Who on earth would want their kids to suffer? Doesn't every parent want their precious children to be free of pain, harm and danger? Who doesn't want their kid to be happy and comfortable, rather than sad and troubled? That is our society's top priority for its children. That they be happy, healthy and fulfilled in this life. But not the Christian parent. The Christian parent is concerned with something else. The Christian parent is concerned with their kids' eternal wellbeing and happiness. And this means that the Christian parent does not want their kid to avoid all suffering. The Christian parent, in this broken world, has good reasons for wanting their kids to experience suffering. And they can call it love. Really? We want our kids to get hurt because we love them? It sounds wrong. But that's exactly where the Bible takes us.
Suffering in the Bible
The entire Bible is chockers full of suffering. Well at least between Genesis 3 and Revelation 20 it is! And it seems as though suffering focuses its lens on the saints of God. Hebrews 11 captures the heroes of faith from the Old Testament and man did they suffer!
There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated — the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.
Now, not all Old Testament believers were sawn in 2 and the such. Some did have it much easier, that's true. But then Jesus arrives and things change. I mean, you know what he's called don't you? The Suffering Servant. He is the one who came to suffer. That's what he's about. Suffering. And listen to what he said about anyone who wants to follow him:
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
Any person who wants to follow Jesus suffers the loss of themselves and is crucified to the world. We saw how it played out literally for Jesus, and it wasn't pleasant. But now anyone (and I mean anyone) who wants to be a Christian becomes a mini suffering servant as we serve our king, the great Suffering Servant. Listen to how the Christian life is described elsewhere in the New Testament.
“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” [Paul and Barnabas] said.
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
2 Timothy 3:12
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13
Again and again the New Testament expects, even promises, suffering to come upon Christians. If the world hated our king, it will hate us. And this means that if we want to help our kids to grow up to follow Jesus, we are thrusting them into a life of suffering. As Christian parents we don't want to protect them from the suffering that comes with being a Christian. As odd as it sounds, that would be to hate our kids and actually block their way to glory. So what do we do? We don't want to see them suffer, and yet we do..?
Endurance is the answer
The New Testament gives the answer for how to deal with suffering, and it is endurance. We endure suffering of all kinds, and yet remain holding onto Jesus for our salvation. We stand in our hope, as the storm rages around us.
If we died together, we will also live together; if we endure, we will also reign together.
2 Timothy 2:11-12
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Our approach to suffering should not be avoidance, but endurance. Of course, we don't chase down suffering. But if we're living for Jesus, suffering will chase down us. We can't avoid it. Whether it takes the form of persecution, tiredness or shipwreck, suffering comes in the line of duty for soldiers of Christ Jesus. And this is where Christian parents have a choice to make. Do we want our kids to avoid suffering and save their life now? Or do we want them to endure suffering and save their life into eternity? As painful a decision it may be, I know which one I want to choose.
Parenting for endurance
So how do we help our kids grow to be people who endure suffering for Jesus name? Here are 2 ways you could start:
1) Grow a desire to honour Jesus
When the apostles were beaten for preaching about Jesus, they left "rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." This shows a pretty high regard for the name of Jesus. They honoured Jesus so highly, that when suffering came upon them because of him, they were able to rejoice! Let's help our kids grow to honour the name of Jesus. Let us speak so highly of him in our households that they will be willing to suffer and die for his name. Let us model to our kids that we would rather be shamed and pulled down by people, rather than let our king be defamed. Then when suffering comes upon them, they will (we pray) endure for the name that they hold so dear.
2) Help them grow in endurance now
Did you know that suffering for Jesus is not the only kind of suffering? One of the sad effects of the fall is that suffering abounds in just about everything. So why not grab hold of some of these morbid moments to help your kids grow in endurance and resilience. We don't want them to fall apart like a Donald Trump Covid strategy the moment they face real pressure. So let's get them battle ready. Allow them to feel some pain.
Now, there is a difference between hurt and harm. There are lot's of things that hurt us, and we feel pain, but have no lasting injury. Then there are things that can do significant harm. Let your kids endure some hurt, but protect them from harm. Don't be sadistic and push them into a table or anything! But let them run around outside without shoes sometimes. Don't jump in straight away when you hear brothers getting into fisty cuffs (sometimes). Let them try out that idea that you know isn't going to end well for them, but won't kill them. Let the baby cry a bit longer sometimes. Hold off a little bit longer on panadol occasionally. Now this might sound horrible to a whole lot of people, but being able to endure a headache will well harden them for enduring a beating when it comes. And in each instance talk through how this is an example of suffering, and about how they might endure it. Talk about the endurance of Jesus through the most remarkable suffering of all time. Talk to them about the suffering that will come for the name of Jesus one day, if it hasn't already arrived. Talk to them about how every moment of suffering is an opportunity to show the world that despite what might happen to them, they still trust in Jesus and his goodness. To show the world that they value him more than their happiness and comfort now.
Let's not shortchange our kids by protecting them from any and every suffering. If they are going to walk the narrow path, there is suffering coming their way whether we like it or not, and we're not helping our kids if we don't prepare them for it! What drill sergeant lets his recruits have an easy run through boot camp when preparing for war? The drill sergeant who wants them to die - that's who.