Tuesday, August 18, 2015

7 Valuable Reasons I Allow My Children to Suffer

Yup. I'm that mom. I'm the one that you will see equally hovering over her child at the playground and telling them to shake it off when they fall or a kid won't play with them (minus a Taylor Swift impression). To some, I seem callous and unaffected. 

Truth? If it is a situation that has been magnified in a child's head to be the end of the world when there is little connection to the reality that surrounds her, I probably am less affected.  If it is a situation where there is immediate hurt, all I want to do is take it away. (I had to refrain here from differentiating between "real" and "perceived" hurt, because perceived hurts can feel very real.)

Don't get me wrong. Even in those situations where drama is a major player, I will of course talk with them after the fact about their feelings and allow them to talk it out. At the end of the day, though, what I refuse to do is to play into an idea that my children should never have to feel suffering or pain. Keeping my children from experiencing any suffering, or from a Christian perspective, keeping them from the experience of the cross and crucifixion, denies them the opportunity to grow in so many ways. 

It may make me feel better to not take them to the emergency room or to not see them cry. At the end of the day, though, I am only delaying the inevitable consequence. They will fall. They will fail. They will experience suffering. There are so many things I want to teach my children. If I hold them back from learning how to function in a world where we will have troubles, there are essential lessons they will never learn. Here are just a few.

1) There are natural consequences to our actions - if you jump off the play bridge when I ask you not to, you will likely hurt yourself. Better now, when it's a scraped knee or twisted ankle than later when the stakes are higher and it is your life. I have come across so many young people in my work at the collegiate level who simply don't understand the concept, "You reap what you sow." Your actions have natural reactions. Basic law of physics. (I hope Sheldon Cooper would be proud.) You cannot run forever, and there will not always be someone there to bail you out when those consequences come knocking on your door. You must think your actions through before you jump in head first. 

2) The world is not fair, and people are not treated equally. Just because mom and dad always made sure you and the siblings had equal portions, an equal number of toys, matching pajamas, and presents for everyone at every occasion, does not mean that is how the world works. There are days when the world is not celebrating you. It's okay. Life goes on. You are still special and important even if no one is greeting you with fanfare. Know who you are and cling tight to that. Jesus is fair, and at the end of time, that will be the only important thing. 

3) It's our job to speak up for those who have no voice. Because the world is not fair, we have to use what God has given us to work for the other, not just for ourselves. Because you have suffered, you know what it feels like. Don't inflict that suffering on anyone else, and when the world does pound the "other" down, be their cheering section. You know who you are as a child of God. Remind the downtrodden to Whom they belong also. 

4) You won't always be the best at everything and that is a marvelous thing. Guess what? You're going to fail, and that will be a great teacher. We don't expect you to do everything better than everyone else. We do expect that you will give your very best effort, not because you get an award at the end of the day, but because it is the right thing to do. We hope that you will discover through your successes AND failures what you are good at, what you are passionate about, and then live your life in pursuit of your purpose which is rooted in God and live it with passion. 

5) Failure brings with it the opportunity to lift up another's talents. It is precisely when we discover that we stink at something that the door opens for someone else to help us in that area. When we stop competing with one another about trivial things over some misplaced notion that we must be a one-man band, we can bring people onto our team who can help us complete our masterpiece. We are stronger together, especially in the midst of suffering.

6) Suffering produces endurance. Endurance will be essential in making it through life with any shred of joy or dignity. There is great satisfaction in beginning again when we fail, or in succeeding after great effort. If we give up any time we encounter resistance or hardship, we may as well stay in bed. (And that would be a bad thing. Really.) Plus, there is St. Paul's discourse from Romans (one of my favorite Scriptures) which shows us how suffering leads us to hope: 
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
7) Suffering unites us to Christ. At the end of the day, if we withhold suffering from our children, we deny them the experience of uniting themselves to Christ on the cross. Jesus tells us over and over that we must take up our cross and follow Him. This is no different for our children. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. I think it is important to allow children to feel that consolation after great heartache.  

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I am in no way saying that we should inflict suffering upon our younglings. Not. One. Bit. Our every instinct leads us to want to minimize pain for them out of love, and that is as it should be. What I am asserting is that we should allow our children to experience the reality of the world, a natural part of which includes pain, suffering, failure, and loss. If we do not teach them to be gracious losers, resilient failures, and compassionate sufferers, we do them and the world no favors. How many more self-indulgent, entitled adults do we need? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say zero.

It's not just about ditching the participation trophies, though that's a good start. It is about something so much deeper that holds such greater importance. Follow Christ, my dears. You will fall. You will be pierced. You will suffer. I promise you . . . or rather Jesus promises you this in return: you will rise in His glory. So much better than a dusty, plastic trophy and no scars to show your kids when you're older. 

Until next time, let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus, even in the midst of suffering!

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  1. Yes! You are so right when you say that our children deserve to know that the world isn't fair and that losing is a part of life. I want them to always know my love for them is constant but allowing them to suffer leads them closer to Christ. Great post.

  2. yes yes yes and yes. I can't tell you how often I scandalize the parenting community with the statement, 'shake it off, you are fine'... and instilling the concept that life isn't fair is one of the most valuable lessons my parents gave us growing up. It has gotten me through some really hard things ;) No joke. And I see the result of NOT instilling that lesson in ministry all.the.time....it's no good.