesus’s advocacy is fueled by love. The same love that compelled Christ to redeem sinners leads him to name us as his own before the Father. True advocacy is rooted in love. That’s not hard for parents to grasp, as our love for our children motivates us as well. What is harder to grasp is that true advocacy engages all parties in loving ways. It loves the stubborn teacher. It loves the resistant administrator. It loves the condescending extracurricular activity leader. Once grasped, this principle is even harder to put into action. May Christ’s love for us fuel us with overflowing love for our children and for those with whom we must work on their behalf.

Second, Jesus’s advocacy is sacrificial. In order to successfully advocate on our behalf, Jesus had to pay with his very life. Advocacy always costs the advocate something. And the need for advocacy will never completely go away in this lifetime because we live in a world that is wracked by the effects of the fall. That doesn’t mean progress will not happen. It means perfection cannot happen. Expect advocacy to be hard. Parents of children with disabilities have an Advocate who fully understands the cost. 

Third, Jesus’s advocacy is unrelenting. Jesus is an Advocate. It is who he is. It is in his divine DNA. When love is hard, when sacrifice is costly, parents can remember that Jesus’ advocacy will sustain us into eternity. So, rather than resisting the role of advocacy on behalf of children with disabilities—or worse, becoming bitter about the obstacles in their pathway—parents can embrace advocacy as part of God’s calling on their lives. In the words of the author of Hebrews, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2). To follow in the footsteps of Christ our unrelenting Advocate is not just a difficulty to endure but a privilege to embrace. 

May a renewed understanding of the blessings of Christ’s advocacy on behalf of the Christian parents of children with disabilities bring much-needed encouragement. As we stand up for these precious children and seek to meet their needs, may we display a picture of what a loving, sacrificial, and unrelenting Savior we have.

By / Jun 1

In a span of just 10 days, the United States was rocked by the news of two mass shootings. The first, a racially motivated crime, occurred in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people. The most recent tragedy occurred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and resulted in the deaths of 19 students and 2 adults. The nation finds itself, once more, discussing and debating what policies and prevention are needed to stop these atrocities and how to do so in a way that respects our Second Amendment rights. Christians should be ready to enter into those complex discussions with a perspective that is governed by a desire to honor God through obedience to Christ and protect the vulnerable. In the midst of these crucial conversations, it’s also important that we weep with those who weep while being forced to reckon with the inevitability of our own deaths.

Weeping in the face of sorrow 

Undoubtedly, when Paul instructed the churches in Romans 12:15 to “weep with those who weep,” he envisioned the example of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb. While the Son of Man fully trusted in the Father and did not waver regarding his goodness and sovereignty—even amid the suffering and loss of Lazarus—he still wept. Jesus’ perfect knowledge did not prevent him from expressing perfect compassion and grief in the face of deep personal loss. As those who follow the Savior who wept over the brokenness that sin brought into the world, we too, when we take sin and its effect on our world seriously, will be moved to mourn with the mourners. In doing so, we imitate Christ, the Incarnate God who is near to those who are brokenhearted (Ps. 43:18) grappling with suffering that is impossible for our finite minds to make sense of. 

While we weep with those who weep and seek to bring comfort to others as those who have been comforted by the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4), we will inevitably be reminded of our own mortality as we come face to face with the reality of death. And, if we are not, Jesus believed we should be. This is seen in a passage from Luke’s Gospel. When Jesus encountered a group of people asking questions about the fate of the Galileans who perished at Pilate’s hand (Luke 13:1-5), he quickly redirected their inquiries. 

Facing our mortality 

As one reads the passage, an underlying assumption about the crowd emerges. Based on Jesus’ answer, it would appear that the crowd presumed that there was something inherently defective about those who suffer in this world. Otherwise, in their mind, why would such a horrible thing be allowed to happen? That was the only way they could think to make sense of such a tragedy. Jesus, however, answered by saying that there was nothing substantive or morally different between the Galileans who perished under Pilate and those who did not. The evil committed by Pilate against those Galileans was not due to something wrong with them. 

