I felt a wave of lightheadedness wash over me as I held my three-year-old’s hand. His screams pierced my heart as he fought the nurse’s attempts to insert a PICC line for the upcoming IV treatments. I don’t know if I can do this again, I thought, as the realization hit me that I would have to go through this process three more times this week with my other children.
I never wanted this for my children. In fact, I feared this for my children. All I wanted was to provide for them a normal childhood and to protect them from the hard realities of living in this fallen world as long as I could. I have wrestled with how to process my desire to protect my children from the things that God has chosen to allow. What does God’s love mean for my children when it looks different than perfect health — or even normal health?
The Refiner’s Gracious Fire
What if the very things we fear for our children — and try to meticulously control — turn out to be the avenues that God will use to open their eyes to him? What if God uses the hardest of days (that we tried to avoid) to grow their character and set them on a different, yet eternally rewarding path than we would have chosen for them?
If you are walking a hard road with your child, or are gripped with fear over something that might threaten their comfort and happiness, I’d like to encourage you with some ways that I have seen God use suffering in the lives of my children and our family. He has worked in us in ways that I wouldn’t change even if I could. My children have been touched by the Refiner’s fire and are learning precious lessons in the midst of it.
1. They are learning to endure.
We don’t have to live long to realize that life is hard, and if our children are to follow Christ, it won’t be comfortable and pain-free. But many of us live in a culture where children are catered to, cushioned, and overprotected, often producing entitled, overly anxious, self-absorbed, and fearful kids.
Should we do our best to protect our kids from obvious dangers? Yes, of course. But we also need to be careful that we aren’t putting ourselves in the place of God, trying to control everything around them, while thinking that we’re doing them a service by preventing hardship and discomfort from entering their lives. We may be trying to protect them from the very things that will equip them to follow hard after Christ.
Although I would never have chosen for my children to be born into sickness and struggle at such a young age, I have seen how God has used this suffering to teach them to seek him, do hard things, learn to endure, and grow in character along the way (Romans 5:3–4).
2. They are learning to look for God’s faithfulness.
We live in a Christian culture that is soaked in prosperity-gospel teaching and thinking. Kindly, the Lord has allowed circumstances that have challenged that view and opened my children’s young eyes to see his faithfulness in lasting ways. They have had a front-row seat to watch God provide financially for our family in seasons of desperate need. They have experienced the sweet provision of God when gifts were dropped off anonymously on our front step, and when meals have been consistently delivered from our church family.
While they have cried out in their frustration toward the pain, they have learned that Jesus sees their tears and answers their prayers. They have also learned to be grateful for the small things, and to appreciate blessings they would never have appreciated had they not experienced much loss.
Of course, my children still throw tantrums, wish to be normal, and act like typical kids, but as they’ve experienced God’s faithfulness in tangible ways, his presence and provision in the trials have gradually become sweeter.
3. They are learning that sin is more dangerous than pain.
The truth is, pain has a way of tearing down our pretenses and our ability to mask our sin. For me, when my own chronic pain flares, or I feel helpless to help my kids, I’m much quicker to snap at them, gripe about all that I have to do, and blame everyone else for my responses. The pain doesn’t cause my sin; it reveals my sin. The same is true for our kids.
As our family has endured years of ongoing trials, God has helped us see that suffering is not our main problem — sin is. This is not a pretty process, but it’s been an unexpected blessing as they experience the Refiner’s fire at such a young age. Rather than living their childhood free from pain and ignorant of how deeply sin runs within them, God has used these unexpected trials to strip away the illusive veneer of triviality, revealing their need for a Savior.
What a blessing it is as a Christian parent to see your children begin to grasp that Jesus is the greatest gift, and that the pain they experience now is only temporary when they have the hope of eternity. Though I don’t know for certain the state of each of my children’s hearts, I’m thankful that God is providing many opportunities to sow seeds of the gospel in the fertile soil of their souls.
I Will Not Fear
If you are currently watching your child face hardship of some kind, remember that God loves our children more than we ever could, and he is trustworthy. There is so much to fear in this world, but when we come to fear and trust God more than we fear pain or trust our ability to control life, we will find freedom and peace in our parenting.
As the psalmist said in Psalm 56:3–4, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me [or my children]?” Let’s be parents who not only pray for the protection of our children, but first and foremost pray that their hearts would turn to Christ, no matter the cost.