Why won’t Jesus make me better?
One of the hardest situations I remember as a mom was having a miserable, sick child. Especially when the child asked me, “Why won’t Jesus make me better? I prayed, you prayed, Dad prayed. Jesus could do it, but he won’t.”
Obviously, it’s not a question only children ask. Basically Phillip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts? addresses the same question powerfully. And it’s not an easy question to answer. For ourselves or for our children. I’ve always struggled with that question. The hardest times were when the question came from our most black-and-white child. She was usually the quickest to assume Jesus would answer our prayers. But then she also was the quickest to wonder why when he chose not to answer the way she expected. Her disappointment was hard for me to watch.
My struggles to answer her.
I remember struggling to answer her. God answered prayers–I knew that. I even knew of miraculous answers to some prayers. But I also knew God’s answers are often not what we are hoping for. Yet, how do you explain to a child that God loves us immensely and still allows us significant pain?
With great difficulty. And great humility.
I remember saying “I don’t know” a lot. I also said that I knew sickness was one result of human sin. And that sickness is not a result of the sick person’s sin but the state of the sinful world. I remember thinking of the blind man Jesus healed, when my daughter asked me why God was punishing her. She wondered what sin God was punishing her for. I recalled John 9:1-12, where Jesus tells his disciples that the man’s blindness is not a result of someone’s sin. It was a vehicle for God to glorify himself through Jesus’ miraculous healing.
Of course, my daughters would have loved to be miraculously healed to bring someone to faith. Wouldn’t we all? The tricky thing is that God glorifies himself in different ways in different times and places.
God working in our pain.
The other thing that always struck me in those difficult times is the fact that God uses our pain to bring us to himself. As C.S. Lewis explains in The Problem of Pain, “[P]ain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Obviously, it would not have helped to share that quote with my four-year-old daughter. She was already looking to God. So she did not need his megaphone at that moment. She needed to be reassured of God’s love in her pain. But her pain was God’s megaphone to get my attention and to give me a teachable moment to share with her.
No pain in heaven.
What I told my daughter is a different part of that process. God also uses our pain to remind us that this is not our true home. Our true home is in heaven with him. There we will never be sick or hurting. I told her that being sick could help her value the knowledge that heaven would someday be painless. Honestly, if life on earth were painless, we would have a lot harder time longing for heaven. Pain and sickness are earthly results of the Fall that make us yearn for God and his perfect home.
Did that solve the problem for my daughter? Or for me? Obviously not. But it gave us a teachable moment and an opportunity to focus intensely on God’s work in our lives. It emphasized his sovereignty and his love. For me it also emphasized my dependence on God. I had no idea how to answer my daughter. So, I was forced to pray a lot while trying to answer her questions–and mine.
And isn’t that the point of a megaphone? It gets our attention. Every time one of my daughters asked me, “Why won’t Jesus make me better?” God had my full attention.
Jesus lives within children just as He does within adults.
Accepting Jesus as Savior, little kids often ask Jesus into their hearts. Once they do, they experience his love and know they are children of God. But do they understand that the incarnational power of Jesus lives within them as well? And do we explain to them that the way Jesus lives within us is through the Holy Spirit?
One mother tells the story of her young daughter getting the stomach flu and worrying that she had vomited Jesus into the toilet.
We laugh at the silliness of the image. But it makes us realize how challenging it is to learn the concept of Jesus living within us in Spirit. As adults, many of us also miss the importance of the incarnational power of Jesus. We know we are children of God but aren’t fully aware of the supernatural power for living that Jesus has given us. In John 10:10, Jesus says he came so that we could live abundantly. How do we do that? How do we teach our children to do that?
The incarnational power of the Holy Spirit enables us to flourish.
If we focus on telling our children how Jesus wants them to act, we short-circuit that learning. But if we ask them how Jesus would act in our situation, we give them a chance to understand. When I was in second grade and upset that a classmate was being bullied, my mom asked me that question. She didn’t say, “What do you think Jesus would want you to do?” She said, “What do you think Jesus would do if He were at your school?”
Her question allowed me to think through the mind of Christ who was working in me through His Holy Spirit. The other question would probably have made me defensive and resistant to doing the hard work of attempting to befriend an ostracized older child. But her asking what Jesus’ action would be empowered the role of the Spirit within me.
Children love to be helpers.
One way we can bless our children in learning this lifestyle is in calling their attention to ways that they can show God’s love to others. Some schools have “helping circles” for children with special needs. Others have tutoring or mentoring opportunities for older kids to help younger kids. But even if those opportunities are not available in structured activities, we can guide them to look for needs. My mother used to ask me the first day of every school year to look for a person who needed a friend.
