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When Your Children Hurt
By Charles Stanley
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Charles F. Stanley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHe Never Asked Why
"My son never really asked why this happened to him," the mother commented. "But I sure did. On more than one occasion, I asked God, 'Why? Why would You allow this to happen to such a sweet boy-a boy who was not disobedient or hung around with the wrong crowd?' He was full of life-fifteen years old and ready to begin learning how to drive. That's when everything began to unravel."
Several years into the long-term illness of her son, this mother's world was still unraveling, but the process now included a troubled marriage and a daughter who was struggling to become a woman. When a child is seriously sick, the entire family feels the weight of the burden. And when a child remains sick for a long period of time, the pressure that comes with the experience can build to a point of serious explosion.
One Woman's Story
The woman across from me looked up with eyes full of sadness as she remembered that painful time, but also they contained a strong sense of hope. However, a few years ago this would not have been the case. Her son, who had appeared to be normal and healthy, suddenly collapsed with a seizure. "One minute he was at a friend's house talking and being a normal kid, and the next moment he was lying on the floor physically contorted." When she received the news, everyone tried to reassure her that everything was fine. It was just an accident-maybe the result of a playful blow to the head; but deep inside she felt uneasy. Her maternal intuition told her differently, and over the days and months that followed, she was right.
"When I finally accepted the fact that we were looking at a serious problem, my husband and I agreed that we would have to trust the doctors completely. We jumped from the shock of having a healthy son to facing a possible serious illness without taking time to consider God. We were young in our faith and probably not aware of how to handle adversity like this. It was simple to trust God with things like a car repair or a shift in our jobs, but neither one of us had ever faced something with such strong potential-potential for good, but mostly from our perspective, potential for bad."
While I'm not a Christian psychologist, I have certainly talked to enough friends in this field to know that when our children hurt, we, as parents, hurt to an even greater degree. One of the greatest challenges this woman faced was to let go of her personal expectations. "I kept asking myself, 'How can I fix this? Where can I go for help?' I wanted a solution to the problem and I didn't want to wait, but waiting is exactly what we had to do, and for a long stretch of time it seemed that we were waiting from one episode to another. Always fighting feelings in the back of our minds that the next one could be the one that ended my son's life, we prayed, but our prayers were not focused on God or discovering His purpose for this suffering. They were directed toward finding the right doctor with the right plan. And we were not about to accept 'wait' as an answer to our prayers."
Most parents and loved ones who have watched children suffer take this approach. It is not unusual, but usually it is not effective when it comes to finding the answers to the questions we have regarding the trials of life. I believe "Why?" is the number one question every parent asks when the child he or she loves is struggling with a physical, emotional, or mental illness. Job could handle the loss of his material possessions. However, when his servant came and told him that his children had died, he stood up and "tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped" (Job 1:19, 20 NASB). When we speak of adversity, we are talking about all kinds of opposition, tribulation, trials, heartaches, burdens, afflictions, and suffering.
My friend continued to tell her story-one that was full of frustration, especially in the early stages of her son's illness. "The first doctor ran a few tests and tried to reassure us that what our son experienced may have been a fluke. I wasn't so convinced. My mind wanted to accept his reasoning, but deep in my heart I knew differently. When we were faced with another seizure and then another one, I knew something was wrong, and I had to find what the answer was to the puzzle that was forming in front of me. This is when we began going from one doctor to another. I was on a mission: find the answer to my son's suffering. I took the message of Matthew 7:7, 8 NASB seriously: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." I was going to knock on every door possible to find out why my son was sick. During this time, I continued to pray and tell the Lord that I was determined to trust Him and would never deny His love for us. But that was what I called a surface discussion with God, because deep inside I knew that I had not come to a point where I was willing to be still and listen to what God wanted to say to me.
"As the seizures increased, so did my tenacity. We tried different medications, different forms of treatments, and different means of evaluation. This was before the MRI was used on a regular basis. Finally, when it seemed we were at the end of our rope, a neurologist cut off our final thread of hope with a series of words that sent our world crashing into unbearable reality. He looked at me and my husband and said, 'You need to accept the fact that your son has epilepsy and move on.' He packed us off with a handful of prescriptions and nothing else. Sure, we could and did turn to Christian counselors for support, but something inside of me said there was hope-keep your hope alive. Then one day, I realized that a deep spiritual chasm stood between us and the hope we longed to have.
