A friend recently told me about a candid conversation she had with her handicapped son. At 13 years old, he is a bright, talkative boy who is confined to a wheelchair due to a spinal-cord injury.
One evening, his mom asked him if there were anything he wished people knew about him, to which he replied, “I wish people knew there isn’t anything wrong with my brain.” Many times, others have seen his physical disability and wrongly thought he has a mental disability as well. The awkwardness of not understanding his condition, combined with not wanting to say something offensive, often prevents kids from engaging with him.
My friend works hard to coach her son to engage with others and even be able to laugh at the misunderstandings. But the hurt is still there — hurt felt by the son who feels invisible to his peers, and by the mom who has a front-row seat.
Wounded by Our Children’s Wounds
There’s nothing quite like seeing the child you’ve cared for and nurtured hurt by others. As mothers, we’d give anything to protect our children from pain and suffering, but it’s not always within our control.
As a young mom, I always felt a little anxious going to crowded museums and parks with my small children. It seemed that nearly every time we went, my little ones would go stand in the huddle of kids waiting to climb the slide or see the new exhibit, but they would be pushed to the back by children who were more aggressive. I remember the anger rising up inside of me as I watched other kids literally step on my children.
As my kids have grown older, the situations have changed. Maybe they’re not pushed out of line for a turn on the swings, but instead left out of an invitation to a party, or cut from a team or cast, or cut by a friend’s unkind remark. As a mom, these hurts are hard to swallow. Watching my child get wounded makes the momma bear in me ready to roar. I want to call others to account for the hurt they’ve inflicted. I want them to experience the weight of the wrong they’ve done. I want my kids to be vindicated.
Six Ways to Respond
So how do we as mothers navigate the mess of emotions when we see our children hurt or wronged by others? It’s tempting to want to tell our kids of the unfairness of the situation and criticize the actions of others. But that’s not likely going to help the situation. Instead, it will breed bitterness and discontentment both in their hearts and ours. I’ve learned to preach a few gospel-focused reminders to both my children and myself when wounds have been inflicted.
1. Remember that we are all sinners.
There are no perfect people, and no perfect children. All of us will sin and hurt others. People will disappoint our children, and our children will disappoint them. Our children’s good friends will fail to notice and care when our kids are struggling. Others will make a stinging remark about them at the park. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
Just as others have insensitively wounded our children, so our children have likely done the same thing to others. One helpful question to ask our kids when they’ve been hurt is, “How might you have contributed to the situation?” Often, we’re blind to our own sin. Be careful not to assume your child is innocent of all wrongdoing.
2. Overlook the offense.
Negative thoughts are a downward spiral. We know our child’s performance on the basketball court was slammed by the coach, so we contemplate how we can passive-aggressively call his coaching techniques into question. It’s easy to replay the situation in our minds and craft the perfect mudslinging response to our hurt. Yet Proverbs 19:11 speaks of the glory of overlooking an offense.
One of the best ways to move forward from a hurtful situation is, by God’s grace, to choose forgiveness. Instead of dwelling on the wrong done, dwell on what’s good and right and true (Philippians 4:8). It’s good that my child has an opportunity to play basketball. It’s true that his performance needs improvement. I can be thankful that the coach wants to make him a better player. In choosing to let it go, we’re trusting that God is in control of the situation and that he will make amends. This is not to say that you should never confront a wrong done. It’s good to pray for wisdom to decide when offenses should be confronted and when they should be overlooked.
3. Believe the best.
In every hurtful situation, we have a choice. We can believe the other party purposely hurt our children, or we can believe they had no intention of wounding them. We can assume the activity they were cut from was rigged and done unfairly, or we can assume the judges did the best job they could in picking the cast or team. When it seems like our child has been slighted in some way, our natural, sinful tendency is to assume the worst about the opposing party. “He probably got less playing time than others for missing Sunday practices.” “Of course the coach’s kids all make the team!”
These kinds of words breed bitterness and discontentment both in our hearts and in the hearts of our children. Paul reminds us, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Unless we have clear evidence that malice was at play, let love permeate our thoughts and minds by assuming the hurt was unintentional.
4. Trust that God is sovereign.
The wrongs or injustices inflicted on our loved ones are not out of God’s control. Remember when Joseph was imprisoned in Egypt? Three times in Genesis we’re reminded that God was with Joseph. The book Read-Aloud Bible Stories repeatedly gives this simple response to the hurt and injustice Joseph faced in his own life: “Was Joseph happy? No, but God was there.”
We’re reminded that even with sadness and pain in our hearts, God has not abandoned us. When our teenager is excluded from social gatherings with others or doesn’t fit in because of her Christian convictions, God is there. He is at work in the midst of our trials. The loneliness she feels might be the very thing that God uses to grow her faith. He sees and knows and is in control of the hurts in our children’s lives. Nothing is outside of his control.
5. Remember that God is our avenger.
The famous quote “Give them a taste of their own medicine” is the world’s antidote to hurt inflicted by others. We want others to pay for the hurt that they’ve inflicted on us or our loved ones. When a peer says an unkind thing about our child, our sinful inclination is to reply with a cutting word or to find a way to point out their child’s faults. When we’re tempted to repay evil for evil, to dish out the same thing our loved ones received, we need to remember that God is the one who avenges.
When the Israelites were filled with fear as they saw Pharaoh’s army approaching at the Red Sea, God reminded them of his power and strength to avenge: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13–14). We persevere in loving those who hurt us by trusting that God will make amends for the wrongs done (Romans 12:19–21).
6. Extend God’s grace.
Our hurts and our children’s hurts are a perfect reminder to extend the same grace that God has given us through Christ Jesus. We are not worthy to be forgiven. We didn’t earn the right to be loved for our model behavior. Just the opposite! While we were Christ’s enemies, he died for us (Romans 5:10). This motivates us to extend grace to those who hurt us and our loved ones. God’s mercy will be highlighted in us when we show love and forgiveness to those who have wounded the hearts of the people we love most.
Both a joyful spirit and a bitter spirit are contagious. What attitude of your heart is portrayed through the words that flow from your lips? Let’s model Christ’s grace and mercy to the disciples living within the four walls of our home. They’ll be the first to notice whether we’re breathing the toxic air of bitterness or the fresh air of grace.
Not for the Faint of Heart
I’ve heard it said that our children are like our hearts walking around outside of our body. It’s natural that we’ll feel a significant emotional attachment to those we carried in our womb for nine months. The joys of our children become our joys, and the sorrows of our children become our sorrows. Yet the very experiences that are the most difficult for our children to navigate can also be the best training ground.
As we shepherd them through their difficulties, we can point out the opportunity to become more Christlike: to not repay evil with evil, but with a blessing instead; to see past the hurtful words or actions and look with compassion on another hurting soul; to believe the best about the teacher or coach who treated them harshly; to trust the goodness and faithfulness of God in the midst of a difficult trial.
As we counsel our children, let’s be diligent to fight our own temptations toward bitterness and anger. Our children will notice whether we’re nursing our wounds with gossip and slander, or running to the word of God as a healing balm. May God give us grace to model a forbearing, patient, and merciful love to those who have wounded our children.