Jesus then went on to make the same point in the passage by highlighting another tragic accident in Siloam, where a tower had fallen on a group of 18 people, killing all of them. Those that survived in Siloam were not more righteous than those who perished. In other words, one’s goodness or badness is not the sum total explanation for “why” any given tragedy occurs. Jesus rebuked the people for what was implied in their search for an answer to the evil they experienced and turned their question on its head by ending his comments with a warning of repentance. 

Those that addressed Jesus were hoping that they could establish criteria for the type of people that bad things happen to, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it. He would not let them rest in the idea that somehow they could, through their own decisions and effort, avoid the horrors of this life in a fallen world. Instead, what they could do is repent and prepare for eternity so that they would not perish forever. In the Old Testament, the author of Ecclesiastes emphasizes the importance of considering our mortality: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (7:2). The solace of understanding this on the other side of the cross is that those who trust in Christ will ultimately pass through the valley of death into a life of neverending feasting and joy (Ps. 23; Ps. 16:11). 

Hope amid the horror 

While we dwell in this broken world and weep with those who weep, we must not assume that somehow we are or can be immune to the sufferings that others experience. Mankind’s rebellion against God has resulted in a good world gone bad because of the curse of sin. Our only hope of escaping the curse that sin has brought is for someone to bear the curse for us. This is what Jesus, the Son of God, born of woman, born under the law, does for all who would place their trust in him (Gal. 4:4). And this is the truth we point to as we love others and meet their physical needs in the midst of terrible sorrow. 

Jesus, as the only sinless, innocent, stainless human to ever live, came and took on our sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him (1 Cor. 5:21). He bids us to come to him in our grief and under the weight of unbearable burdens (Matt. 11:28). He alone has conquered death, and the precious promise we have is that all who are in him will be raised like him when he returns. It is from this posture of hope amid the horrors of this world that we can face our mortality and come alongside others to minister to them and mourn with them in their darkest moments. 

By / May 17

With 58% of parents choosing their current church based on the children’s ministry, there is a lot of pressure on churches to get it right. But what does it mean to get it right? Do churches need to have a children’s wing on par with the local indoor adventure park? Or a talented graphic designer cranking out stunning graphics for musical worship? Or an album-producing worship band? In this age of perpetual entertainment and distraction, the answers can be hard to recognize.

Keeping Jesus as the main focus

Jared Kennedy, a 15-plus year veteran of children’s ministry and managing editor of Gospel-Centered Family, has written a book that redirects the church’s attention back to the right answer. With Jesus Christ being the Alpha and the Omega, the ultimate, his relevance and needed prominence in children’s ministry has not diminished one bit. And in Kennedy’s new book, Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission: Practical Strategies for Discipling the Next Generation, he explains how a children’s ministry focused on Jesus and the gospel can be truly successful in a world packed with challenges unique to our time.

Kennedy explains the gospel as a “fourfold movement” of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, which reveals much about what children should be taught during their formative years. The fall, the moment Adam and Eve sinned and plunged mankind into eternal precariousness, is quite timely in light of today’s children being given freedoms while they possess very few guiding principles and receive little external guidance. Kennedy emphasizes, “[children] need to be faced with the reality of their brokenness.” He follows with the apt statement by Charles Spurgeon, “Do not flatter the child with delusive rubbish about his nature being good and needing to be developed. Tell him he must be born again. . . show him his sin.”

In part two of his book, Kennedy presents the key to a welcoming environment for a children’s ministry. He explains the countercultural status Jesus gave children when he said whoever would enter his kingdom must become like a child. This startling statement presents children as a role model for humility, which is the key to “stooping” to serve God’s heritage just as Jesus stooped to wash the apostles’ feet as well as other numerous acts including the ultimate moment of service on the cross. The children’s minister argues and explains that humility is the key to creating a good environment.