"Little did we know the journey we were about to undertake would span over several years and take countless twists and turns. It was amazing to me that through all of this, my son never asked, 'Why me?' He suffered, he hurt, and he had to deal with the fact that his entire life had been placed on semi-hold. He could not get his driver's license because we never knew if he would have a seizure. He could not agree to work on certain part-time jobs because he might go into a blank stare-something that began as the seizures increased."
Adversity comes in different sizes, shapes, forms, and intensity. Some parents sincerely believe that they can shield their children from ever experiencing the difficulties of life, but this is just not true. God allows heartache to touch our lives for a purpose. There is something tremendously valuable He wants us to learn through the process of suffering. Trying to prevent a loved one from experiencing a serious illness or trial is futile and can have devastating results. Likewise, being careless with our advice, guidance, and actions can be just as deadly. God provides the right sense of balance, but we must be willing to stop and honestly deal with our anxious thoughts.
The Source of Adversity
When trouble strikes, one of the first things we do is stop and think, What have I done to cause this? Why has this happened? Who's to blame? This may seem like a normal reaction and it is for a normal person, but God wants us to live above the normal and average response and attitude of this world. I remember once hearing an executive ask, "Who do I blame for this horrible mistake?" We cannot play the "blame game" and truly live the abundant life that God has for us to experience. We may have to face horrendous suffering, but blaming others for careless acts and thoughtless deeds only leads to bitterness, isolation, and depression. You may be in a situation where your son or daughter is suffering due to something someone else has done. You have a choice to make, and you must consider it carefully: either you can continue to seek retribution or you can release the individual into God's care. Notice I did not say anything about a lack of accountability.
God holds each one of us accountable for our actions. But He also tells us, "Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them" (Deut. 32:35 NASB). Though we are armed with this verse, God does not want us to carry it around in our hearts as if it is a well-sharpened weapon. Instead, He calls us to roll the burden of our hearts-our grief and sorrow-over onto Him. He is our burden bearer. Nothing is too difficult or heavy for Him to bear. Leave your sorrow at the foot of His cross and allow Him to set your heart free from every thought of unforgiveness. If you don't, you will carry it with you the rest of your days.
Over my years as a pastor, I have encountered people who simply do not want to be free from the anger they have stowed away in their hearts. At first, the frustration they felt was nothing more than a smoldering fire. Anger is a normal part of the grief process that most people have to work through. If left unattended, it will become a smoldering fire that quickly will turn into a wildfire burning out of control. And once it does, all it leaves behind are charred remains of hope. There is never a reason to give up. I have seen people come through the most difficult of circumstances, but the way they did this was God's way and not their way. Will you take the first step of faith and admit that you need God's help? If you cannot go any further than this right now, then it is enough.
Only One Issue Is Important
Once the initial shock of the illness settled in, this mother and her husband fell into an all too familiar pattern. They began asking, "Lord, is my son's illness the result of something we have done?" These parents searched through the mental files of their lives looking for evidence that would tell them why this had happened. They were hoping that if they confessed enough wrong actions, God would hear their prayers and heal their son, but He does not work this way. He is not a God of wrath. Yes, there are consequences to sin, but the Lord is not in heaven looking down and waiting for us to make a wrong move so He can punish us. Accidents happen. Problems arise. Serious illnesses attack even the most loving people. We live in a fallen world, and sickness is a part of this broken state.
Somehow when innocent children are involved, it makes the illness or the injury, and the sorrow that accompanies it, all the more difficult to bear. We can justify hurt if it comes to someone we feel deserves it, but not if it comes to a young person-someone whose life has just begun. We don't have a prescription for that in our heart files. However, as you read on, you will discover what this mother learned about God: He is truly faithful all the time, in every situation, and without fail He has a plan for our suffering and the suffering of our loved one. There are two important points that we need to know up front about adversity:
1. It can be the greatest means of maturing and growing us up in our Christian walk with the Lord, or it can become a slippery avenue to discouragement.