As the Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians about this process, he says,
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 4:16-21)
Praying that the incarnational power of Jesus will guide our children.
Our children understand riches and probably know that God has the most glorious riches ever. But do they see His riches as living within them and empowering them to live for Jesus. My dad helped me understand this as a kid through one story and one anology.
The story was of a poor man who came from Europe to America on a steamship long ago.
This man bought the cheapest ticket possible and packed some food in his bags with him. Partway over, a ship worker saw him eating his stale food alone. He asked him why he didn’t ever eat with the other passengers. The man told him he didn’t have any money to pay for it. The worker surprised him with the great news that the food was free because he had already bought his ticket.
My dad explained to me that that man was sort of like most of us as Christians. When we try to live the Christian life on our own power–instead of in the power of the Holy Spirit–we miss God’s glorious riches for us.
Dad explained the how through an illustration Bill Bright calls “spiritual breathing.”
He explained that we need to “inhale” the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and “exhale” our sin.
Spiritual breathing is like physical breathing in that we:
“Exhale” by confessing our sins immediately to God and claiming His forgiveness.
“Inhale” by asking the Holy Spirit to control and empower us and to keep us from returning to sin. . . .
Usually, we don’t think about our physical breathing. But spiritual breathing is something that requires conscious action — a readiness to “exhale” (confess our sin), and to “inhale” (trust God to fill us with His Holy Spirit).
But the tricky thing about explaining this to kids is that we can’t teach them to do it by telling them what to do.
We need to explain the process and model it. We need to let them know the riches available to them. Then we have to be ready to explain how God works this process. They need us to guide them lovingly to experience the incarnational power of Jesus for themselves.
My New Year’s resolution is to pray more with my kids.
My making a New Year’s resolution to pray more with my kids seems odd, since I’m an empty-nester mom. When they were little, I prayed with them at regular times. As they grew up, I prayed with them more frequently, as uncertain situations came up. Even when they were out of the house and still single, we usually ended our Skype times with prayer. So how did it happen that I started telling my kids frequently that I’ll pray for them about things, rather than just doing it with them right then?
I’m sure part of it is the lack of being physically in the same place.
Praying over the phone or by text just doesn’t occur to me sometimes. I remember the first time my sister suggested praying for me over the phone. I was shocked. And then ashamed at myself for being shocked. Of course, God hears us over the phone. I just wasn’t used to it. But my sister’s prayer for me that day blessed me inexpressibly. I have no memory of what she prayed for that day, but I’ve never forgotten that she did. Over the phone. After that, I determined to start praying with others over the phone. And I have.
But sometimes phone conversations end unexpectedly before a chance to pray.
Sometimes during a phone conversation a child needs my daughter’s attention, and she has to end the conversation. Why couldn’t I say, “Lord, please help ______ with this difficult situation right now” as I hang up? I could. I need to highlight our talking to God in all the little things.
And other times conversations go on for a while, with someone explaining a troublesome situation and my listening. When the conversation is over and I’ve promised to pray about it, I realize I should have done it with her on the phone. That would have blessed her. And God promises that he is with us in a special way when we are gathered together praying.
Other times my own tasks get in the way.
I may get a text about a need or suddenly remember someone’s situation. But I’m in the middle of something or feel the need to get quickly to the next thing I need to do. I tell myself I’ll pray silently while I do whatever is next. Then I sometimes forget.
I had an ironic reminder of this yesterday. I had just begun writing this blog and had written the sentence about telling my daughter I’m praying for her and then postponing it. Just then I received a text from a friend with a heavy heart. As I started to text back, “I’m praying for you,” I jolted myself. Oops. Remember my New Year’s resolution. I need to do it right now. So I called her and prayed with her right then. I need to do that more.
Here’s the thing: We all need others to pray for us.
Our kids need our prayers. Our friends need our prayers. And our relatives and the many, many other people in our lives need our prayers. And all of us thrive by knowing someone is praying for us. Vocal prayer for us in our presence is tangibly loving. It warms us with the feeling of God’s love expressed by one of our people.
But silent prayer is powerful too, especially if the person asks us about the prayed-for need later. That act of checking with us later makes it clear that someone has brought our needs directly to the throne of God for us. We feel God’s love in the action of our friend or relative. Or even in a stranger who prayers for us.
I am praying that God reminds me frequently of my New Year’s resolution to pray more with my kids–and more with other people too. And what better way to show our kids–whatever their ages–the love of God than a New Year’s resolution to pray with them more!