The Good News of Suffering: Christian Parents Reflect on the Lessons of Disability

More By Matt Dodd

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

God is growing his children … He accomplishes this through suffering.

The good news is: God is growing his children. He is shaping us into the likeness of his Son, the Lord Jesus. He is steadfastly committed to refining and maturing us.

And the bad news? He accomplishes this through suffering.

Well at least, that sounds like bad news. The ‘good news’ that our world proclaims is a life without suffering: a life where personal growth comes to us through ease, maturity comes through happiness, and wisdom through pleasure.

No suffering – No growth

But the good news of Christ bursts this idea apart. No suffering—no growth.

It’s hard for us to believe that all of God’s blessings come to us through suffering. Surely God grows us in lots of other ways too?

Well, ultimately, no. For all the treasures of God’s blessings are poured out on us through his Son, the Lord Jesus, and his sufferings.

And the wonderful hope of our adoption as God’s children is that we are being fashioned by God into the likeness of his Son. So, unsurprisingly, we are only “co-heirs with Christ if indeed we share in his sufferings” (Rom. 8:17).

God promises to redeem our suffering by bringing spiritual growth through it.

This is the good news of suffering. We even “glory [exult with great rejoicing] in our sufferings … because we know that suffering produces perseverence; perseverance produces character; and character produces hope.” (Rom. 5:3-4). God promises to redeem our suffering by bringing spiritual growth through it.

I know that many will read this article through the fog of recent or ongoing tears and heartbreak. It’s easy to talk about the good news of suffering—trusting is more difficult when we’re in the thick of it.

More Good News

But here’s other news that might help, especially if you’re currently feeling discouraged and lost in suffering. There is a wonderful community of Christian parents of children with a disability or additional needs. They have a unique perspective on suffering. Although they would describe their experience in different ways, suffering has been woven into the very fabric of their story as a family.

For them, the love and joy that they feel toward that precious family member is also tied to suffering.

For them, the love and joy that they feel toward that precious family member is also tied to suffering: embracing their child means embracing their suffering too. And so, in a unique way, these families are driven to find answers. Suffering must be understood, it must be redeemed by the good news of suffering we find in Christ.

I’m part of an online community of Christian parents of children with a disability called the 139 Collective, connecting together to support and inspire one another to thrive in our faith, parenting, and witness.

One of the ways we serve is by witnessing to the wider body of Christ about the good news of suffering.

Clear Truths

I asked the members of the 139 Collective to share the 3 clearest truths that God had taught them as a parent of a child with a disability. Their answers were beautiful. I saw time and again, just as the Scriptures promise: God redeemed their suffering by bringing spiritual growth through it.

As I collated together the list, I noticed how easily all their reflections could be aligned under one of the key truths of the good news of Christ. This truly was the good news of suffering.

1. God created people in his image

“God planned my kids before the beginning of time—he knit them together in my womb and he has planned out their days too. They are not a mistake or an accident but children loved by Him.”

“Everyone is special. People are precious whether we see quality in them or not. Whether it is a tiny baby with a short life or an older person in the depths of dementia, or someone living with a body that won’t do as they wish, each person is extremely precious to God.”

2. However, our world is broken because of our sin

“The biggest lesson disability has taught me is that we are all broken, imperfect individuals. I tend to want to do things in my own power, not ‘needing’ God, and felt generally that I was a ‘good person’ in my own strength. To me, disability is a physical reminder of the brokenness that exists in the world. For my kids, their bodies are twisted and don’t grow as they should. But for me, it is my heart. We all are ‘disabled’ by the effects of sin on the world.”

“Life and things are broken and smashed up… in every sense and every form. And they always will be in this life. Shattered pieces are not all intended to be restored in the time of ‘not yet’, so learn to dwell in the painful beauty of fragmentation.”

3. But God is a loving Father, who brings salvation

“While society so often does not accept or welcome those who are different, particularly those with a disability, God loves them endlessly. He welcomes all. Died for all. Saves all. So many times in the bible God sets standards for how people who experience disability should be treated – with kindness. And that’s how he treats each one of us.”

God writes good stories for his children—the best stories—because the stories he writes aren’t about us and what we want; they’re about Jesus.

“Nobody would write disability into their child’s story if they had the choice. But God sometimes does. And God writes good stories for his children—the best stories. Because the stories he writes aren’t about us and what we want—they’re about Jesus. And we know that’s a good story because he gave his life for us.”

“God is my son’s saviour—not therapy. I can’t know if decisions I will make will have positive or negative outcomes. What I know is that God made my children exactly as they are. And that He who made everything, holds it all in His hands. He holds them in His hands. Even when I can’t see it. God may allow things to happen or not happen that I do not necessarily understand or like but I can trust in the knowledge that He is good. He is the King.”

4. He calls us to trust him until he makes all things new

“Faith is trusting that in every minute of every day of this life, God will keep gathering & carrying me, my little family, and all of our smashed up broken pieces in his arms, until the day that peace will finally, eternally reign. It’s trusting that no matter how smashed up it all gets, I can curl up in a ball and be cradled, each and every time, by my Father who never leaves my side.”

“I hate being brought to my knees from pain in life, but it helps me to regroup and surrender again to God. I now want to go on a journey to rediscover how connecting with God is the priority in the chaos of caring for my kids.”

“This parenting gig is a marathon and feels even more so when there’s daily meds and treatments. Every other parent is running a marathon too – some of us just have harder terrain. We can’t do it on our own – we need each other and we need God’s strength.”

5. And with this trust, we live brand new lives in Christ

“’In my weakness, God is made strong’. Our imperfections are opportunities for grace to shine through. Where our human capacity for love, patience, faith, joy is at the limits of what is possible, the divine ‘fruit of the spirit’ can be seen. Not in my own strength, but in God’s.”

“It is possible to hold immense joy and deep grief simultaneously. I think when our son was first born, I felt that if I expressed my grief to anyone, they would think that I wasn’t also incredibly joyful to be his mum. I now know that it is ok to hold both and express both.”

“I am now more empathetic, more patient and more compassionate towards others because I know how hard our ‘low times’ have been, and anyone could be going through that and putting on a brave face.”

Glorious News

This is the good news of suffering. It flows from the suffering of the Son, and from the Heavenly Father who redeems the suffering of his children to bring about their growth.
If you are anything like I was before my disabled son was born, perhaps you fear the thought of having suffering woven into your family in a deep way like this. But I can’t tell you enough how misplaced those fears are! I no longer see disability primarily as a story of suffering. The good news of Christ has redeemed it to be much more than simply that; something I can truly exult in; something glorious! My son’s disability is the story of growth in him, in us as his family, and in the lives of many others around him.
This is the good news of suffering.