Grief is a tricky subject when it comes to our children. We try to hide our sadness, questions and doubt in order to protect them from pain. Hard as it is, I don’t hide grief from my child.
In suffering from chronic illness I’ve learned that completely sheltering my son from my physical difficulties — or any kind of grief — doesn’t do him any favors. As a mom with an invisible illness, I’m often tempted to push through the pain to do even simple tasks.
This week is Invisible Disabilities Week and I’m reminded that sharing my limitations due to my invisible chronic illness provides discipleship opportunities in our home. While we don’t unnecessarily burden our 11-year-old son with grown-up concerns, my husband and I try to expose him to an age-appropriate understanding of pain and loss.
It’s a broken world, and we don’t want our son to be surprised when trials come. In John 16:33, Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation [or trouble]. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (ESV)
We want our son to have a healthy view of suffering in the life of a believer. We don’t want him to mistakenly believe that an obedient, surrendered life to Christ automatically equals pain-free living. While it takes wisdom about how much to share and discernment on timing, I’ve discovered three reasons it’s helpful to be open about grief with our son.
3 Reasons Not to Hide Grief From Your Child
1. Grief Shows Our Need for Jesus
Being transparent with my child about chronic illness flare-ups shows how my weakness exposes my need for Jesus. A few months ago, we missed church due to my health and were watching online as I lay on the bedroom floor trying to get comfortable. Via my laptop, we listened as the congregation started to sing this simple chorus:
Oh, how He loves you and me,
Oh, how He loves you and me.
He gave his life, what more could he give?
Oh, how He loves you;
Oh, how he loves me;
Oh, how he loves you and me.
I perked up, as this song has been a comfort to me for years during health-related stress and anxiety. I told our son, who was sitting with me, “Buddy, you know it’s important to learn these songs, so we can remember them when we need them. I sing this song a lot when I’m scared or anxious.”
I showed him, right there on the bedroom floor, that Jesus is close when we’re in pain. Our weakness is an opportunity to cling to the God we sing about.
2. Grief Grows Our Compassion for Others
After a series of people came to him with physical and spiritual needs, Jesus looked upon the crowds and was “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36). As an all-knowing God, he could see their invisible pain and suffering. I cannot imagine the burdens he carried! He then called his disciples to help him heal people and share the news of his coming, lasting kingdom.
In our humanity, we cannot see the invisible burdens of others. But as we share our weaknesses with each other, our understanding and compassion can expand. Invisible illness includes countless ambiguous losses, and facing doubt from others that your pain is real is one of them.
By letting our son into the nuances of my invisible illness, we can help him grow a tender heart toward others. We can show him physical pain isn’t always visible pain, and people need our compassion. We can pray for others who are suffering.
“We can show him physical pain isn’t always visible pain, and people need our compassion.”
Plus, we can live out these verses in front of him:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (ESV)
3. Grief Displays the Hope of Heaven with the Reality of Loss
As we raise our children, there are some reassurances we cannot make. I cannot guarantee that surgery will bring the outcome we want or that the pain will pass or that I will live a long, long life.
But there is one assurance I can always point him to. I can talk to our son about our eternal hope, even when we’re hurting. I can show him how God is near when we don’t know the future. We can cry out to God honestly and trust him with the unknowns, just like it says in Psalm 62:8:
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. (ESV)
Finally, another way we openly talk about grief is by taking our son to funerals with us, even when he was young. I’ve watched him cry as we sung hymns or as a widow walked down the aisle. His tender, young heart knew this was an appropriate time to grieve. As a child, he seemed to understand God welcomes our tears.
Even as a preschooler, he listened intently to the testimonials of faithfulness and abundant living — plus funny stories about the person who passed. After the funeral of a believer, we often have sweet conversations about how a life lived for Jesus is worth it. We can die with the hope of heaven because of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and serving God creates sweet memories for the loved ones who remain.
As parents, one of our goals is to instill a faithful, hope-filled understanding of suffering, along with unshakable trust in the God who loves us through it all.
“The one who grieves knows Jesus in an enviable way … Apart from Christ, grief hardens us. But in Christ, grief changes our hearts to know and love Him more.” — Grace Chao, In the Hands of a Fiercely Tender God
Diagnosed with an incurable genetic condition (Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) at 33, Erica encourages women to cling to God’s goodness as they face life’s most difficult trials. Her fragile body and uncertain future have led her to place firm hope in God’s character, not in circumstances. Her seven-night devotional, Rest in Jesus, is for those, like her, who struggle with anxious, sleepless nights. Erica lives in North Carolina with her husband and (almost) 12-year-old miracle son. She treasures every “normal” day as a gift, especially days beginning with coffee and ending with family couch cuddles. Find Erica on Instagram here.