Seeing our children suffer through trials can be extremely difficult. Even parents who are well-equipped to cope with their own problems often find themselves feeling helpless when their child is the one hurting. How can we shepherd our children through adversity in a healthy, God-honoring way? When troubles find our children, here are three ways we can support them.
Provide a Faithful Presence
As parents and caregivers, when we see our children suffering, our impulse is to jump immediately into action mode. Sometimes urgent intervention is the right and necessary thing to do. But it is also often the case that children who are facing trials need our faithful presence more than our problem-solving skills. We know from our own experience that in times of turmoil, sometimes we simply want to be comforted by the presence of a loved one—someone who will patiently sit with us rather than rush to fix us, someone with whom we feel safe. Our children yearn for that type of refuge as well, and one of the highest privileges of being a parent is that we get to reflect this aspect of God’s good character in our homes.
If parenting can be compared to shepherding, this part of our role is the one in which the shepherd comes to know his sheep so well that his mere presence is a comfort to the flock. Likewise, there is a way in which we can embody the peace of God while pointing our children to Him as our ultimate rock and refuge (Ps. 18:2). When crisis barges into our children’s lives, we have an opportunity to be there for them in a way that communicates a calming reassurance over their distress. Before we even lift a finger to help resolve the crisis at hand, our presence and demeanor can show our children that we are with them and for them and, even better, so is God. In times of need, we can remind our children that the Lord is near to all who call on Him (Ps. 145:18).
Practice Wise Shepherding
An added benefit of practicing the habit of faithful presence in the lives of our children is that it helps equips us to know how to intervene when the time is right. The better a shepherd knows his sheep, the better prepared he is to tend and care for them. This relational wisdom will be invaluable as you help your children navigate the many obstacles life will send their way.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul gives us a glimpse of the balance between calming presence and informed, engaged care. He sows peace with a reminder that “the Lord is at hand; [therefore] do not be anxious about anything,” while also commending how the Philippians cared for him: “It was kind of you to share my trouble” (Phil. 4:5–6, 14). For Paul and the Philippians, the peace they shared paved the way for timely acts of kindness and compassion.
A wise shepherd knows when it’s time for faithful presence to step forward into active assistance. Sometimes that means being a guardrail while still giving our children the space to work through challenges on their own; sometimes it means stepping in to give hands-on support. Whatever the situation, when our children are hard-pressed with troubles and trials, we can be on the lookout for ways to come alongside to bear their burden (Gal. 6:2). This, too, takes wisdom because every situation and child are different. There is no one-size-fits-all playbook here, so godly wisdom is needed to meet each child where he or she is. As we gauge the gravity of the trial and a particular child’s capacity to handle it, wisdom means tailoring our engagement to the situation.
Point Them to Hopeful Horizons
Whatever the trial, and however thoughtfully we may be supporting our children through it, there is a potential danger of falling prey to short-sightedness. As we walk with our children through difficult situations, it’s possible to become so engrossed in the problem itself that we forget to fix our eyes upward on the Deliverer. Few of us do this intentionally; more often it’s just that our burdens are pressing in so hard against us—especially when our children are affected—that it’s all we can do to our catch our breath. As we shift into survival mode, we focus on our surrounding circumstances and lose sight of the bigger picture. Our children can have this same reaction during times of hardship, which means we have an opportunity to remind them of where our true hope is found. As the shepherd points his flock toward safe pasture, we who are called to walk with children through the valley of shadows have the privilege of directing their eyes upward toward the horizon, to the hope we have in Christ. No matter how dark their surroundings may be, we can help them look to Jesus, the light of the world (John 8:12) whose righteous path “shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Prov. 4:18). What peace is found when we help our children look beyond the darkness, up and out of the valley, toward the unshakable hope we have in the marvelous light of Jesus.