One day as I was cleaning out a hall closet, I came across an unopened box. It contained an emergency ladder that you hang from a window in case you aren’t able to exit from the stairway when your house is on fire. We never used it, but I realized that I didn’t even know how to use it. In an emergency, my husband or I would have wasted precious time figuring out how, perhaps even injuring ourselves or our children, because we had never practiced climbing out a second story window using the ladder.
In elementary school, we practiced fire and tornado drills. As children, we thought these were fun ways of getting out of class. Now I realize that they were showing us, through repeated practice, how to respond appropriately in an emergency.
When adversity hits home, we are often unprepared. Whether it is a financial setback, a health crisis, a family heartache, or a natural disaster as we have seen this week in the national news, our first reaction is instinctive. We want to get safe, both physically and emotionally. Others may try to escape the problem by ignoring it or minimizing it, hoping it goes away. Some of us freeze up and feel paralyzed; others shut down, feel numb and withdraw. We sometimes blow up, or blame other people, ourselves or even God for allowing this terrible situation to happen. And for many of us, living out biblical truths during times of difficulty feels as awkward and frightening as struggling to climb down an unfamiliar fire escape ladder with flames licking at our heels.
Like fire drills prepare us to know what to do in a real emergency, there are some things we can do together as a family that will help us to respond to life’s difficulties in a healthier and more Christ-centered way. You already may be doing some of these things quite naturally. Others might be in the middle of a crisis and can barely think let alone learn new things. Or, perhaps you’re a single parent or are married to someone who would never do this kind work with you. Don’t despair. Each week I’m going to give you some things you can do to help your family prepare for adversity. You can gradually learn and implement these steps as you’re ready. Each one can help you, even if you are unable to do them together or right away.
We live in a broken world. People will mistreat us, relationships go through hard times, loved ones get sick, and economies go through depressions. It’s common for parents to shield their children from life’s hurts, but if we do that too much, they won’t learn how to handle it when it does happen. Jesus tells us that in this world we will have troubles (John 16:33). Why is it that we’re so surprised when we and our loved ones experience them?
Thankfully, the big stuff doesn’t happen every day, but each day most of us face some kind of difficulty. We lose our car keys and are late for work. There will be someone at the office or classroom that doesn’t like us or is unhappy with something we’ve done or not done. Maybe we’ll get sick and won’t be able to attend the birthday party or football game we’ve looked forward to all week.
Christian living is more show than tell. We can say all the right words, but when troubles and trials come our way, people watch how we react. Every family has a theology of suffering, whether it is thought out and articulated or not. Whether our trials are large ones or small, the questions we always ask are: Is God good? Does he care about me? And, is he really in control?
When things go my way, it’s easy to believe God is good and in control. But is God still good when I can’t find my keys or the washing machine breaks down and there are loads of wash to do? Is he still in control when dinner burns just before company arrives, when we get stuck in traffic when we have a plane to catch, or our child spills her milk for the third time? Can I give God thanks when I’m overwhelmed with bills or have conflicts with a coworker and I can’t find a solution? In these kinds of moments, we show others how to handle adversity, regardless of what we teach them during family devotions or Sunday school.
Reminding ourselves and our children that adversity is a normal part of living in a fallen world gives us opportunities to:
- Examine ourselves and how we react to the small stuff.
- Practice letting go of our agenda or our own way.
- Learn not take every small hardship so seriously or with such dismay.
- Understand that adversity reveals character as well as builds it.
- Let these times be places where we build deeper relationships with God and with each other.
These can be teachable moments where we help remind ourselves and instruct our children on how to handle disappointment, heartache, trials and injustice in a God-honoring way.
Learn more about how we should talk about adversity as a family and handle the emotional fallout in the next part of this series.