Of the many challenges of parenting, seeing our kids struggle in ways we can’t fix is one of the more difficult.
As infants, they hurt without questioning it: the shock of getting born, the tummy aches, the fatigue-induced, inconsolable tears. Soon they grow old enough to start asking questions. As logical Dads, we try to explain suffering in a rational way. We tell them that although medicine tastes bad and ointment stings, they will feel better, it will make their cut heal, or their fever go away. But they can’t always see past present discomfort to that future healing and peace.
What’s even more challenging is explaining the pain that comes seemingly from nowhere, that gets placed apparently “unfairly” on us. Why do good people get sick? Why do I have to give up my favorite toy to the mean kid? Why do I have to suffer because Adam and Eve sinned? Why does God let bad things happen? Why is God punishing me for something I didn’t do?
Ultimately, Original Sin--sorrow, separation, heartbreak, failure--affects us all, because we’re all one, big, human family. In a family, when a parent makes a good choice, the whole family benefits. When a parent makes a mistake, the family suffers. Adam and Eve are our first parents, and they definitely went sideways…and we are the negative beneficiaries of their disobedience.
That’s the price for being in relationships, for being connected, for knowing what love is. Would we really have it otherwise?
I hope to teach my children that we are saved from sin by Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross precisely because we are part of His family. Because He could suffer for something that someone else did. When WE erred HE bore the guilt. When HE rose from the dead, WE were promised eternal happiness. We’re a single body with many parts, and the parts suffer and rejoice together. The pain of the Cross, we share. And the Triumph of the Cross is something we now can share, too.
Kids see this by example, watching their parents’ dedication and hard work. When I say I have a project to finish or a conference call to take, and I can’t play football or soccer or read books right now, they are disappointed. They see my hard work, and they feel their own sadness, but they are learning that these negative feelings will make way to something better tomorrow, when we can play together. It’s a small step, but a step nonetheless.
This perspective empowers our children willingly and even joyfully to embrace suffering out of love, out of compassion. I’ve noticed that if I say to my son, “Stephen, give Bobby your toy right now,” he’s going to gripe and complain. But if I say, “Stephen, Bobby’s feeling sad today. If you let him play with your toy, you would make him so happy. Will you let him play with your toy for a while?” he’s not only more likely to share, but to do it with a smile and a sense of purpose. And to learn what it is to carry a cross for love.
In St. Paul’s words, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for His body’s sake.” (Colossians 1:24)
Steve Abdalla is father of 7 and co-founder/CEO of Wee Believers.