When Our Children Suffer

"When our children suffer" by AnnAliese Harry (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2019 AnnAliese Harry. All rights reserved.

As a military family, we move. A lot. Being an Army brat, I am used to the ever-changing nature of the military life, and I try to make the best out of every duty location. Some locations are more difficult than others, though.

I am one year down at our duty location in Florida, with less than a year to go. I found myself back to work unexpectedly, due to a request from our priest. I don’t regret that decision for a moment.

Yet the job necessitated putting one of my little ones in daycare. And, during the past year, each month has seen her get sick. Her illness, the frequency, and the timing has escalated to the point that she is being tested for various autoimmune disorders, fever disorders, and gastrointestinal issues. When you look at her, she looks healthy; unless she’s in the middle of an episode, rendering her exhausted, whiny, and often feverish.

Not too long ago, she got sick at the chapel as I was preparing to give a meeting to parents. Thankfully, one of the younger ladies in our community helped my daughter clean up, while a more seasoned mom cleaned off the stroller. My daughter isn’t contagious, and I am sure I alarmed some of the parents by my nonchalant attitude. I simply did what I needed to do with my husband out of town for work – give my presentation, clean up the supplies, and then head home.

But, that particular episode made me realize just how helpless I am when it comes to my children.

As a mom, I want what is best for my children. Society and I will not agree with what is best. Society will tell my children their physical prowess is best, their looks are best, their brains are best, and the superficial nature of life is best. Society will tell them to glorify the prizes and the accolades above all else. My children will be told by their peers that weakness, in any form, is not good – that strength by society’s definition will be ideal.

Society’s expectations stand starkly in contrast to the faith that I profess, and the faith I am leading my children in professing.

Society doesn’t approve of redemptive suffering. It doesn’t understand the concept of using one’s weakness, or even one’s illness to draw closer to God. It doesn’t seem to want to know how one’s weakness or illness can glorify God.

Yet, that is precisely what the saints have done throughout history. When my daughter was recently sick, she was complaining of symptoms that lead me to suspect she was suffering a migraine. A quick Google search pulled up several saints who are considered the patron of migraines – St. Denis, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Gemma Galgani are but a few.

My mind wandered to trying to explain the life, times, and example of the saints to a three-year-old, and I stumbled and faltered. We read books about the saints, but the concept of redemptive suffering is so vastly beyond her comprehension. Quite frankly, it’s beyond the comprehension of even the most learned adults. And, while I work to offer up much of my discomfort associated with my own chronic autoimmune issues, the concept of offering it all to God with little or no complaint is something I struggle with achieving.

While I contemplated how to explain redemptive suffering to my middle child, I recalled the words of Blessed Chiara Badano. Diagnosed with bone cancer as a teenager, she understood the concept of what it means to offer up pain. As she lost her hair while undergoing treatment for the cancer, she would offer it up to Jesus with the simple words, “For You, Jesus.” In October 1990, she lost her battle with cancer at the tender age of 18, but in her final days she continued to lean heavily on her faith to sustain her … and, to sustain others.

“For You, Jesus.” Such a simple, yet powerfully profound prayer. And so antithetical to society’s view of weakness and illness.

At the end of the day, a saint is a soul unified with God in Heaven. It is something we are all called to become, but to become a saint requires us to embrace the Cross. It requires each of us to take our pain and suffering, and to unite it with Christ’s Ultimate Sacrifice on the Cross. The road toward Christ can be painful at times, and downright lonely other times. Yet, to journey toward sainthood requires us to travel that forsaken path.

As a mother, I want what is best for my children. I want them to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. I want them to be successful and accomplished. Those desires, however, pale in comparison to the desire I have that they follow God’s will for their lives.

Ultimately, what is best for my children is love. God is love, and from before the time the earth was created, God loved. At the end of the day, what is best for my children is God. I want them to know God, to love God, and to serve God.

One path of knowing, loving, and serving God is to teach them – even at the youngest of ages – to offer their suffering to God. To recall the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and to take their aches, pains, fevers, fears, loneliness and more to Him in a prayer, “For You, Jesus.”

As a mother, sometimes it is easier said than done. Yet, even God thought that plan through when He gave us the Blessed Mother. As a mother, she watched her Son be tortured and killed for salvation of our souls. She stood there, watched, most assuredly cried, and in the end, cradled her Son’s lifeless body. She remained faithful to Him through it all, and as a mother whose little one is suffering, I can unite my feelings of helplessness with hers. I can ask her to teach me her patience, her love, and her faith in God to sustain my own as my children grow, learn, laugh, and ultimately cry.

I’m not quite sure how to close this piece, except to say that I am offering my uncertainties about the “how to” of motherhood for you, and your own journey, dear reader. Whether you are struggling with your own pain and chronic illness, whether you struggle day in and day out with mothering a child who is ill, or whether you are journeying along the road to Heaven uncertain of how you will get through this life, please know you are in my prayers. Your pain and suffering does not go unnoticed by our Almighty.

Rather, He sees, He journeys with us, and He offers us comfort in the arms of His Holy Family. I invite you to join me in resting in His arms, offering up your own discomfort and uncertainty with the simple prayer, “For You, Jesus.”

Copyright 2019 Anni Harry


About Author

AnnAliese Harry is a proud Army wife to her husband Chris, and a mother to their young children. She has a BA in History, a Masters in Social Work, and has worked with disabled veterans, troubled teens, and in early childhood intervention therapy. AnnAliese volunteers with several military chapel communities and serves as a lector, EMHC, Adoration coordinator, and Catholic Women of the Chapel (CWOC) chapter president and vice president. She blogs about Catholicism, parenting, and military life at A Beautiful, Camouflaged Mess of A Life. Follow her on Twitter, on Instagram, or on Facebook.


    • Amanda,

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I agree that it’s so important to spend time in self-reflection, but also use it to teach our children lifelong lessons.

  1. It’s been a rough two weeks of non-stop activity at work then coming home to a teen deep into his depression and just trying to be there for him. I always look forward to Catholic Mom on Sunday morning with my coffee. Today your article is the one I really needed to read. Thank you!

    • Marisela,

      Thank you so much for sharing your own words. I will pray that you continue to find strength within the Catholic Mom community, in the comfort of the Blessed Mother and her example, and in the arms of our Savior. Praying for you and your son today!

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