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Ask Pastor Roger Barrier - Church Leadership

How to Handle it When Your Child is Suffering

  • Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
  • 2016 23 Jun
How to Handle it When Your Child is Suffering

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].

Dear Roger,

I’ve had three daughters. The first one died in my arms. The second one has debilitating medical challenges. She’s lain on a deathbed more than once. The third one struggled with depression and mania in the past. How do you handle it well when your children are suffering?


Your Wife, Julie

SEE ALSO: When You Pray for Your Children with No Results

Dear Julie,

Children are not supposed to die before their parents.

Unfortunately, children are not immune from pain and/or suffering -- neither are mom and dad.

Let me share a few thoughts on how to handle it well when your children are suffering. 

SEE ALSO: 8 Important Steps to Take When Teaching Children about Suffering

First, concentrate on working through, and completing, the six stages of grief. 

1. Shock

2. Denial

3. Grief

SEE ALSO: Are We Baptizing Children Way Too Early?

4. Anger

5. Depression

6. Resolution 

These stages often occur in this order, but not always. Sometimes we are working through a mixture of two or more at the same time.

Many people work through all of the stages and get healed.

Some, unfortunately, never reach step-six resolution and thus short circuit the healing process.

Please, don’t be in a hurry. We will work on these steps for any number of years. I know you still experience waves of grief. Sometimes a trigger will unearth the pain. But resolution can still come. The deepest hope lies in the assurance that we spend eternity together, and it will be here before we know it.  

Second, secure some friends with whom you can pour out your heart. 

It’s not good to handle suffering alone.

Jesus says, "Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Only mourning and comforting heels hurts. We can’t do this alone.

I know that it sounds difficult to find some friends like that. But it is worth a try. Bond deeply with your church group and spend time with them. Open up and allow them to comfort you. Find a prayer partner you trust and pray with her honestly and often. A spiritual mother or father can inspire you because you can watch how they navigate deep waters of sorrow and emulate his or her godly life. 

Third, solidify your relationship with Christ so you can enter fully into his grace.

Read 2 Corinthians chapters 11 and 12 and Philippians 4:10-14.

Recognize that the overcoming grace that Jesus gave to Paul in his sufferings is the same overwhelming power and grace that Jesus can give to us to empower us to handle well the suffering of your children.

Fourth, cover you suffering child with support, understanding, encouragement and comfort. Be sure healthy family members still receive love, encouragement and attention. 

Be there when your children need you. When they call, you come. 

Finally, start early to help them fashion the tools the tools that they’ll need to stand strong in any circumstance. 

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith— of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire— may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Recently, my second born wrote on Facebook her story of intense suffering and the grace God gives her to handle it.

She writes:

I don’t talk about this much.

It’s too hard. But God calls me to share it now and then. This is one of those times.

I know, because I heard Him challenge me, deep in my heart.

“Brie, it’s time. Again. Will you choose to say ‘It is well’? Are you going to trust me?”

My husband, Brad, and I led worship for our church yesterday. I LOVE singing with Brad. That’s partly how I knew he was the man God had for me. In fact, after our second date, I left the country for a few weeks. Brad made me a CD of himself singing hymns and worship songs. I listened to it every night. (Note to guys courting a woman, serenading her every night—even thru a good, old CD—is a BRILLIANT idea.)

And I married the man. Best decision of my life.

But I digress.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to the sound of Brad practicing one of the songs for the service, an unusual arrangement of “It Is Well with My Soul.”

Grander earth has quaked before

Moved by the sound of His voice

Seas that are shaken and stirred

Can be calmed and broken for my regard

Even when my eyes can't see

Will be thrown into the midst of the sea

Ten years ago, I remember laying in a hospital bed with a serious case of pneumonia. Every breath hurt. In fact, everything hurt… and I was terrified. I dare you to find anything more frightening than fighting for a breath that won’t come.

But then, I heard my doctor and my parents speaking in low tones just outside my door. “You better prepare yourselves… she may not make it through the night.” Add terror to terror, why don’t you?!

Honestly, I don’t remember much after that. I know that I did wake up the next morning, and the next. It took weeks for me to recover. Then then next bout of pneumonia hit. Hello, hospital!

Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you

Through it all, through it all, it is well…

Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you

And it is well… with me.

Fast forward a couple of years. After six bouts of pneumonia, multiple cases of bronchitis, flu, and everything else under the sun, my doctors finally decided to test my immune system and find out why I couldn’t fight off infection.

I waited and waited for the results.

The verdict? CVID, Common Variable Immunodeficiency, a genetic disorder that means my body does not synthesize immunoproteins. In simple terms, no immune system.

As every wise patient does, I immediately began to scour the internet.

There are only about 6,000 CVID patients in the U.S. You know the ribbons that represent fighting for a cure? Mine is a purple zebra. PURPLE ZEBRA. Could we be more rare or have uglier tee-shirts?

Most CVID patients are diagnosed as kids; very few make it to adulthood if they aren’t. Apparently, I’m one of the fortunate.

CVID patients tend to die from one of three causes: respiratory infection, lymphoma, or leukemia. Life expectancy is significantly decreased. No one will say by how much. I actually think I’m okay with that. Maybe.

Thank God; there is a viable treatment called IGG. Basically, I spend eight hours every 3-4 weeks hooked up to an IV, receiving an immune system in a bottle. The side effects stink. Huge migraine. Inflamed joints. Nausea and vomiting. The list goes on.

I’ll be tethered to IGG for the rest of my life. At a cost of about $15,000 per treatment. Insurance companies hate me. But again, God has provided and I’ve cobbled together coverage over the years. Still, no subject throws me into a panic like health insurance.

As Brad would say, “Good Night, Nurse!” I think that’s Texan for “Good grief!” but with a lot more feeling.

Far be it from me to not believe

And this mountain that's in front of me

Have you ever been mad at God?

I remember comedian Mark Lowry asking that question during a concert. Mark said, “Well, if you’ve ever been mad at God, you might as well tell him. Because he already knows.”

Truer words. Truer words.

I was mad. REALLY mad. Mind you, I haven’t shared much of my background. I was shot in a drive-by shooting at school when I was 13. I watched my dad strap on bulletproof vests to preach on Sundays, because of threats against my family. I survived an incredibly abusive first marriage. The list goes on, but I think you get the idea.

So now we have it. I will most likely die early. And I will hurt every day until I do.

I wrestled with my anger for months. And I felt guilty about being angry. And that made me even more angry…

Until one day when I just gave up. I’d had enough.

So let go, my soul, and trust in Him,

The waves and wind still know His name.

Let go, my soul and trust in Him,

The waves and wind still know His name.

I remember laying on the bed in the guest room at my parents’ house. Sometimes Mom practices on the piano downstairs, and it reminds me so much of being a little girl, laying on my belly under the piano while she taught lessons.

That day, she started to play, “It Is Well with My Soul,” a hymn I’ve always loved. Right then, plain as day, God spoke directly to my heart. I’ll never forget it.

He said, “Choose.”

“Choose?” I thought “What do you mean ‘Choose’? Choose not to be angry? Choose not to be scared about all this? Choose what?”

Mom sang, “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”

“It’s your choice,” I heard Him again, deep in my spirit. “Will you choose to say ‘It is well?’” Or will you choose to stay angry and become bitter? It’s your choice. But if you choose to trust Me, ALL WILL BE WELL.”

Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you

Through it all, through it all, it is well…

Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you

And it is well… with me.

In that moment, I made my choice.

No matter what comes, no matter how scary the future looks, no matter how much pain I’m in, no matter how many surgeries I undergo, no matter how many times they stick me with needles, no matter how badly the migraines hurt, no matter how often I have to fight to breathe… no matter what.

I choose to say, “It is well… with me.”

Remember, God know the pain of seeing His only son suffer. Jesus suffered for you. And God weeps with you. 

Well, Julie, I hope that my thoughts have given you some insight on how to handle it well when our children are suffering. And I hope that our story will comfort other parents walking through this valley now.

Thank God that He’s on our side. He knows exactly how we feel. He’s been there. 

Sincerely, Roger

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Publication date: June 23, 2016