2. The source of the adversity, as bad as it may seem, is not the issue. No matter how painful it is to watch your loved ones suffer, the trial should not become your central focus. Instead, your reaction to the problem or sorrow is the most important thing. If you respond properly, you will sense God's closeness, understanding, and blessing. If you respond with feelings of anger and rebellion, you will experience a deep sense of loss and emptiness.
God does not provide the sense of peace we need to endure hardships if we are intent on fighting against Him. If we continue along this path, we will feel the weight of the emotional burden as it grows. He never intends for us to handle the problems of life alone. He knows that we cannot successfully bear up under the pressure without His help. He created us to need Him-His guidance, wisdom, reassurance, and peace. But like the woman whose story we are following, many times we sincerely believe that if we force the issue with God-press Him for an answer-He will relent, cave in to our demands, and give us what we want. God doesn't work that way. He is sovereign, and though it is difficult to watch our children and other loved ones suffer and struggle with the issues of life, we must learn that God has a plan for the suffering and we need to submit to it to gain relief.
"We did not understand until much later," the woman admitted, "that the prayers we had been praying were small prayers-prayers to get us to the right doctor with the solution to our problem. They were not prayers of faith-simple or otherwise. Oh, we had faith, but it was not until the end of our odyssey that I realized the true nature of faith that God desired for us."
There are times when God is moved to action by the words of our prayers, but His movement has nothing to do with our demands and everything to do with His timing. In other words, our prayers do not change God's plans or purposes. If they did, He would not be sovereign. God uses prayer to change us. It alters the way we view our circumstances by teaching us to focus on Him and not on ourselves. God knows exactly what He is after in our lives, and He will accomplish it. The woman continued by saying, "I remember my husband and I became so bent on finding a cure for my son's seizures that one time we drove five hundred miles to see a doctor, who did not know us and we had never met. We were just so desperate. We knew we had to keep trying. God allowed us to do this. I guess He must have been waiting for us to either turn to Him or run out of fuel. But in my mind, I was just getting started."
We do not have the privilege of walking out on the will of God even when His will includes pain, disappointment, and severe trials. I remember once a young father, who had lost his son in a terrible accident, asking me, "How can this be God's will for my life? It doesn't make sense." In my heart, I admitted that it did not make sense to me either. I thought of my own children and wondered how I would cope should something unthinkable happen to one of them. Nothing touches a parent's heart like the news of someone else's child having to battle cancer or suffering from some injustice done to them. The unthinkable is just that-something we never want to consider. And yet it does happen.
Jairus was an official in the synagogue. This meant he was responsible for the services held there. He also would have been one of the men who made sure the synagogue was clean. This point becomes very important as his story unfolds:
As Jesus returned, the people welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him. And there came a man named Jairus ... and he fell at Jesus' feet, and began to implore Him to come to his house; for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, and she was dying. But as He went, the crowds were pressing against Him. And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. (Luke 8:40-44 NASB)
Though Jairus probably did not realize that anything had happened, he was to find out shortly. Suddenly, the Savior stopped, along with everyone with Him. Someone had touched Him, and He felt the healing power of God go out of Him. It did not just leave Him. It moved, rushed from Him to the object of faith that now lay at His feet-a woman whose life had been characterized by misery, rejection, isolation, and uncleanness. We can imagine Jairus's gasp. The one Person he believed could heal his daughter-his only child-was being delayed!
Have you ever thought, If only I could talk to this one person or see this certain doctor, then I know my loved one-my child-would get better. These were probably Jairus's thoughts. He had to lay aside the fact that he was a Jewish official. Most men in his position did not believe in Jesus or the healing work He was doing. But Jairus was desperate. This was his only child and a daughter he loved greatly. If necessary, he would deny his religious occupation to seek Jesus' help. He had seen how the Savior had healed others, and like any loving father, he wanted the same for his little girl.
As they were going to Jairus's home, Jesus stopped to heal a woman (Luke 8:47, 48). As the scene unfolded, Jairus had to do several things:
He had to wait.
He had to calculate the cost. As a synagogue official, he knew the Man who was willing to go home with him was now considered spiritually unclean.
Excerpted from When Your Children Hurt by Charles Stanley Copyright © 2008 by Charles F. Stanley. Excerpted by permission.
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