You may be doing your best to love and walk alongside your child who is struggling deeply. Their pain is vicariously splashing over onto you, and it is taking its toll.
Our uniquely intertwined design means suffering has a way of seeping into all the layers – the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual.
There is a real risk that if your child is facing hard, the journey will rip you wide open; and you, too, will suffer.
Maybe that’s where you are right now – wounded and doing your best to limp along.
As parents, we have no choice but to go on the journey. So off we go with no map, most of us unprepared and trying to hang on to hope the best we can.
The Apostle Paul , who was intimately acquainted with suffering, wrote of the stages that lead to a tangible hope in the midst of deep trial.
He penned these words:
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5.
Paul shares that this form of hope comes with a guarantee. It is incapable of shaming us. Some translations indicate this form of hope does not disappoint.
There is no word in the English language that sufficiently captures the sorrow and complexity of watching one’s child suffer. Nothing will ever make their suffering acceptable or “worth it.” As a parent, you may also be carrying your child’s hopelessness alongside your own- it’s a heavy load. Yet Paul points towards the possibility that we can come to know that the work suffering does within us leads to eternal gain.
This form of hope allows us to “see” differently. The very thing that can seem elusive when suffering- hope- is developed within us as we learn to position our hearts to experience God’s love and salvation in the midst of deep darkness.
Since this promised hope does not put us to shame, it stands to reason there are other forms of hope, or things in which we hope, that can fail us.
Suffering also exposes that in which we falsely hope.
Here are some considerations regarding the stages of this internal work:
Suffering Develops Perseverance
As we get up and choose to take the next step, day in and day out, we participate in the development of perseverance. It’s ok and normal to have days you don’t want to show up or just plain can’t. Days where you fall or fail. Days that include tears, anger or a sense of utter defeat. These days are common to all on the path of suffering and require the giving and receiving of grace.
Very often in this stage we realize we’ve been sprinting and must adjust our pace for a marathon. We are searching for answers, evaluating relationships, and redefining priorities. Our perspectives are being reshaped. We are learning to battle while also becoming more cognizant of our limitations and need for rest. We enter a wrestle with God and what we truly believe. Things in which we have falsely hoped are being revealed.
In this stage, we will end up with emotional bumps, bruises, and gashes. Though we may feel very weak, the strength we begin to discover shifts from self-reliance to a deeper attunement with the eternal. This stage causes a direct confrontation with one’s limitations, a careful evaluation of what is and is not within one’s control, and a heightened awareness of the power of choice.
Perseverance Develops Character
When things are cracked open, what’s inside is revealed; and the same is true for us. Suffering brings to the surface what has been hidden. Who we actually are when no one is looking, our character, emerges.
We are now given the opportunity to acknowledge what is discovered. We can choose to participate in awareness, or turn our head. Exposed things have a chance to heal if we will look at them.
This stage includes physical and emotional exhaustion. The wall of pride can no longer be held in place. Old coping mechanisms begin to fail and previously unrecognized needs surface. We are too tired to hold up masks. This requires most of us to confront the human being vs the human doing.
Concerns or focuses that were elevated as important, or occupied one’s time or attention, are re-evaluated. Triteness is revealed in light of what actually matters. When you or someone you love is suffering, lesser matters become apparent.
As we persevere to take the next step, to do the tasks that have to be done whether we feel like it or not, to wrestle with God in the darkness, the essence of who we are is shaped. Suffering furthers its inner work. We are pointed towards our need for a savior as we relinquish control and stand in recognition of our humanity.
Developed Character Leads to Hope That Does Not Shame
In what or whom does your hope lie? This journey forces an honest evaluation of where we have placed our hope.
Do I hope in my abilities? Healing? The medical system? The judicial system? Therapy?
Varying things may possibly play a role in providing solutions, but if our hope lies in outcomes, systems, people, or ourselves, struggle will surely ensue.
Over and over again the scripture instructs us to put our hope in God alone. God knew we would be prone to self reliance and apt to misplace our hope. We must learn what placing our hope in Christ means and how to do this. As false hopes are burned away, a new form of hope that is anchored deeply has room to emerge.
Many of us have built houses out of sticks and bubble gum. These must be torn down to the foundation so a solid structure that will endure can be rebuilt. Our present struggles will require us to deal with our “now” while learning to keep an eye on the eternal. The process is painful, but we may begin to recognize that joy is possible alongside pain.
And as parents, we lead our children.
Paul who penned these words did not hope in his education or accolades. He did not hope in his lineage, popularity, or abilities. He did not hope in his plans or in outcomes. He did not hope in his healing.
Paul hoped in the living God and he learned to posture his heart to receive deep love from the Holy Spirit even when things were awful and ugly.
Having experienced God’s deep love and refinement in the midst of suffering allowed Paul to encourage us to consider that hope in Christ alone, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is something of eternal value.
It comes at a cost, yet it “cannot disappoint.” The hope that does not put us to shame is not about outcomes. Our heart becomes more attuned to the eternal as the Holy Spirit pours into us while we wrestle in our present. May we each encounter God’s great love, available to us in the darkness, so that we may learn to hope in him.
And may this hope stengthen us to endure as our feet become planted on the rock which will not crumble.
In process with you,