When it all goes wrong
Life is sometimes tough and we know that our children will face tough times. This week we're continuing our look at the last week of Jesus' life, and wondering what we can learn from him about how to cope in tough times.
It was a crazy 24 hours. Thursday afternoon, Jesus is with his disciples, preparing to celebrate Passover with the customary feast. And then, like a series of tornadoes, those same friends abandon him, he is betrayed, arrested, unfairly trialled and finally crucified.
Sometimes, despite all our best efforts and through no fault of our own, things just go wrong. Illness strikes, recession bites, a friend turns enemy … and we are left in a mess. What can we learn from the accounts of Jesus’ arrest, betrayal and trial, and how can we coach our children to cope when it all goes wrong?
The story of Jesus’ last day is in all four gospels, and there are many children’s versions available (such as A Dark Night in the Garden from the Jesus Storybook Bible):
• Matthew 26:31-27:31
• Mark 14:27-15:20
• Luke 22:39-23:25
• John 18:1-19:16
As a child, when I read of the dreadful ordeals Jesus went through, I rationalised it in my mind. Jesus was God. So he had some sort of secret knowledge, some sort of spiritual insulation that meant that even though things were tough, he was OK because he knew it was just a temporary blip on his way back to heaven. But of course, Jesus was not only God, he was also fully man: he had laid aside his spiritual superpowers when he came to earth (Philippians 2:6-8). What he faced, he faced with the same resources as any of us.
And what Jesus faced that day was tough.
Much of the time, we live quite ordered lives where we can control things through our choices – who we hang around with, how we handle a disagreement, how diligently we apply ourselves. So when things go wrong, it can seem unfair and we can feel powerless or struggle to control our emotions. It can be easy for children (and adults) to interpret the truth that God loves us and wants the best for us with the idea that he will never let bad things happen to us. But that isn’t the story the Bible tells (as Jesus reminds us in John 16:33). We need to know the whole story of God, the world and us, so we can put bad things and tough times into their correct context. The beautiful world God created has been broken and we are all affected - and we get to partner with God to put things right. (There’s a helpful article here at The Sanctuary Centre as well as a chapter explaining this in Parenting Children for a Life of Faith Omnibus.) Tough times are simply part of life. So when we face tough times, what can we learn from Jesus?
- Although Jesus didn’t run away from the tough stuff ahead, he didn’t find it easy either (see, for example Mark 14:32-35). Just like Jesus, it’s OK for us to feel bad or distressed and to express those feelings, even to God (for some science on the importance of expressing negative emotions there’s an interesting article here). And there are examples in the Bible where people tell God exactly how they feel: for example David in the Psalms (see for example Psalms 73, 55, 142 or 70), or Job (for example Job 10) or Gideon (Judges 6). For some practical ways to help people cope with their feelings there is some information in our results day article here.
- We know that Jesus knew the Scriptures well and often quoted them. Exploring Bible verses that may help us make sense of tough times, such as the ones in this article, can be useful.
- Just like Jesus did, we can chat to God about how we feel and what’s happening, and catch back from him. For more about chat and catch see this link. If children or teens are struggling to connect with God about this or are distressed, they may appreciate your help in helping them to connect: session 7 of the course teaches a simple method of prayer ministry that helps children, teens and adults connect directly to God.
- Just like Jesus explained things to his disciples (see for example Matthew 20:17-19) you can frame for your children tough times you might know are coming up to help them prepare for them and process them when they happen. For more about framing see here or session 2 of the course.
Here are some ideas for sparking conversations with your family about tough times:
- Discover the story of Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom, whose quiet lives changed forever when Holland was invaded in 1940
- David gave some advice to people going through tough times in Psalm 37:1-8. Do you agree with him?
- Share stories of when things have gone wrong for you. What happened? How did you feel? Where was God and what did he do?
- Lots of people in the Bible experienced tough times, for example, Elijah (1 Kings 19), Joseph (Genesis 37-50), Hannah (1 Samuel 1:1-2:11), Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 13-14) and Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25). What do you think helped them?
- Romans 8:28 suggests that God will bring good things from everything that happens to us, similar to the saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. Can you think of times when that has happened to you or people you’ve heard about?
- For Christians, our life on earth is not the end. Take a look at what the apostle John wrote in Revelation 21:1-5. Many people going through tough times find that this helps them. What do you think?