What Can I Do When My Child Is Hurting?

Written with Permission

By Zan Tyler



For three and a half years, my son Ty attended Covenant College on a soccer scholarship. During the fall of his junior year, after a particularly arduous practice, Ty suffered from a migraine headache. He used a newly prescribed medication and subsequently lost the vision in his right eye. The whole ordeal was a time of darkness and difficulty for me, although Ty embraced his loss with faith and handled the situation with grace.

Ty’s desire was to stay in college, so helping him accomplish that became our family goal for the year. We all grieved with Ty over his loss, worried about further medical complications, and tried to lighten his load as much as possible. Our second son, John, was a freshman at Covenant that year and dropped a course so that he could take Ty to doctors’ appointments and help him with studies and overwhelming logistics. I made the 350-mile trip to Covenant (located on Lookout Mountain overlooking Chattanooga,Tennessee) many, many times during the course of that year. Lizzy, then 12, traveled with me, doing her schoolwork in the car, at the college, and in a multitude of doctors’ offices. Joe came as often as he could, given the constraints of a demanding job.

Several people on Lookout Mountain volunteered their mountain homes for us to stay in during our frequent visits. During one of those visits in late October, Lizzy crawled in the bed with me in the middle of the night. I knew she was exhausted. We had left South Carolina before daylight to make the trip to Covenant, we had experienced another disappointing doctor’s appointment with Ty, and we were all exhausted by the time we collapsed into another set of strange beds in unfamiliar surroundings that evening. This particular vacation house, perched on the side of the mountain, had a bit of an eerie feel to it, exacerbated by the sound of the wind howling through the trees.

“Mom,” Lizzy whispered as we talked together that evening, “I have been appointed by the family to ask you a question.”

I was wide awake now and anxious to find out what was on her mind—what was troubling her so much that she couldn’t sleep. “What is it, Honey?” I asked, totally unprepared for what came next.

“Well, you have always taught us that God is sovereign and God is good. And we want to know when you’re going to start living that way again.”

Lizzy’s honest question penetrated my heart like a knife. I wanted to scream: “This is my son! I’ll grieve and worry if I want to!” And to be honest, I couldn’t see God’s goodness in the situation as hard as I tried. But I became painfully aware that night that my children desperately needed to see me walk by faith, especially when I didn’t want to or feel like it.

Through twenty-one years of homeschooling, I learned that we can’t always protect our children from illness, pain, heartache, or disappointment. Because we live in a fallen world, they will suffer at some point in time. Their suffering might stem from a chronic illness or a learning disability. Sometimes loss or disappointment can cause depression to set in. Every child has strengths and every child has weaknesses. In last month’s article, we touched on teaching our children to operate from their areas of strengths, but what should we teach them about handling their weaknesses and bearing up under pain or hardship?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Take them to Scripture. Teach them that God is the great Redeemer. He forgives our sin, redeems our lives from the Pit (Psalm 103:4), turns our mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11), provides light in the midst of darkness (Psalm 139:11–12, Daniel 2:22), gives abundant life (John 10:10), and blesses us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). The hymn “How Firm a Foundation” reminds us of these truths: “For I will be with you, your troubles to bless, and sanctify to you your deepest distress.” Read aloud these entire Bible verses, all of Psalm 103, and “How Firm a Foundation” with your children. Discuss ways to apply to your daily lives the truths they proclaim.

2. Memorize II Corinthians 12:9–10 together. In these verses, Paul teaches us that we are not only supposed to acknowledge our weaknesses but also to boast in them, because Christ’s “power is perfected in weakness.” He also admonishes us to be pleased in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and pressures, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 3. As you work through learning disabilities, chronic illness, or daily disappointments with your children, model for them what it looks like to walk by faith and not by sight—to focus not on what is seen, “but what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (II Corinthians 4:17–18, NIV).

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