No matter what the illness, it’s hard to watch children suffer. Even if they haven’t faced a serious illness, most children have experienced the kind of frustration and fear that comes from being sick. Not only is it scary for them to have to face an illness, but it often leaves parents and caregivers feeling scared and anxious too.
Being sick can raise big questions in children’s hearts, but it also gives caregivers the great privilege of shepherding them in their time of need. Still, because suffering and sadness are often involved, that can be a daunting task. We want to provide comfort, but sometimes we struggle to find the right words for these difficult conversations. How can we continue to faithfully point our children to God?
As you tackle these conversations with your children, here are a few suggestions for how to talk with them about sickness.
1. Acknowledge the hardship.
Children are more perceptive than we give them credit for. When they are facing a difficult illness, there’s no point in trying to sugarcoat it. Communicate in kid-friendly ways, yes. Comfort and console them, absolutely. But don’t dismiss the hard reality of what they’re going through. They know better. They know that pain, suffering, and death exist in this world, and we would be doing them a disservice if we pretended otherwise.
So, whether it’s their own illness or someone else’s that you’re talking about with them, go ahead and acknowledge the difficult truth of the situation. But then, help them see how honestly acknowledging this sad reality reveals something they already know to be true: this is not the way it’s meant to be. The Bible tells us that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12 NIV). Sin has broken this world, bringing sickness and death with it. This is a painful truth, but one that must be acknowledged.
2. Put them on a firm foundation.
Even (especially!) in the middle of the hardship, we get to encourage our children to rest on the bedrock truths that God is in control and he cares for us deeply. “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Proverbs 30:5 ESV). The affliction is real, but it does not go unchecked. God is still on his throne, ordaining all things—yes, even illness—for our good and his glory.
This may be hard to appreciate as we walk through the valley, but there is comfort in knowing that the Lord is our guiding Shepherd (Psalm 23). He is not baffled by pandemics or cancer diagnoses; he has already defeated death and has green pastures in store for us. Beckon your children to the trustworthy shelter of God, our refuge and our fortress (Psalm 91:2).
3. Help them see they’re part of a bigger community.
When hard times come, it’s helpful to know we’re not alone. Through faith in Jesus, we enter into a great big family called the church. Within this family, God surrounds us with people who love us and want to help us through the trials that sickness brings. In fact, this is exactly what the church is called to do—we bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). But the church’s love is not just an inward-facing love; as we love one another, we also demonstrate God’s love to a watching world (John 13:35). In this sense, our community expands to include everyone around us.
We can trust God
We can trust God to care for us—both directly, as well as through his church—but we also have the privilege of being used by him to care for those around us. Encourage your children to think about how they can seek the good of their neighbor (1 Corinthians 10:24). Doing our part to love and care for others is a great way to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).
Our children need to know that even when we are sick, God is right there with us. We can trust him. He loves to take care of his children, and he calls us to imitate him by caring for those around us. Each and every one of us can run to him in times of need, and each of us can be a help to others in their time of need.
Adapted from God Cares for Me ©2021 by Scott James. May not be reproduced without prior permission.
GOD CARES FOR ME: HELPING CHILDREN TRUST GOD WHEN THEY’RE SICK
This timely book helps parents and caregivers talk with children about illness and how to keep themselves and others safe when sick. Children will learn that although anyone can get sick, that God is caring for them and will be with them through whatever they face.