How to Teach Our Children to Suffer Well
I stood behind the double stroller and watched my three-year-old daughter face rejection for the first time. I told myself I'd never be a "helicopter parent," but in that moment I wanted to hover close, swoop down and rescue her.
It was a warm, but not yet too hot day in May. My friend and I decided to take our kids to the zoo. Two minivans packed with lunches, sunscreen, strollers, and kids caravanned down the highway.
Seeing the animals excited my daughter, but what was more special to her was spending the day with her five-year-old friend. In my daughter's mind if you’re older than three then you’re super cool. Wherever we go she follows the older girls around observing their every move and wishing for the day she's their age.
When we arrived at the zoo my daughter settled into the stroller next to her baby sister. This satisfied her for a while before she begged me to let her get out. I gave her the okay to get out of her seat, and being old enough to sit unbuckled she popped out of the stroller and ran to her friend.
However, her friend had a different idea. She jumped at the chance to get in close with my seven-month-old. Running over to our stroller she goo'd and gaa'd at the baby before taking a seat right beside her.
My daughter stood there, jaw dropped, in disbelief. She was passed up for her baby sister.
As much as I wanted to suggest the two older girls ride together, something stopped me. I thought to myself, "Instead teach her to suffer well."
As minuscule an example of suffering, for a three-year-old it's real, and suffering starts here. If I could choose a perfect life for my daughters, suffering would not be a part of it. I do not want my children to suffer. But that's not possible. Jesus said in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble." Suffering is inevitable.
Even if I can't eliminate suffering in my children's lives, I can manipulate circumstances to alleviate it. I imagine there are appropriate times to do this. However, if alleviating suffering is a regular practice I’m not preparing them for the suffering they will experience as adults.
My only choice, then, is to teach my children to suffer well.
Suffering well requires remembering two truths: God is sovereign over suffering (John 16:33) and He works all things for good (Romans 8:28). Remembering these truths sets our hearts and minds to receive suffering as a blessing. We suffer well by accepting suffering as a blessing.
How Is Suffering a Blessing?
James 1:2-4 says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
Suffering produces in us steadfastness to continue to look towards eternity during trials. This is what is meant when James 1:4 says, "have its full effect." The full effect does not come till eternity. It reminds us that we are not cursed to a fallen world that will never end. One day we will spend eternity in heaven with God, and He is sovereign to when that will be. These truths give us hope, and hope is our blessing.
Suffering is also a blessing by making us more like Jesus. In heaven we will be "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:4). No human being has ever suffered like Jesus suffered. He took every hurt, disappointment, rejection, pain, and sin upon Himself when He was nailed to the Cross and died. And yet to make it worse He was perfect deserving not even an ounce of punishment. Suffering makes Philippians 3:10 possible: "that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death."
How Do We Teach Our Children to Accept Suffering as a Blessing?
The Bible is full of examples of people who suffered well. However, there is one who in my mind stands out above the others, and that is Job.
If you're unfamiliar, Job lost most everything in his life. He lost his children, his possessions, and he suffered health issues. But despite it all he did not lose his faith. That doesn't mean, however, that his faith wasn't tested. Job loved God, but He confronted God. He asked hard questions (Job 7:11-21).
Sometimes we think that God cannot handle our questions. We think by asking them we're being unfaithful or disrespectful. In a healthy relationship, however, there is dialogue. There are questions, and there are misunderstandings. God wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants us to know Him.
Although God will not give us insight we are not ready for either spiritually or emotionally, He will reveal Himself to us if we seek Him. Job sought God.
We teach our children to suffer well by teaching them to seek God during times of suffering.When I intercede for people in prayer who are going through various trials, my first prayer is "Lord, help them to run to you and not away from you." This is the same prayer I pray for my daughters. I want their relationship with God to be such that there is nothing that keeps them from Him - no sin and no suffering.
We also teach our children to suffer well by teaching them to rejoice in their suffering. Romans 5:3-5 says, "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
Rejoicing in suffering can only be done, however, if we remain close to the Father. It is supernatural and requires the work of the Holy Spirit. No one wants to suffer. Through rejoicing in suffering we gain the spiritual blessings that God wants to give us. This is one way He works all things for good.
The rest of the day at the zoo my daughter rode in my friend's double stroller with her three-year-old son, while her older daughter rode in our stroller with my baby. I could tell on my daughter's face that she was dealing with a lot of emotions - jealousy of her baby sister, rejection from her friend, and disappointment that the day didn't go as she thought it would.
My heart broke for her. But you know what? God's heart broke for her, too. As I stood there watching her I asked God to comfort her. I asked Him to love her well. But most importantly, I asked Him to teach her how to suffer well. I asked Him for this to be the beginning of her training for the much suffering to come in her life. So that when the big stuff comes, she'll be ready, looking to Him for the answers and rejoicing for growing in His likeness.
Brenda Rodgers considers herself a “recovering single” after years as a single woman chasing after marriage instead of chasing after Jesus. Now her passion is to mentor young women to live purposefully and grow in their relationship with God and others. Brenda has been married for five years to a heart transplant hero and is the mom of a toddler girl miracle. She is also the author of the eBook Fall for Him: 25 Challenges from a Recovering Single. You can also read more on Brenda’s blog, www.TripleBraidedLife.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.