Transforming Thoughts: Meaning in Suffering

The natural instinct of all adults – whether they are parents, pastors, grandparents or just good family friends – is to protect children from the harshness of reality. We want to shield them from suffering; shelter them as long as possible from pain and agony.

Twelve-year-old Grant Coursey never had that luxury. Doctors diagnosed him with neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor that had wrapped itself around his spine, at the age of 16 months. After many surgeries, Coursey has been cancer free for 10 years.

Coursey recently interviewed his mother, Jennifer, for National Public Radio’s StoryCorp. She said that she had hoped that he wouldn’t remember the fear and pain of going through cancer treatment. The opposite actually happened. He remembered quite vividly the scary and painful times.

“Yeah. You know, I’ve got big scars all over my back from getting cut open,” Grant said in the interview. “Whenever that kind of starts to twinge a little bit, like if I touch it wrong or something like that, it just kind of reminds me I’m lucky. … You know, life is really good. And there’s this saying that says if you’ve been close to death, you understand life more. And sometimes I think of that, and I think, you know, if this had never happened to me, I never would have understood how much life means, kinda. You know? What if I had died? I’d never have this amazing life.”

People of faith can put these kinds of terrible experiences in a big picture. Not only can we rely on God to help us get through life’s horrible experiences; we know that God will bless us with wisdom and strength gained through the suffering.  The challenge for adults then, is not to shield young people from life’s pain, but to help them understand, and gain wisdom, from these experiences. How do you help young people get through suffering? How do you think our faith helps us gain wisdom through these trials?

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