How to Talk to Your Kids About Pain & Suffering

I have Rheumatoid arthritis.

It’s an autoimmune disease, and it’s not something I like to talk about a whole lot. I don’t’ like to complain, but the reality is it’s a frustrating disease, one with lots of emotional and physical ups and downs.

And on my worst days, my pain is not something I can (or should) hide from my children. The reality of pain and suffering are one of the very hardest issues we have to tackle as believers, and our kids will have to wrestle with it also, but it can be tricky to know how to talk with them about it.

Whether it’s a death, or a natural disaster, or a chronic illness, or financial hardship, or some other hard thing, your family will most likely face pain and suffering head-on at some point. So I thought I’d share a few tips that are helping us as we talk to our kids about my health that I think are applicable to any situation:

  1. Give them just as many details that they need to understand what’s going on

One of the phrases I use with my kids a lot is “borrowing trouble.” In the sermon on the mount, Jesus tells his followers, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). When we worry about the future, we borrow trouble from tomorrow that we aren’t meant to carry today, and I’ve found that at least for my kids, giving them more details than they need tends to lead them down that path. (Same goes for me & obsessive Googling about my disease.)

My kids don’t need to know the severe complications that can come with RA, because those are burdens we haven’t been asked to shoulder yet. But they do need to know that I’m sick, and some days I may have some trouble doing everything I want to do with them. So that’s what we tell them.

  1. Tell them about the power of prayer

The stories that we read in our Bibles every night are more than just fairy tales. We believe that God really did part the Red Sea, that the walls of Jericho really fell, and that Jesus really raised Lazarus from the dead. And we believe that the God who did those things still answers prayers today.

We want our kids to see us praying faithfully for the things we need, trusting God for big things we can’t tackle on our own. I can’t, in my own power, make myself better. But God can. So we pray, and we let our kids hear us pray, and we ask them to pray to with us.

  1. Explain that God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want Him to

This is the hardest one. I remember the first time Caleb prayed for something a couple of years ago, and it didn’t happen right away, and he was disappointed. He asked me why God didn’t answer his prayer. I didn’t have a perfect answer for him, because it’s not something I fully understand myself. Sometimes, we pray and pray and pray, and things don’t turn out the way we wish they had.

But God, in his infinite wisdom, sometimes reaches down and delivers us, and sometimes stays his mighty hand of deliverance for some greater purpose that usually beyond our understanding.

I believe God has promised to heal my arthritis. But I do not know when or how He will choose to do so, and so for right now, we continue to pray and wait.

I don’t understand why He has asked me to walk this road, and I don’t understand why he hasn’t healed me yet, but I do believe God is working in the midst of my suffering. I’ve been praying for my children to grow in compassion, and God is using what is going on in my body right to answer that prayer. This isn’t the answer I wanted, obviously, but I’m thankful for the fruit it’s bringing in my kids’ lives, even though it’s difficult.

I hope these tips help you and your family if you’re currently navigating through something hard. If you’ve already dealt with something hard as a family, how did you talk with your kids about it?