As painful as it is to endure suffering as parents, it’s even more painful to watch our children suffer.
All four of my children have suffered immensely from the physical, emotional, and neurological pain of Lyme disease. They’ve watched our family go from financially comfortable to unemployed. They frequently feel left out of parties and school activities because of special diets and chronic pain. Our oldest is tormented by thoughts and behaviors that turn him into someone else. And our younger three have had to grapple with the devastating effects of an older sibling whose neurological Lyme disease causes them so much pain.
Perhaps your kids know suffering like this, or perhaps you’re concerned about preparing them for it. How do we teach our children to endure suffering in light of the gospel?
Five Things to Teach Your Kids About Suffering
The following are five ways I’ve seen God guide us in helping our children view suffering with a gospel-lens:
1. Teach them how suffering draws us to God.
After much prayer, my son questions why God won’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. However, over the years, 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 the question, “Why do I have to be sick and all my friends aren’t?” or “Mommy, why did you give me this sickness?” or “Why does my brother hurt me so much?” I have to quickly reflect on all that God has done through the pain he has allowed and respond with, “I don’t know why God has allowed all of this, but I do know that it’s not being wasted and that he is allowing it to make us love him more, love the world less, and become more like him in the process.”
2. Teach them how suffering is a result of sin and isn’t surprising.
It’s important that our children grasp that when sin entered the world, death entered the world (Romans 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 do not understand that we are all sinners that deserve to die for our sins, then they will expect to be happy and comfortable in this life and angry at God when they aren’t.
Teaching our children the doctrine of sin and the hope that we have in Christ is vitally important. Share with your children ways that you have struggled with sin and suffering (age-appropriate) and how you have needed forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit to help you. Turn their eyes to the great men and women of the Bible who made some pretty huge mistakes and endured perplexing circumstances, but desired to follow Jesus and were therefore used in mighty ways.
3. Teach them to talk to Jesus.
Many children will bottle their feelings, questions, and fears, especially if they think they shouldn’t feel the way they do, or if they’re confused about what to do with them.
We have seen our children struggle with anger, discouragement, weariness, and confusion; they can’t grasp why God hasn’t answered prayers for healing. So it’s important that we help them talk about feelings 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 in showing them how they aren’t alone in feeling this way. As the psalmists (and many others) show us in the Word, it’s okay to bring our honest feelings to the Lord, as long as we don’t get stuck there and are willing to learn from him.
4. Teach them to look for God’s faithfulness.
During the last several months, the trials have been so incredibly heavy on our family that it’s been easy to sink into feelings of despair and hopelessness. I knew we needed something in front of us that would keep our eyes on ways that God was being faithful. So I created a faithfulness tree, made of nothing more than construction paper. 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 faithfully providing, and to look for God’s faithfulness within the trials. This has also grown in us a greater spirit of thankfulness and humility as we have become more aware of how easily we miss his provisions and goodness.
5. Teach them to wait on the Lord.
One of the blessings I’ve seen the Lord bring out of the pain my kids have experienced is an awakening to a world that cannot satisfy them; they 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 earth, I’m thankful that the pain they’re enduring is forcing them to search for deeper meaning in their suffering and a purpose for their lives. Let’s use our kids’ trials as an opportunity to lead them to Jesus, help them to wait upon him, and trust his promises.
Your Kids Are in God’s Hands
In the end, as much as we desire to walk our children through suffering with hope and the tools to navigate dark and disorienting paths, we will fail them at times. Just as they struggle, so do we, with inward battles, doubts, questions, emotions, fears, and sin.
Thankfully, our children’s outcome does not fully rely on us. While we can plant the seed, only the Lord gives it life. It is God’s grace that he doesn’t call us to walk this hard road alone—I’ve never been more thankful for this truth than right now.