My wife, who is considerably wiser than I, made an insightful observation as she was studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Immediately preceding Jesus’ message, hordes of people with various diseases, suffering severe pain, seizures, demon-possessed, and paralyzed came to him, seeking healing and alleviation from their suffering.
Whether one leads a community of believers or just belongs to one, the suffering is, at times, overwhelming. Just this past week, we have mourned alongside the Stoermers, the Boyds, and Wanda Shaeffer as they’ve lost moms and dads. Even if our own families haven’t suffered directly right now, we suffer with them, an empathetic suffering that, while perhaps not as intense, is no less real. So, I can only imagine how Jesus felt as He saw those around him suffering: Jesus, part of the Godhead that created these people, His people, who were suffering because of this broken, fallen world that man’s brokenness had brought to pass. His empathetic suffering was no doubt intense.
Yet, when He led His disciples up the hill to help them make sense of all of this suffering, His very first words to them were “blessed are these people.” Not, “blessed are they because I’m going to do a miracle right now and heal them.” Not, “blessed are they once they get their act together and straighten out.” But, “blessed are they in the midst of their suffering, in their affliction, in their pain.” These are the ones who get the Kingdom of Heaven, who get comforted, who inherit the earth, who see God. He was turning the world upside-down, helping them understand that new life in Him was a whole new paradigm, and that in our suffering and grief we would find joy.
We still struggle with that today. It doesn’t seem right to us, doesn’t seem comfortable. We don’t want it for ourselves, and we often move Heaven and earth to try to shield our children from it. But, we can’t and, really, we shouldn’t. Because, in God’s upside-down, paradoxical Kingdom, grief unlocks our joy. It allows us to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” rather than just thinking about intimacy with Him as an objective concept. Think about it: the most joyful people you know are often those who have been through the most, aren’t they? And, the guys I know who are the unhappiest are those with too much time and money on their hands vainly trying to buy comfort and happiness (which is a recipe for disaster for old guys like me, but that’s a different post for a different day). The church grows through struggles and grief: people draw closer to the Lord, lives are saved, relationships are forged and cemented, communities of faith rally around each other. We’ve all seen it, and know it to be true. Though no one should actively seek out suffering, we really shouldn’t avoid it when it comes, either. It’s a part of life, to be mourned, but also used to bear its full fruit in our lives.
So, how do we help our kids process and deal with this most counterintuitive, challenging aspect of our own faith? How do we help give them a framework to handle and face the suffering of this world? I had a couple of thoughts:
First, don’t avoid it, or shelter them from it. When something tragic happens, don’t look at your husband and wife across the dinner table with the knowing look and say, “I’ll tell you about it later.” We should share it with our kids. Not in salacious, morbid detail, always in age-appropriate ways, but not dodging it. Lamenting and mourning the fallen state of the world is a right and just, God-given response to the state of things—it’s the mouth of the cave that leads out to the light and hope of the resurrection.
Second, we need to understand the metanarrative, or big story, of Scripture, and put pain and suffering in context for them. Kids need to know that bad things happen to everyone because we live in a broken, fallen world, and that man’s sin impacted all of Creation, not just humans. And so there are tsunamis and viruses, wars and diseases, tornados and tragedy. But, the great hope we have is that Christ died to free us from the ultimate death of all of that, and that one day He will restore Creation to the way it was before that fall, without all of those things, and we’ll get to live in it forever.
Third, don’t shield them from pain and suffering. Obviously, we don’t need to manufacture it for them–life does a great job of taking care of that for us. But, we need to refrain from that constant protective impulse of manipulating circumstances to avoid consequences and discomfort. We can talk about suffering all we want, but they have to experience it for themselves. They have to see how their faith and intimacy with Jesus gets stronger as the heat gets turned up, and we have to help shepherd them through that, pray like crazy, and get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do His thing. Jesus is passionate for them, wants to teach them to trust Him, and will answer our prayers to unlock their joy through hardship.
One of the most encouraging things I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks of hardship is a large number of young men and women who attended Grace and were raised by moms and dads who poured into their lives, prepared them to handle the pain of the world, helped them put it into context and understand its meaning, and turned them over to Jesus. As I watched them struggle through loss, I saw their strongly-rooted faith grow deeper and stronger. Oh, Lord, may my own children be so blessed. May all of ours. May all of us.