I have a friend of 17 years who has a sister who has battled brain cancer for 10. As I write this, she’s been transferred to hospice care. She can no longer see Facebook messages encouraging her and reminding her that people are praying for her. She sleeps most of the day, but when she’s awake she’s peaceful, her pain is managed, and she does all she can to offer kisses to her loved ones surrounding her—her mother, her husband and her two young boys.
On her Facebook page people are posting pictures of her favorite Starbucks’ drink, messages of love and support and scripture or inspirational words. One wrote the lyrics to the classic hymn: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
A grief-stricken father, Horatio Spafford, penned these lyrics in the wake of losing his four precious daughters to a shipwreck. The great missionary Elisabeth Eliot recalled meeting the fifth daughter, born after the accident. She learned more details surrounding the circumstances of their death, and it gave her this perspective: “God shields us from most of the things that we fear, but when He chooses not to shield us, He unfailingly allots grace in the measure needed. It is for us to choose to receive or refuse it. Our joy or our misery will depend on that choice.”
All of us have been touched by sickness, directly or indirectly. We often shield our children from the realities of disease, cancer and physical ailments and soften our language in ways we feel they will understand. While we do well to shelter our kids from concepts they’re developmentally unable to understand or process in a healthy way, we do owe them truth wrapped with hope—after all, that’s the gospel.
Here are some ways to talk to your kids about healing, in a way that helps them access allotments of grace, as Eliot described.
1. We believe God can heal. We have more than 30 stories in the Bible about Jesus healing people who were sick. Jesus cares about how we feel, and wants us to be well. These stories also show us that He has the power to heal. In Mark 5:34 Jesus said our “faith” in Him is what leads to healing. In James 5:16 the Bible says for us to pray for each other to be healed. We believe as Christians that Jesus can and wants to heal people when they’re sick.
If you have a personal story of a time when you’ve been healed or you know someone who has, this would be a great time to describe that to your child as a way to connect the Bible with modern times.
2. God will and does heal, but it may not be on this side of heaven. Sometimes people don’t get better. Sometimes they live with chronic pain or disease. Sometimes they pass away from their illness. But the story doesn’t end there. 1 Corinthians 15:55 says, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” When the person dying has Christ, we only mourn the loss of their presence, because while they leave us, the Bible tells us that they live on. So one day, we will see them again. One day, we will be with them again. And in that day, there will be celebration. No tears. No sadness. No sorrow. Because Jesus died on the cross, we have the hope of that day. Have we not, we hold onto nothing, and that’s where the pain of hopelessness and loss endure. It doesn’t mean we don’t hope for healing on this side of heaven, but we know that in Him, there’s life, no matter where we are, no matter if we’re alive or dead.
There’s a great Old Testament Bible story in Daniel 1-3. The three Hebrew children loved God so much that even though an evil king threatened to throw them in a fiery furnace, they didn’t lose hope. They told the evil king that God was able to save them from being hurt, but even if He didn’t, He was still God and they would never stop serving Him. In the end, God did save them, miraculously!
3. There are miracles, and there are healings. When we’re sick or someone we love is sick, we want them to get better right away. Sometimes when we pray, people can get better instantly, and that’s called a miracle. Sometimes they get better gradually and many times with the help of medicine or other types of treatment. These are still healings.
God can use nature, medicine, technology, rest and even love and sometimes laughter to help people feel better again. Did you know the Bible says “a merry heart” can do good just like medicine? (Psalm 17:22)
4. We believe in God’s goodness and trust Him no matter what. When we believe in faith and trust in something to happen, it can be crushing when it doesn’t. That’s when we must choose to continue trusting and believing in the goodness of God. He loves us. He cries when we cry. He hates when we are hurting. It’s why He came to earth as His son Jesus to make a way for us to live with Him in Heaven. No matter what happens here, we have a hope and a love nothing can take away from us. Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
My heart is heavy as I write this because I know how difficult it is to talk to children about pain and suffering. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re facing a difficult situation. Please know that “being strong” isn’t a spiritual gift. The Bible encourages our weakness, so that His strength can work in us (2 Corinthians 12:9). We do have more than we can sometimes bear. But it’s in our lack that He’s enough. The best lesson we can teach our kids in the face of suffering is how to suffer well.
When my dad was dying of cancer, prayer became like breathing. Every conscious breath was a cry to Jesus for his healing. It became such a part of what I did that I found myself still doing it after He had passed.
It was then I realized how we grow closer to God through undesirable circumstances. We give it all to Him. We breathe prayer and trust in His goodness. Period. Then we find peace in the outcome.
Keep praying, keep hoping and keep a grateful heart.
God is good, and He loves us.
Cara Davis is a content consultant and co-founder of the soon-to-launch church’d.com. The former editorial director for Relevant Media Group, her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and CNN, and she’s been quoted in USA Today and The New York Times. She lives with her husband and two girls in East Nashville where she has co-founded a nonprofit called Community PTO to support the success of local community schools.