One of the strengths of the book is Kennedy’s thoroughness in contrasting differing approaches to teaching a lesson on any given Sunday. His elucidation is on display in part three where he writes about the three ways to teach a Bible story: the example lesson, the God-centered (theologically-driven) lesson, and the gospel-centered lesson. After explaining the details of the various lesson types, he shares why the gospel-centered approach is the one he advocates: “[this] approach . . . moves beyond theological knowledge to grace-motivated, personal change.” 

Kennedy is most helpful when he tells the reader how to put this approach into practice so students are taught who the original audience was, God’s actions in the story, how the story points to Christ’s actions and/or roles, and the affect Christ’s work in his actions and/or roles can have on one’s heart. He devotes an entire chapter to teaching the reader the story of Nebuchadnezzar using this approach. In addition to his lesson about how to teach a lesson, Kennedy discusses how to engage children who learn in varied ways. Learning for children is auditory, experiential, and sensory, and he addresses how to reach all avenues. 

Just as a light is not to be hid under a bushel, the children’s ministry should not only impact the children’s and the family’s hearts, but also their hands. “ . . .  faith should move kids and families to be ambassadors for Christ who love their neighbors and take the good news to the world,” Kennedy writes near the end of the book. He states there are two realities that families may need to realize and then rectify that may be preventing them from serving their community. He explains a singular focus on either creation and fall or on redemption and consummation can keep us separated from our communities. The former can cause a family to become “isolated to [its] own . . . needs” while the latter can produce an “overly spiritual view of discipleship.” 

Addressing major issues children face today

A proper book on children’s ministry would not be complete nor meaningfully helpful if it did not address the major issues being faced by churches and/or parents currently. The first significant issue addressed is social media and its negative impact upon young people, which has been well documented in the press and by researchers. Kennedy quotes Danah Boyd, sociotechnical research for Microsoft, who says teens desire acceptance and social media provides a barometer regarding a child’s “social standing.”

In the world of digital popularity contests, Kennedy puts forth “a three-stage framework” for equipping children about who God is, who they are, and the relationship between them and God. The foundation for the framework is catechesis, which is an organized manner in which truths of God are taught and learned through a question and answer system. The Q & A format pairs perfectly with children’s natural curiosity as Kennedy points out. Catechesis dates back to the time of the Israelites receiving God’s law. For instance, God instructed the Hebrew parents as to what answer to give their children when they asked about his laws or the Passover. This serves as a knowledge anchor for children during times of turbulent anxiety about one’s worth.

Kennedy also takes a scalpel to the superficiality of social media by explaining that the Bible’s narrative about mankind transcends superficial experiences with redemptive love. Secondly, its story “shows kids a Savior who stood starkly against a superficial culture.” And the Bible’s story explains the world’s brokenness expressed in religious pluralism and sexual confusion with ancient instances that are eerily similar to our own time. This helps children see that their world is not unique, and God has wisdom to help them navigate it.

The second major issue addressed is child safety. Jerry Sandusky and Larry Nasser are vivid, tragic reminders that predators exist in the most unlikely of places, and the church must do all it can to protect the children entrusted to them by their parents. Before providing practical ways to protect children, Kennedy shares the pitfalls that lead to child predators unknowingly being permitted to be around children and have the opportunity to abuse. One of biggest dangers is our conception of a sexual predator. People have in their minds a certain picture of a person who is shady, socially awkward, and not that successful. But Nasser and Sandusky, along with many others before them, reveal predators can be presumed role models or people in authority who are charged to protect. And rather than protect, they abuse their position and exploit children. 

Many churches have failed to report incidents of abuse because the church leaders believed they should handle the matter in-house. In a helpful manner, Kennedy dismisses this misguided thinking by explaining the critical roles of the legal authorities and the church leadership. And he provides a step-by-step process to creating a child protection plan. He draws on the wisdom of numerous experts who have written about the subject, plus he lists several organizations who can assist in creating a quality policy to ensure a safe environment.

