On Suffering and Sacrifice and Children

Preface: I’ve been pondering and working through writing this post for over a week. I started it after I had a conversation with a very new parent who just wants to “protect” their child from anything that could ever possibly hurt them. And as someone that has parented two children, one of whom is rapidly approaching adulthood (and I still have a lot to learn regarding that transition), that is very much the expectation and job, if you will, of parents to new babies and young children. Your purpose as parent is to guide and teach and yes, protect them from significant suffering. But as a mother whose children are growing older, I’ve found myself recently more concerned with their character than their comfort.

“I never want my child(ren) to suffer.” It’s a sentiment familiar to almost every parent ever, and as a mother, it’s a sentiment which I completely understand and with which I can sympathize and relate. But also, it’s a sentiment with which I don’t fully agree.

I don’t agree that I should always go to the ends of the earth to alleviate any and all suffering my children might have to endure. I don’t want them to grow up thinking that suffering is always equated with bad. Not that we create suffering for the sake of suffering. This isn’t about killing all that is fun and beautiful and joyous in life . . . about creating a false sense of suffering. There are those that do that, and it serves no purpose. Nor do I enjoy watching my children, or any person for that matter, suffer. I’m not a sadist. And I’ll take it one step further, God does not take pleasure in the suffering of His children. I don’t believe He creates horrible situations and pain, just so we can suffer. Suffering is a direct result of sin. Sometimes it’s our own sin, but other times, it’s the result of the sinful choices of others.

The reality is, in this broken and sinful world, we are going to be faced with suffering . . . we are going to be faced with the truth of suffering and sacrificing for what’s right. It’s inevitable, and if I constantly rescue my children in order to keep them from ever feeling pain, then when the time comes for them to stand up for what’s right . . . when it means both sacrificing and suffering . . . in the face of danger and persecution . . . they very likely will choose what’s easy and safe over what’s right. Self-preservation will win out over what’s hard and hurtful but also, right and good.

I recently saw this statement from Louie Giglio, and it resonated deeply with me, “Given the current state of affairs, and the Scriptures, we need less preaching on how God wants us to avoid suffering and more preaching on how God wants to empower us to endure suffering well.” We don’t like discomfort in our culture, and that includes within the modern, western church. We want everything to be pretty and perfect and tied up nicely with a bright shiny bow. But ultimately, I believe we live in a world where there is a very real possibility that we will suffer for Christ . . . for our belief in Him and our choice to follow Him . . . to live out what is right and righteous. And we also live in a world where so many parents have rescued their children, as often as possible, from anything hard. There is a striving to make sure that they never have to work too hard or face anything that is too heavy . . . that self-sacrifice is not part of their daily vocabulary. Alongside that is the fact that many times parents fail to encourage and cultivate an opportunity for their children to develop an intimate and personal relationship with Christ . . . there is more concern surrounding our children’s comfort and sports and entertainment than their spiritual development . . . so that when their faith is tested, and make no mistake we will all reach a point in life where our faith is tested, they all too often walk away. They hold their own comfort and convenience, their own fun and self-preservation, above the sacrifice it takes to serve God. It hurts to see our children suffering. I am not saying it does not. Nor am I saying that as parents we should not be appropriately protective, nurturing, and loving toward our children. But there comes a time, as they grow where we step back and let them learn to walk out this faith without us propping them up or rescuing them. And ultimately, we cannot control it all. We cannot stop all the suffering that our children will face, but it is in those moments that they learn to stand against wrong, even in the face of persecution or pain. Their character is built, and their faith strengthened.

“For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” 1 Peter 3:17

Of course, beneath all of this is the question, “Am I living this out in a way that teaches my children by example and not just with words and lectures? Am I showing them that we are willing to live and suffer and sacrifice for the Kingdom of God? Am I doing it well? Am I showing my kids what it means to ‘count it all joy’ when faced with trials? And am I showing them that life can be beautiful in the midst of the hard?” Because that’s the thing, I’m not talking about putting on a show. I’m not talking about walking around with a poor pitiful me attitude, making sure every soul I come in contact with knows how hard I’m “suffering” and how big I’m sacrificing. And let’s be real, my suffering and sacrifice pale in comparison to so many others. What I’ve had to work through and go through in my own personal life has, thus far, not even touched what the mothers and fathers, the children and grandparents are suffering in Ukraine, but also, in so many places around the world. Even my own daughter has suffered more in her short life than I have suffered in my entire 40 (plus) years here on this earth.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” James 1:2-3

And again, just to be clear, it’s not about suffering for the sake of suffering. It’s not necessarily about getting rid of every modern convenience and living like monks on some isolated mountaintop. Although, we do all have our personal mission field that is going to require some sort of sacrifice. It’s not about living a miserable life . . . y’all Jesus was not a miserable human being when He was living here on this earth, but it is about choosing to stand in the face of wrong and hard and trying times knowing that suffering and sacrifice are a very real and distinct possibilities. It’s about raising children who are firm and strong in their faith and relationship with their Savior and unmovable even in the face of loss, danger, persecution . . . It’s about setting the example (easier said than done) and letting them see us walk this walk and work this out for ourselves. Not to live a “do as I say but not as I do” life, but to live, only through the power of Christ and with the enabling of the Holy Spirit, in such a way that we can say, “do as I say and do as I do”. It’s a lot to ponder and process, and just in case anyone is wondering . . . I have not arrived. I am 100% a work in progress in this.

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