By Ashleigh Slater
“Do you remember when Beezus and Ramona’s cat Picky-Picky died?” my eight-year-old daughter, Savannah, asked from the backseat of our mini-van.
She was referring to a story we’d read recently from the Beverly Cleary book, Ramona Forever. You see, just like Beezus and Ramona, we had a pet cat too. Ours was a two-year-old tabby named Socks and, while he wasn’t dead, he also wasn’t doing so well at the moment.
Hours earlier, we’d taken him for his annual vaccinations. But not long after we arrived home, he started to act strange.
First, his gait changed. His normally limber, relaxed form became sloth-like slow and hunched over. Next, his sweet personality turned aggressive. He hissed anytime we came near him. And, finally, this cat of ours who loved food, refused to eat. It was clear to us that something was seriously wrong.
So, without hesitation and with much urgency, I packed Socks and my three daughters into our van. In the darkness of that Friday night, we headed to an after-hours emergency animal hospital.
As I drove, Savannah continued her Ramona Quimby reminiscing.
“Beezus and Ramona’s parents weren’t home, and they buried Picky-Picky in the yard,” she stated matter-of-factly. “I hope we don’t have to bury Socks in the yard.”
The Heartbreak of Watching Our Daughters Suffer
It was hard to watch Socks suffer. But, as a mom, it was even harder for me to watch my girls suffer as they worried about their beloved pet.
Maybe you can relate. It’s possible that you and your family currently face a difficult situation that’s causing your daughter hardship and discomfort. Perhaps it’s a sick pet like us, or it might be COVID-19 and shelter-at-home orders, mean girls at school, the serious illness of a loved one, a divorce in the family, or even the death of someone you love.
Suffering comes in many forms and, with each case, it’s heartbreaking to watch our daughters walk through it. But, the fact this side of heaven is that suffering is inevitable. Our girls will face it. Jesus told His followers, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33)—and this extends to our daughters.
While it’s natural for us to want to protect our girls from the pain of suffering, we aren’t helping them when we do this. Instead, in a world where suffering is unavoidable, we need to prepare them for it.
So, how can you and I help our daughters understand suffering in a way that equips them to walk through it? Here are a few suggestions.
Talk to Your Daughter About Our Broken World
How many times have you heard your daughter exclaim, “That’s just not fair!” My girls say it more times than I can count and I bet your daughter has too.
According to an article at TIME.com, this desire for justness is something with which our girls are born. “Kids have a keen sense of fairness,” the article states, “a characteristic that research increasingly shows is an innate part of human morality.” It goes on to say that even infants “are disturbed by displays of injustice … even when it doesn’t apply to them.”
When suffering happens, it goes against our girls’ need for life to be fair and situations to be just—because, the fact is, suffering isn’t fair or just.
It’s in these “that’s not fair” moments that we can take our daughters back to the first few chapters of Genesis and remind them that we live in a broken world.
According to Dictionary.com, the word “broken” means “not functioning properly; out of working order.” That’s what happened to the world God designed when sin entered it. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the perfect world that was free of suffering broke. And, when things break, they don’t function as they were intended.
We can help our daughters better understand suffering by taking them back to that moment. We can talk about the lies the first woman believed about God and her world, and how we still face the consequences of those lies today.
Teach Your Daughter to Trust Our Unchanging God
When the world broke and everything changed, there was one thing that remained the same: God.
He was good before the fall, and He’s still good now. He was faithful before the fall, and He’s still faithful now. He was loving before the fall, and He’s still loving now. Suffering didn’t change who God is.
But, the reality is, it’s much easier and simpler for our girls to trust Him when the day-to-day of their lives goes well. It’s harder when devastating loss hits or heartbreaking difficulty happens.
How can we teach them to trust our unchanging God even in suffering?
At our house, much of our family culture centers on stories, both real-life ones and made-up ones. Our girls have learned that a good story has drama. A protagonist worth cheering on always faces challenges and setbacks. Without these difficulties, a story lacks interest.
So, whenever I navigate the tricky terrain of walking my girls through suffering, I focus their attention on this concept that their individual lives are a story that our unchanging God is writing. I remind them that just because their story has moments of hardship and difficulty, doesn’t mean the Author of it is bad or untrustworthy.
No matter what, He is still good and He is still faithful and He is still loving. Not only that, but because God is such an attentive Author who is active in their lives, their stories are always penned with hope.
What is this hope?
It’s that even in the darkest of moments, God promises to walk through the pain and grief with them. No matter how hard life gets, they are never alone. No matter what happens, they can be confident that our unchanging God is writing a narrative that is for their betterment and for His glory.
Model for Your Daughter How to Walk Through Suffering
As moms, we can be tempted to pretend we’re braver and stronger than we are when suffering comes. This is often a part of us trying to protect our girls from pain. The problem is, though, that stoicism doesn’t teach our daughters how to respond when life is hard. Age-appropriate vulnerability does.
Because of this, I have to take moments to contemplate how I respond to suffering. I encourage you to do the same. Our daughters not only listen to what we say when struggles and disappointments come, but they also observe how we react. And, they are forming a lot of their understanding of suffering based on it.
So, ask yourself if your daughter sees you:
- Digging into God’s Word
- Spending time in prayer
- Reaching out to trusted community for support
- Living out what you teach her about suffering
The next time life is hard for you, take note of your first response. Is it a reaction you hope to see your daughter imitate when she experiences suffering? Does it teach her that you really believe the things you say you believe?
Train Your Daughter to Remember God’s Track Record
To understand suffering and how to respond well to it, we also have to teach our daughters to recognize and remember God’s past faithfulness to them and to others.
In Joshua 4, God encouraged the Israelites to have an attitude of remembrance. He instructed them to build memorials to remind themselves of His track record. It was one of unwavering faithfulness and care.
We can do something similar with our daughters. We can not only talk about God as the Author of their stories, but we can use stories— from Scripture, from history, and from your girl’s life—to give them specific examples of the faithfulness of our unchanging God. We can:
- Read about individuals in the Bible such as Joseph, Moses, and Esther
- Remember how God comforted our family through past disappointments and suffering
- Ponder beauty that was birthed from hard times in our lives
A Tabby Cat and God’s Faithfulness in Suffering
Three hours after Savannah recalled Picky-Picky’s death, we drove home with Socks in tow. While we had to monitor him, he pulled through. There would be no backyard grave digging at our house.
Someday, though—hopefully, a long, long time from now—we will have to say goodbye to our family pets. It will be just one of many instances of suffering my girls will face. And, when that day does come, I hope that I’ve continued to prepare and equip my girls to trust God when life is hard.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard and Team Us: The Unifying Power of Grace, Commitment, and Cooperation in Marriage. Find out more about Ashleigh at AshleighSlater.com or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.