I would venture a guess that many of the parents in the set of 58% who are basing their selection of a church on the children’s ministry are looking for a church whose children’s ministry excites and entertains the senses of their children. For many, these expectations are a result of the current trend of mixing education with entertainment and the never-ending quest for the cool factor. In his book, Jared Kennedy, in honest prose, presents new paths based on old ways that will provide an opportunity for God’s love to be experienced by children, for the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to be proclaimed in every lesson, and for children to have their souls met with transformative truth.   

By / May 2

Much needed attention has been drawn to the spike in mental health concerns experienced by children and teens in recent years, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19. A review of 29 studies conducted during the pandemic reported a doubling of rates of child and adolescent anxiety and depression. Extensive media coverage was devoted to a recommendation from an independent task force composed of experts in primary care and prevention that all children ages 8 and up should be screened for anxiety disorders, and several large medical organizations have joined forces in declaring a National State of Emergency in children’s mental health.

In light of these recent events, what should pastors, church staff, parents, and grandparents know about the effects of anxiety on our children and youth? Here are 10 important pieces of information. 

1. Anxiety is a normal, and often healthy emotional state. It may even provide an impetus for us to draw closer to and become more grounded in our relationship with God. When we talk of kids with anxiety disorders, we’re describing situations when a child’s anxiety is so great that it begins to interfere with their attendance or performance in school, their ability to make or keep friends, their ability to engage in age-appropriate tasks of daily living, or their ability to take part in family activities and responsibilities in an age-appropriate way. 

2. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions affecting youth ages 12–17 in the U.S. They impact nearly one in ten children at any point in time and occur more than twice as often as depression among children ages 3-17.

3. Rates of anxiety disorders in children and teens were increasing rapidly prior to COVID-19. According to data obtained from the National Survey of Children’s Health, rates of anxiety in children ages 3-17 increased by 29% between 2016 and 2020. 

4. “Red flags” indicative of problematic anxiety are readily observable, even though children and teens are often good at hiding their anxiety from parents and other significant adults. Warning signs of significant anxiety may include:

  • Excessive absences from school or school refusal
  • Frequent physical complaints (headaches, stomach aches, muscle aches, diarrhea, dizziness, weakness, lightheadedness) not attributable to another medical condition
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Excessive need for reassurance
  • Panic, tantrums when separation from parents is necessary
  • Frequent questions beginning with “What if”
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Excessive perfectionism
  • Many worries about events before they happen
  • Poor self-confidence

5. Kids may experience symptoms of one or more anxiety disorders, and the nature of their anxiety often changes over time. 

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by the presence of excessive worry on most days often accompanied by sleep problems, muscle aches, irritability, restlessness, fatigue, and poor concentration. 
  • Children and teens with Separation Anxiety Disorder typically experience excessive fear or distress when away from parents or loved ones. They may struggle to sleep in their own bed, leave for school, to be alone upstairs or in the basement, and harbor irrational fears about themselves or a loved one being kidnapped, getting into a serious accident, or developing a life-threatening illness.
  • Kids with specific phobias experience fear of certain objects or situations, often resulting in elaborate avoidance strategies. Fear of germs has been a common concern since the beginning of COVID-19. 
  • Social Anxiety Disorder is associated with significant fear of acting in a manner that will result in embarrassment or humiliation. Affected children may struggle to ask questions in class, order food in a restaurant, or experience great distress at the prospect of meeting new people.
  • Panic Disorder is associated with brief, recurrent, unanticipated episodes of intense fear, accompanied by a characteristic set of physical symptoms, a sense of impending doom, and the urge to flee or escape the place where they experience symptoms. Agoraphobia is a closely related condition in which intense symptoms of anxiety occur in situations experienced as unsafe with no easy way to escape without becoming the focus of undesired attention. 
  • Children and teens with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience recurrent, intrusive thoughts or compulsive, recurrent, repetitive behaviors associated with significant mental distress. They may struggle with excessive perfectionism, making and sticking to decisions, or time-consuming rituals for counting, checking, arranging, or ordering items, grooming, or washing. 

