How do you talk to your child about God and unanswered prayers?
A reader asked this question and I wonder if you’ve thought this, too. She wondered how to help her kids understand hard things about life, faith, and God.
I share my own struggle in my upcoming book, Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind. When my firstborn was eight years old, my mother-in-law was taken to the hospital after having outpatient knee surgery. When I told her Grandma was in the hospital, she asked, “Is Grandma going to be okay?”
I hesitated to answer with a simple yes. I wondered what it would do to her young faith if Grandma wasn’t okay. Something prevented me from flippantly praying that Grandma would be fine.
I told my daughter I didn’t know if Grandma would be okay, but God did. As we prayed together, I asked God for His will to be done. We thanked God that He was in control. I had no idea something bad would happen to Grandma.
By the time my husband and I got to the hospital, his mom had passed away from a blood clot to her lungs. We were devastated. Everything I thought I knew about life, God, and faith was shattered in that moment. Why did God allow this? I had to tell myself that God was the same in that moment as He had been the day before. He was still good, loving, faithful, compassionate, though our circumstances didn’t feel that way.
I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to not pray a flippant prayer with my daughter, but to ultimately ask that God’s will be done. That prayer was answered, though it wasn’t the outcome I anticipated. Tragedies aren’t supposed to happen to families who love God—or so we think.
That experience, along with many others, have taught me several things about parenting, unanswered prayer, and pain. Here are a few truths to consider when talking to your kids about these hard subjects:
1. Pain and hardship are inevitable and being a Christian doesn’t exclude us from it. Revelation 21:4 tells us that only when we’re with Christ will there be no more death, mourning, crying or pain. The health and wealth gospel is unbiblical. However, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ gives us is peace in life’s pain and hope through eternal life after death. As parents, our job is not to create the false perception that life is always happy. Our responsibility is to prepare our kids for real life. Life is not a fairy tale and God is not a happiness genie. The gospel of Christ is His presence in the midst of pain.
2. God’s character doesn’t change when our circumstances are bad. There’s a false perception in pop Christianity that when life is good, then God is good. Therefore, when life is bad, God is unloving and cruel. When unexpected death brought personal pain and loss, I realized God was still the same as He was the day before when life was good. Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Micah 3:6 says, “I the Lord do not change.” Our kids need to hear this truth.
3. Kids look to us for truth and perspective about life, God, and faith. No matter whether they are 8 or 18, kids watch and absorb the beliefs and actions of caring adults in their lives, particularly parents. They take your lead. They watch your response to life events, including unanswered prayer. We don’t have to have all the answers, but our perspective about God and faith is a witness to our kids.
When my child wanted assurance Grandma was going to be fine, I prayed the only honest prayer I could in the moment–thanking God that He was in control and asking that His will be done. When Grandma died, I had to reconcile that God’s will was for my kids, husband, and I to be without Mom and Grandma in our young lives. I grieved that for a long time. But my grief didn’t define God. Death is a fact we can’t shelter from our kids. So are other hardships: parents who make bad choices; kids who get treated unfairly. These things happen, but it doesn’t mean God is absent. When prayers don’t seem answered momentarily, kids look to us for a truthful perspective.
4. Children learn from your faith stories. I was devastated as a young adult when a prayer was answered with a resounding “no” from God. Hadn’t I prayed the right Scriptures? Wasn’t I good enough to receive what I asked for? It wasn’t until a few years later the Holy Spirit revealed to me that several “no’s” in my life were for my protection.
We think we know what’s best when we pray. In reality, God knows what’s best and sees the outcome we don’t. In the years since Grandma’s death, we’ve been able to see God’s blessing through my father-in-law’s remarriage. Sharing God’s lessons from our faith stories gives our kids a bigger picture of God and prayer.
5. Share stories of people not defined by unanswered prayer. Carol and Gene Kent are one couple I often refer to. Their story is found in When I Lay My Isaac Down. Carol and Gene have not let God’s “no” define their life or ministry.
Jess Ronne is another. Each of us know someone who has experienced adversity but has not been defined by it. Give these as living examples of how God works when life isn’t perfect.
6. Teach your child the mystery of God’s sovereignty and human choice. Many prayers seem unanswered because of the people’s choices–a parent, child, or spouse who is addicted, abusive, or toxic. I’ve counseled many kids who are hurt by their parent’s choices. The truth is that people are selfish and sinful and God gives everyone choice over their actions. What’s also true is that while people fail us, God does not. He is strength, hope, and healing when others disappoint us. He also changes people—-in His time, not ours.
7. Parents are warriors; prayer and faith are our weapons. Psalm 127 is the foundation for Fledge. We are warriors releasing our children. Faith and prayer is how we do it.
Faith is believing God when we don’t see Him working. As a counselor, I cannot guarantee outcomes to my clients other than what they have control over–their choices, beliefs, attitudes, behavior, health and safety. The same is true for our kids. I love praying Philippians 4:19, “May God supply all of your needs according to your glorious riches.” Asking God to provide someone’s needs is one prayer we are sure God will answer. I’ve seen it over and over again. It’s a perspective to give your kids when circumstances say God is absent.
Our kids look to us for truth and perspective. We have a vital responsibility to set our family’s foundation on Christ so when the storms come, their faith will not crumble. As they walk their own faith journey as adults, even if it’s away from God, our warrior-posture remains that of prayer and faith—trusting God will work in their lives in ways we may never see.
More topics like this are discussed in my upcoming book, Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind. Get your pre-ordered copy today andlook for new parenting resources in 2018. If you would like one-on-one parent coaching for topics like this, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sessions are affordable, private, and personal!
What’s one of your faith stories? We’d love to hear it! Comment below.