When Our Children Suffer

Katie Faris knows what it’s like to have the wind knocked out of her by a doctor’s phone call—to be shocked, to grieve, and to run to the Lord with a host of questions.

In 2013, three of her children were diagnosed with a genetic condition called Alpha-1 that can seriously affect the liver in childhood and the liver or lungs in later years. Along the way, they faced additional diagnoses, including food allergies, hypoglycemia, and celiac disease.

In her new book God Is Still Good: Gospel Hope and Comfort for the Unexpected Sorrows of Motherhood, Faris relates how God has tenderly carried her on a rocky path. She offers to come alongside anyone who’s experiencing a detour from the expected, whether it feels like a slight deviation or careening off a cliff.

“You’re not the only mom who has suffered—and Jesus has suffered,” she says. “I think there’s a real dependence on the Lord and others that we can learn in these seasons.”

I sat down with Faris, now a mom of five, to discuss some of the ways the Lord met her in her pain and how she hopes to comfort others with the comfort she’s received.

Early in the book, you wrote about your children’s diagnosis with Alpha-1. You described feeling “the ambiguous loss of some kind of ‘normal.’” How has your definition of “normal” changed?

I had an expectation of what normal childhood would look like. I expected the bumps and the bruises, the tantrums, and things not always going smoothly. But the genetic condition was certainly a detour I didn’t foresee for our family. With it came the blood draws, the extra specialist appointments, and so many questions about what the future would hold.

The more I study Scripture, the more I see it’s normal for God’s children to experience pain and suffering in this world. A verse I go to a lot is John 16:33: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Our ultimate hope as believing moms isn’t found in the absence of trouble or in some kind of assumed normal; it’s found in our glorious, comforting, overcoming Savior.

In Scripture there’s an expectation of suffering that we probably don’t have in modern society.

When we face a serious, urgent problem in life, it’s hard to focus on anything else. You wrote about how this can obscure our most serious problem—our sin. Why do we need to confront our sinful nature during a painful time?

Suffering brings lies such as “I deserve better than this” or seeking comfort in other places besides the Lord—binge eating, binge watching, or some other kind of escape. We can give in to temptations we might be able to resist better in a different season when we’re not so stressed, when we’re not so weary, when we have more time for Bible study.

Our ultimate hope as believing moms isn’t found in the absence of trouble or in some kind of assumed normal; it’s found in our glorious, comforting, overcoming Savior.

If we’re discouraged and feel awful about our sin, the answer isn’t condemnation but confession and repentance. First John 1:9 tells us that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness when we confess. I love Hebrews 4:16, which talks about how we can come to him in our time of need and we find grace and mercy.

Those are still all available to us when we’re in the middle of our mess. It’s not that we were actually any messier—I think we’re just seeing we’re messy, and we’re coming to grips with that.

We can come to appreciate the gospel in a new way. It really isn’t about our performance. It has nothing to do with anything we bring to the table. It’s all about crying out to Jesus and asking him to apply the work he’s already done on the cross to our hearts. I love how quickly that exchange takes place. We pray, and God forgives. That’s just a beautiful thing to me, that hope is available to us in our suffering.

The biggest lie suffering brings is usually that God doesn’t really love us. We can think that if he did, he wouldn’t allow this. How is Jesus’s life—and death—the answer to our most desperate question?

All Eve’s daughters have been tempted to listen to lies that question God’s character and his actions—to believe he isn’t really good or he doesn’t really love us. I think we hear this same lie whispering to us in our suffering. “If God really loved you, your son wouldn’t have autism.” “If God really loved you, your postpartum depression would just go away.” Or “you wouldn’t have a miscarriage,” or “your husband would be more supportive,” or any number of other things.

Jesus really did prove his love once and for all on the cross, defeating sin and death and making a way for us to enjoy restored, eternal fellowship with him.

You also wrote powerfully about Jesus taking the punishment for our sins, which is such a comfort when we feel like our trials are an earthly punishment.

Growing up with kyphoscoliosis, a condition that kept me in a back brace into my middle school years, the story of the man born blind resonates with me. I was born with something. Not all my vertebrae were there—some were missing, some were misshapen. On a personal level, I loved Jesus’s explanation in John 9:3: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Even as a child, this story offered me a category of suffering that had a different purpose than punishment.

I love how quickly that exchange takes place. We pray, and God forgives.

When we found out about our kids’ diagnosis—when I felt like our world really did flip upside down—we were just asking God to enter, inviting him into our sorrow. It was only by God’s grace that we could do this. I don’t think I was thinking about the blind man at the time, but that’s really what we were asking God to do—to “display his works” through this unthinkable diagnosis. Even though it was really hard, especially in those early days, the Lord carried our family through it.

The story of the blind man, the story of Job, and other places in the Bible assure us our trials aren’t always a punishment. And for someone who believes otherwise or has been told otherwise, hearing this truth can be a game changer.

Even if our suffering is a direct consequence of our own sin or the sin of someone we love, God can still work good out of it. He can still use it to sanctify us—to humble us and teach us to depend on him, to pray more, and to trust him. God is still good, and he still works for good.

You wrote about how common it is in suffering for us to wonder, “When, if ever, are things going to get easier?” Can you talk about asking God those tough questions?

When life is hard, the psalms of lament and the books of Job and Lamentations give us words we can pray to the Lord. And they’re very honest words. They even show us a way to cry out or bring our questions, but to do it in a humble way. We’re looking toward God rather than judging God or running away from him.

When we pray a prayer of biblical lament, it’s really us agreeing with God that sin has messed everything up and we can’t wait for it to get better—whether that’s on earth or in heaven.

When we pray a prayer of biblical lament, it’s really us agreeing with God that sin has messed everything up and we can’t wait for it to get better—whether that’s on earth or in heaven.

We need to run to God with our feelings and our desires and invite him to do what only he can do to change our hearts, as well as our circumstances. He may or may not answer our prayers in the way we’d like him to, but there’s freedom in knowing that when we want things to be easier, we can tell God that.

I’m so grateful for the whole of the Bible—all these different angles, all these different writers and experiences. I’m grateful for how it all comes together and that there’s a place in the Bible for pouring out our hearts to the Lord about what we’re going through and what we’re thinking and feeling, no matter what it is.

Do you have certain songs you go back to for encouragement in the truth?

The go-to song for me was “Though You Slay Me” by Shane & Shane, featuring John Piper. There were times I played that over and over again on YouTube, letting those words sink into my soul.

I also put together a Spotify playlist of songs the Lord used to meet me in difficult days.

Your writing reminded me of the biblical encouragement in suffering I’ve received from Sarah Walton, Joni Eareckson Tada, and Dane Ortlund. Can you tell us which brothers and sisters in Christ encouraged you during your darkest days?

Sarah Walton’s book Together Through the Storms sat by my bedside most of last year! Back in the days of my kids’ diagnosis, though, there really wasn’t much time for reading between caring for my young children and the flurry of specialist appointments. In God Is Still Good, I talk about how I started keeping a list of my go-to Bible verses, and I had that in the front of my journal for when I needed a little bite of manna.

In that season, a devotional book was helpful to me: Streams in the Desert. It’s full of quotations from 19th- and 20th-century Christians like Charles Spurgeon. The Scriptures and the words of encouragement from a previous generation ministered to me. I felt connected to those older writers by our suffering experience. It’s written for people going through desert times, and I felt like every day the Lord used that to speak to my heart.

Prior to that time, I’d read a lot of Elisabeth Elliot and John Piper. With them, the theme was trusting God in suffering and what that looks like. When suffering entered my life in a real way, there was already a theological framework of “What does it look like to suffer well?”

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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