6. Effective treatments are available for children and teens with anxiety disorders. A large, well-designed, government-funded research study reported response rates of 55% to treatment with medication alone, 60% to a specific type of counseling (cognitive-behavioral therapy) alone, and 81% to a combination of the two.

7. Fewer than 60% of kids with anxiety disorders receive any form of effective treatment, despite the availability of therapy and medication. 

8. The presence in a family of a child with an anxiety disorder significantly decreases the likelihood of the family attending church. A study examining data from over 250,000 parent interviews obtained as part of the National Children’s Health Survey noted that having a child with anxiety decreases by 45% the likelihood of the family having set foot in a church in the past year. Note: Church attendance decreases by 73% when a child has depression and 19% when a child has ADHD.

9. Common challenges kids with anxiety disorders experience at church include:

  • Separating from parents before and during worship services.
  • Taking part in church events and activities that depart from the weekly routine such as Vacation Bible School or take place in unfamiliar places, like retreats or mission trips.
  • Expectations for self-disclosure in small groups.
  • Group activities in which they’re at risk of becoming a center of attention by being called on to read or answer questions. 
  • Large group social situations, such as the informal times before youth group or worship services.
  • Transitions between age-group ministries (elementary to middle school, middle school to high school ministry) when they encounter many unfamiliar kids who are older and have established friendships.

10. Kids with anxiety disorders from families who are regularly attending church may experience unique challenges as they grow in their faith. Kids with symptoms of OCD often wrestle with fears their salvation may not be genuine. Others suffer from the belief that the persistence of their anxiety symptoms is indicative of a lack of faith or question God’s presence when prayers for relief from their anxiety seemingly go unanswered. They very much need parents and other adults (children’s and youth ministry leaders, counselors, Sunday School teachers, or AWANA leaders) able to provide wisdom and comfort grounded in Scripture and personal experience.

Pastors, ministry leaders, and families can do much to help. Kids learn how to manage their own worries by observing the ways in which adults in their lives respond when dealing with their own anxieties. Adults who are struggling with anxiety will serve themselves and the children in their lives when they seek help by modeling healthy and appropriate responses to anxiety. 

In addition, parents of kids with significant anxiety disorders should be encouraged to seek the assistance of qualified professionals, and pastors and other ministry leaders should be prepared to help families find the appropriate help. Pastors and church leaders can also seek out the necessary resources to develop a strategy for outreach and inclusion with families of children with anxiety disorders and other mental health disorders who have been unable to attend church because of their child’s condition.  

God invites us to come to him with our anxieties, casting them on his able shoulders because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:17). And as the Church, we must be a refuge for those weighed down with cares, leading adults and children alike to find peaceful pasture under the faithful watch of our Good Shepherd (Ps. 23). The circumstances in our our chaotic world will continually tempt Christians to be consumed with worry, but as we seek to help and equip those who are struggling the most among us, we can remind them of the true and active words that Jesus speaks to our souls: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

By / Apr 28

At a moment’s notice, chaos can erupt in my home. This day was no different. Although every day is difficult with my son’s illness, some stand out as ones that will forever be etched in my mind. And this was one of them.

Something triggered him, as had happened countless times before, and a two-hour-long episode began. As chaos went on around me and he suffered at the hands of his illness, my adrenaline pumped within me and I leapt into action, buckling down for the long haul. By the time it had passed, he had melted into my arms in tears, and I was left with an aching heart and an exhausted body.

But worst of all, I was enveloped in an overwhelming sense of loneliness. 

Unseen and unknown in loneliness? 

Not only was I physically alone, but the longer our son’s challenges lasted, the more isolating it became. Very few could relate to our specific circumstances and most barely knew they existed. Even countless doctors were at a loss as to the cause, let alone the solution. As the years have gone by and the challenges have increased over the past decade, the loneliness has grown exponentially. 

