I just watched my seven-year-old go through her eighteenth surgery last month. It was intense and stressful and extremely painful to say the least. It was agony to watch. I was only the witness to her physical and emotional pain. There were only some things I could do to help soothe her: keep her comfortable, ask for more pain meds, pray over her. But I couldn’t make it go away. She had to bear it and feel it and live it, while I just watched.
Our own seasons of pain and disappointment as adults seem hard enough to walk through. It can be even harder to watch our kids suffer and face disappointments, whether their struggle is physical, emotional, or spiritual. My middle schooler shares stories of kids saying painful insults, getting picked last in PE, or getting cut from a tryout posted on a list for the whole school to see. We probably all have some of these middle school memories. Not only do we guide our kids through these disappointments, we help them recognize their own sins, which can also be a painful journey. These things are hard for a child or teen to understand and navigate. For parents these moments are difficult to watch and witness.
My first instinct is to want to fix it, protect them, help them, make it go away, and just flat out rescue them. So how do we as parents help our children through suffering?
The Bible is full of suffering, disappointments, and pain, and God shows us and teaches us how to walk through it. These are the truths we must point our children toward. In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul refers to his “thorn in my flesh” that he pleads for the Lord to take away. I know I have begged and pleaded for God to take away some of the “thorns” in my life and even more so in my children’s lives. But hear Paul’s response to God’s message: “His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul not only accepts the thorn, the suffering, the pain, he says, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness. For Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong.” (12:7-10)
The world says the exact opposite of this. The world says to boast in our strengths, boast in our successes, boast in our power. But God says to boast in our weakness because when we are weak, that’s when we are most in need. When our children face their own “thorns” it’s not our job to go pluck them out. We may even try and end the pain quickly with other worldly comforts. Often, we may think we have the ability to control our children’s lives and protect them from pain.
Real pain and suffering can’t just be fixed or controlled. So, when we teach our kids to acknowledge the hand of God in their lives and His purpose for them, then they will (hopefully) learn not to turn to us to fix their pain but to turn to God instead. We can teach them to turn to God in prayer and to a loving God who has a plan and purpose for them.
As parents, we must see their pain and disappointments as an opportunity to walk with them and point them to Christ, where their true identity is found.
As I look in the rearview mirror of my own life, God has shown me that there is purpose and goodness in pain and suffering.
Suffering leads us to relationships. We cannot suffer alone. In the body of Christ, we must walk with each other and carry each other’s burdens. As the Lord tells us in Galatians 6:2, this is just a picture of our relationship with Jesus and how he carries all of our burdens.
Suffering leads us to perseverance and obedience and refines our faith. God tells us in 1 Peter 1:6-7 that these trials “have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” I have seen my own faith and dependence on God grow the most through trials. I realize I can’t do this world without Jesus. Our kid’s faith will grow too.
Suffering reminds us that this world is not our home. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20, “our citizenship is in heaven.” We can walk through trials knowing that our hope is not in our worldly circumstances.
And most importantly, suffering leads us to Jesus. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) We, like Paul, can rejoice in our sufferings because we have this eternal perspective. As the songwriter for the band Mercy Me puts it, “there ain’t no storm that can change how this ends.”
We will suffer. Our kids will suffer. We live in a broken world. We will have pain and we need a Savior. After all, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Himself up” (Romans 8:32) loves my kids, knows my kids, and has a plan for my kids that can’t be thwarted. These “thorns,” though uncomfortable, embarrassing, upsetting, frustrating, and painful, are working together for our good. God promises in Romans 8:28 “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We may not see the “good” through the hard all the time, but all things are filtered through our loving Father’s hands and we can trust that these disappointments and sufferings have a purpose. When we have this perspective, we see pain as a place where God is working. These are hard truths for youth to grasp, but we must keep reminding them (and ourselves) that they can trust in Him.
When I witness and walk along beside my children, I am hopefully pointing them to their true Rescuer, the only One who suffered the greatest pain of all on the cross. He did it for them and for us.