My kids have been working toward a black belt in martial arts for a number of years now. They are close to getting it. When we moved last year, they had to switch martial arts schools and are now under a new instructor, or “Master.” This new Master is different than the one they had before. The structure of the class is different. Much of the martial art itself is different than what they had previously learned. With all these differences, my children are being stretched. What was once fun and easy is now challenging and hard. Sometimes, they are hesitant to even continue in the sport.
It would be easy for me to just pull them out and give up. But I want my kids to learn how to deal with difficult circumstances in life at a young age, before the real hard stuff of life takes place.
Life is Hard
In our society today, it’s tempting for parents to keep children from facing challenges and difficulties. We create comfortable lives for them. We hesitate to say “No” to their wants and desires. We might even rescue them from the consequences of their own decisions. One of my friends is a teacher and tells me stories of parents who contact her because their child received less than an “A” on a test and they want her to fix it. Rather than have their child experience the consequence for not studying, parents want to protect their children and will go to great lengths to do so.
The truth is, life is hard. The longer we live, the more we see the effects of the Fall all around us. Sickness, poverty, injustice, violence—just to name a few. We don’t always get the job we want. We struggle to make ends meet. People let us down. Our bodies defy us with disease.
If our children are not prepared to live in a Fallen world, they will fall when the harsh realities of life hit them.
As parents, it’s important that we prepare our children. In their youth, we can help them practice and prepare to face hardship. Under our watchful eye and in the safety of our protection, we can teach them and help them navigate the youthful challenges they face. Such practice readies them for the real thing.
Preparing our Children for Trials of Life
First, we need to prepare our children theologically. We need to teach them what God’s Word says about sin, how it entered the world, why we have suffering, and the eternal hope we have in Christ. When we teach our children the meta-narrative of Scripture—Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration—they better understand the big picture of what God is doing in this world. So when our children say that life is unfair and that the things that happen to them are not right, we can agree with them and remind them of Creation. When God created the world, there was no sorrow, sin, or sickness. Everything worked as it should. Adam and Eve lived in peace with one another and with God. When they wonder why something has happened, we can remind them of the Fall and its impact on the world—we are all born into sin and even creation itself was broken by the Fall. When our children wonder what God is doing about sin and suffering, we can point them to what Christ did for them at the cross, setting them free from sin and making them new creations. We can also help them look ahead to the final restoration of all things, when sin and sorrow will be no more.
We also need to teach our children to expect difficult and hard things in life. Jesus said, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). God does not promise believers a carefree, comfortable life. We are called to carry our crosses and to share in the sufferings of our Savior. James tells us to take joy in our trials because they strengthen our faith. We do our children a disservice when we tell them that God wants to bless them with everything they want in life. We fail our children if we teach them that if they do all the right things, God will make their life easy and free of heartache.
God has a redemptive purpose for all the circumstances we face in life. He is preparing us now for eternity. When our children fail a test, when their friends are unkind, when they don’t make the sports team, these are all opportunities to talk with them about what God is doing in their life. What might God be teaching them? What opportunity might there be for them to learn more about Him? Over and over throughout their childhood, we need to remind our children that God cares so much about the trials and sorrows of their life—He cared so much that He sacrificed His own Son for them. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “take heart, because I have overcome the world.” Christ is the answer and our hope in a broken and fallen world.
As we teach our children these lessons, we’ll find ourselves learning as well. Hard things push us to remember what is true. They force us to consider what the Bible says about sin and sorrow. They bring us to our knees in humble reliance upon our Savior. And isn’t that what we want for our children? Don’t we want them to turn to Christ in all things?
When my own children asked to quit martial arts, we decided to keep them in it. Instead, we’ve prayed with and for them. Before each class they attend, we pray together. We are using this challenging thing in their lives as an opportunity for them to learn how to work through difficult circumstances.
Life is filled with heartache and trials. That’s the reality of our fallen world. Our children need us to prepare them, in the small challenges they face right now, for the bigger ones that lie ahead. May we use these opportunities to remind them that they are not alone and that God is their help and hope. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).