My husband Gene and I were on a missions trip to Poland when our cell phone rang at 6 a.m. one morning. The caller was our 26-year-old son. His voice choked as he broke sad news from home: a massive stroke had claimed Gene's father three hours prior.

The news wrenched my heart, but it wasn't my father-in-law's death that caused my pain. At 90 years of age, he could hardly wait to move to heaven. Rather, my pain came from knowing that our young adult children were now grieving the loss of a third grandparent within two years. The last death - my father's - had also occurred when I was in Eastern Europe. At least Gene had been home then and able to extend comfort, but this time we were both overseas.

I longed to be with our kids at this time of loss, but an ocean separated us. I needed to know they were not grieving alone, and that they were not thinking God was unfair for allowing Grandpa to pass away without our having a chance to say goodbye.
My desire was not to be granted. Nine days passed before we could go home. During that time, I pondered a few thoughts about what to do when our kids hurt.

First, our children - no matter what age - will experience life's tough stuff.  Sometimes those circumstances are beyond our control, and there's nothing we can do. But when circumstances allow our input, often our first impulse is to pick our kids up or bail them out. Is that the best response? Glynnis Whitwer, author of When Our Kids Are Hurting, says no.

A mother of five, Whitwer admits she did her kids a disservice by always trying to protect them from trouble because, in reality, she could only do so for a short time and in certain situations. "I realized that my kids would be better prepared for adulthood if I taught them how to effectively deal with, rather than avoid, trouble and hurt," she says.

For instance, if we're afraid our child will be homesick at summer camp, we might be tempted to keep him at home. Instead, we ought to encourage him to invite a buddy to go with him and then ask the camp director to put them in the same cabin. If there's a mean kid at school, we shouldn't tell our child to ignore him. Rather, we ought to help him understand the reason behind that peer's behavior and teach him how to show kindness and respond appropriately.

Second, regard hurtful experiences in our children's lives as catalysts for their spiritual growth. Whitwer says her faith in God hasn't grown as a result of reading good books or listening to awesome sermons; it's grown through experiencing difficulties and finding Him faithful in the midst of them. The same is true for our sons and daughters.

Whitwer believes that children who are consistently rescued from problems are denied the opportunity to discover God's faithfulness for themselves. They miss the chance to see that He's able to help in ways that Mom and Dad cannot, and that He indeed answers prayer. They're also prone to become self-sufficient, thinking they have life under control and don't need God's help. "Allowing some pain to enter our children's lives teaches them to turn to God," she says. "If a child's life is free from all pain, she can easily miss her need for Him."

Third, embrace difficult experiences in our children's lives as catalysts for our spiritual growth. As a mom, I'd rather grow by other means, thank you. I'm okay with pain, but please don't involve my kids. Unfortunately, life's not like that.

I remember aching for my 22-year-old daughter when she broke up with her boyfriend. She lived nearly six hours' drive away, so she shared the news by phone. I pummeled heaven with my prayers, pleading with God to protect her heart in its vulnerable state. And then I chose to believe that He would fulfill His promise to be her sufficiency and strength in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and He would work out His perfect plan for her life (Philippians 2:13).

The same was true when my father-in-law passed away. Distance made it impossible for us to be with our children through those initial days of grief, so I prayed for God to be their comforter and fortress, and to help them rest in His sovereignty over the circumstances (Psalm 62:5-8). Several times I heard His gentle whisper: "I love these kids more than you can imagine. I will comfort them. Don't worry. Just trust Me."

No matter our kids' ages, they'll experience hurt and we'll want to rush to their aid. But that's not necessarily the best thing to do. They're in God's hands, and He has a plan.

Do we trust Him?

March 3, 2010

Grace Fox is the author of four books including Moving From Fear to Freedom: A Woman's Guide to Peace in Every Situation (Harvest House Publishers). She's also a popular international speaker at women's events and the national co-director of International Messengers Canada (www.im-canada.ca) , a ministry that offers creative short-term and career opportunities in Eastern Europe. Visit her website at www.gracefox.com. Read her devotional blog at www.gracefox.com/blog.