I now sat on the floor, holding back tears as the other kids chased each other around the house, blissfully unaware of all that had just transpired. Even with noise all around me, the loneliness grew louder.

A knock at the door interrupted my runaway thoughts. I gathered myself and opened it to find on my doorstep a small box containing a small, clear bottle. No note, no signature, just a little bottle with a tiny scroll rolled up inside. I slowly unrolled the fragile piece of paper and read these words: 

You have kept count of my tossings; 
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book? 
. . . This I know, that God is for me.

I stood there for a moment, still perplexed by the unexplained box on my doorstep with no one in sight. But a small wave of comfort began to wash over me. In this moment of incredible heartache that no one could see but me, I felt seen and, somehow, less alone.

Is God really for me? I wondered. Does he really keep track of every sorrow that causes me to toss in bed at night and every tear that falls when no one else can see? As I thought back to all that I had endured over the years and all that still loomed in front of me, these few words carried so much weight. To be seen and known — we all desire that, don’t we?

And yet, when grief or pain take up residence in our lives, we often feel unseen and unknown as the life we knew comes to a halt and life around us goes on as usual. We can walk into a bustling group and feel lonelier than when we’re alone.

Loneliness comes in all shapes and forms. At times, physical illness or a child with special needs prevent us from typical life activities, forcing us into isolation. At other times, we experience a loss or trial to which very few relate. Even if they’ve experienced something similar, our different personalities, temperaments, and unique aspects still create a feeling of loneliness. Sometimes, we may act like the life of the party on the outside, but feel utterly alone on the inside — and we may not even know why.

For me, loneliness has come and gone in intensity, but the nature of our circumstances has often forced me into some level of isolation. Even when I’m with others, there is a large part of my life that I’m unable to share due to the complexity of our situation. If I try to explain, I’m often met with blank stares and awkward silence.

The One who sees and knows

Relationship and community are important, and we need to pursue them as much as possible. However, if you’ve dealt with true loneliness, you know that sometimes that’s easier said than done. But what if there is Someone who sees and knows us like no one else ever could? Could it be that there’s a God who wants to draw near in the messiness of our grief and loneliness, unlike those who shrink back in discomfort? Could it be that he sees us in the dark of night when painful and anxious thoughts rob us of sleep? Could it be that he sees the tears that come when no one else is

As I’ve had to learn the hard way, no matter how much I want to feel seen and heard by family and friends, there’s only so much they can understand and so much they can endure. The longer our suffering lasts, those willing to stick with us become few and far between.

But the Bible says that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Even if everyone else abandons us or can’t see and understand our pain, there is a friend, Jesus, who promises to never leave or forsake those who put their trust in him. As the Bible also states, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:8).

Whether you know it or believe it right now, God sees you personally. He knows your deepest fears, greatest desires, and heaviest heartache. You may be carrying sorrows and burdens that no one else can see or carry at the moment, but you can be comforted knowing that Jesus loves you so much that he gave his life for you and wants to come near to you with compassion. And he not only sees you, but he came to give you a hope that loneliness cannot steal. When we trust Jesus as our Savior, he promises our lonely tears are held by God himself.

Whenever I glance over at that little bottle sitting by my kitchen sink, I’m grateful it showed up at my door. To most people, it probably looks like nothing more than a strange choice of decoration. To me, though, this little bottle carries far more meaning than anything it could physically hold.

Whatever tomorrow may hold, that bottle will forever be a reminder that the God of the Bible knows and profoundly loves me (and you). Out of a world full of people, he personally sees and comes close to us in our loneliness. He is strong enough to hold what you and I cannot. If you trust him, he will draw near to you and fill you with a hope and comfort that cannot be taken.

You may not feel seen by those around you, but with Jesus, you’re never truly alone.

*Adapted from “He holds our tears in loneliness” (Ch. 2) of Tears and Tossings: Hope in the Waves of Life (10 Publishing, 2021), written as a resource for non-Christians and Christians alike who are walking through pain and suffering.