Talking to Kids about Suffering
I have this memory.
I'm sitting on the floor of the living room in my childhood Georgia home. There's people in the house and they're all watching the television, but they're standing stiffly in front of it, talking in hushed voices. People are sad. There's a woman's face on the television and it keeps being shown over and over.
I learned later, in school, that the woman was a teacher and an astronaut and she had just died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
As I was thinking over this post and began to slowly retrieve this early mental picture of the television screen and my waist-down view of the grown-ups and the hush of sadness in the room, I googled the incident to check the date. I was shocked to find it happened in January of 1986, and I was just under a year old.
Which is close to ridiculous, but it's not the first time I've casually asked about some odd memory not found in pictures or videos, and learned I was actually super young when it had happened.
Of course, a one year old has no idea about the complexities of any event or tragedy.
Our kids today may not know what a marathon is or how a bomb works or why we are all still whispering and shaking our heads today.
But they get that people are sad. They get that something is not right.
And I don't know that we're doing them any favors by not helping them to understand what's going on.
Because despite our deepest desire to shield them from evil, they are very much living in this crazy world right along with us. We want those feelings of innocence and security to linger sweetly just a little while longer before the harsh realities of death and cruelty and evil can no longer be avoided. But when we teach and sing about the good things of God, and then turn our heads and only whisper about the ugly, bloody, broken things in this world, are we really keeping them safe?
I wonder if our hesitation to talk freely about suffering with our kids is really just building a foundation with tiny holes and cracks - building them up for a painful shattering in their understanding of God.
Because there will come a time when they come face-to-face with evil.
It may be when a kid in their school gets killed in a car accident. Or when a loved one gets cancer. Or they learn their best friend was sexually abused by her own dad.
At some point, our kids will meet the ugly that we never wanted them to know about.
And then it will suddenly matter what we have invested into their hearts about suffering and pain and death and injustice. Suddenly, everything they have come to understand about God and the way he works in this world will be tested.
If we have fostered their understanding of God's goodness by shielding them from evil, then they will grow up to question if God's goodness is simply incompatible with a world of suffering.
If we have taught them about God's power by leaving them out of our most radical prayers (the ones that may not be answered, i.e. praying as a family for my unborn babies when we knew I might miscarry again), then they will one day be heartbroken and confused when their most fervent prayer seems unanswered.
If we have taught them that God loves and provides for us because we have homes and families and food, then they will wonder "where is God?" when they see the homeless, the orphans and the starving.
Our children need the truth about God as much as we do. They need the eyes to see him in the midst of pain of suffering, they need the faith to trust him despite the evil. They need houses built on rock, too.
And I don't think that means we need all the answers as parents.
It just means we draw them into our laps when we pray and cry and struggle with these questions. We do our best to be honest and then do our best to answer questions,
All we can do is show them what it looks like to trust. We cling to faith, hope, and love until the time that Jesus returns and show them that they are strong enough- even now- to do that, too.
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