Parenting in times of family crisis and suffering can make the already challenging work even more difficult. My wife and I have been learning for several years the challenge of parenting in these seasons. We have faced moments of intense trial in our family, but none more straining than the health journey of our son Micah.
Micah was born on Valentine’s Day 2007. We learned eight weeks later that he had a rare liver disease. His first surgery occurred when he was 10 weeks old, and his first liver transplant when he was nearly 7 months old. The first year following transplant, we spent over 38 weeks in the hospital. Micah underwent additional testing, procedures, and surgeries, big and small, to address complications, including treatment for a form of cancer common in transplant patients. At home, we had two older boys, ages 3 and 2.
We enjoyed relative calm for a couple of years, beginning when Micah was 3. However, due to a complication after the first transplant that doctors were unable to correct, a second transplant was necessary when he was 7. By then, our family had grown by two more boys, who at the time of that transplant were 10 and 4 months old.
There remains much for Sarah and me to learn about parenting in times of calm and chaos, stillness and storm. But having walked through deep waters (Isaiah 43:2) and dark valleys (Psalm 23:4), I want to offer a few encouragements as you face your own seasons of parenting in turmoil and trial.
1. Trials are inevitable.
We live in a world that is utterly broken by humanity’s flagrant rebellion against God. Death exists where once there was only life. Disease comes where once there was only health. Relationships fracture between individuals now where once humanity thrived in perfect community with God and one another. Everyone will face hardships and trials because we live in a world broken by sin. Jesus’ followers will face further trials as they seek to live godly lives in this world that opposes Jesus. Paul writes that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
As a result, we will parent our families during hard times; times of crisis. We should expect such. James writes, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…” (James 1:2; emphasis mine). The question is not a matter of if but rather when we encounter trials. Job, a man who himself was well acquainted with the hardships of life, said, “Man is born to trouble, as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).
Difficult days will come for our families simply because we live in a sin-sick world and because we seek to live out and lead them to live righteously for Jesus Christ.
2. Hold onto joy.
Hardships do not bring happiness. Robert Smith writes, “One can be happy as long as happy things are happening.” When families are weathering the storms of life, happiness may not exist, but joy can be ever-present. We may not be able to choose our circumstances, but we can choose our attitude in the midst of them (James 1:2). Joy is rooted in the unchanging nature, work, and promise of God. No matter how bad life gets, our present situation does not alter His eternal nature, undermine His completed work, or nullify His eternal promises. God uses the darkest nights of our soul to grow us (James 1:3), to accomplish His will (Romans 8:28), and to display His glory through our lives (2 Corinthians 12:9). We can choose joy as parents and demonstrate that joy for our children.
3. Face trials with hope in Jesus Christ.
Earthly problems remind us this world is not as God intended. God promised one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth where “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:4a). This world, with all its pain and suffering, is not our permanent home. We have hope through our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that one day all the storms and sorrow of this world will be left behind. Parents must keep their hearts and minds firmly fixed on this glorious truth and lead their children to know and embrace this hope.
4. Fight amnesia.
Humanity has a forgetting problem. We can be guilty of facing today’s crises forgetting that God is good and faithful, sovereign and strong. We forget how God worked in times past and the countless ways He provided for our needs and carried us through hard times. We need not to forget His character and deeds. Our children need to hear and know of God’s work in previous days in our lives and in history among His people.
5. Tend the marriage covenant.
Trials can create strain on the marriage covenant, even leading to the fracturing of the marriage. God chose marriage as a living picture of His relationship to the church. At all times, especially in crisis, parents must give attention to protecting and strengthening their marriage. For if the marriage fails as a result of the crisis, a new crisis descends upon the family as it is fractured through divorce.
6. Live in biblical community.
All people were made to live in community with God and one another. Through Jesus, God redeems men and women to join them together in His church, intending for His children to love and serve Him and one another. In times of crisis, we need the community of the local church to walk alongside us, praying for and with us, serving and giving to meet tangible needs, weeping and rejoicing with us, and ministering to us as hurting members of the body of Jesus Christ.
Robert Smith, Doctrine That Dances (Wheaton, Ill.: B&H Publishing, 2008), 109.