I’ve pondered long over this month’s letter and offer it with much empathy and sensitivity due to the fragile nature of its content. Suffering with a hurting child is probably the most difficult task in parenting. I can’t think of anything that is more emotionally consuming and heart wrenching than walking alongside a child who is reeling from emotional or spiritual pain.


“You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.”


Medical issues, friendship difficulties, cultural issues, indescribable social pressures with the recently added electronic and social media barrage lead this youth culture, I am discovering more and more each year, into more anxiety, hurt and suicidal thoughts than I’ve witnessed in 45 years of adolescent counseling.

All is to say, “Growing up can be a painful experience!”

My life, Debbie-Jo’s life and the lives of our 4 kids have been broken again and again and again. Countless tears have fallen on the carpet of our home. I hope I can assist you as you go through difficult days with your child or perhaps better prepare you for those days ahead.

The following three unchangeable principles I have learned over the decades may be a helpful foundation on which you can stand.


Although I don’t believe our graceful God causes our suffering; experience tells me that God always plays a role in the purposefulness of suffering.


As a dear friend of mine who recently experienced a devastating stroke said, “God doesn’t waste his suffering. Perseverance and Godly character aren’t built in a padded room.”

Parents often fret needlessly when children are required to suffer while their Creator and “protector of their faith” is faithfully and tediously building “proven character” in your child’s resume that he/she will need someday! (By the way, what works for the child works for the parent!)

“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of Gd, which surpasses all  comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:5-7

2 Corinthians 1:4: “God comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
The 2 Corinthians 1:4 principle is unwavering and invaluable as your child begins to develop his/her professional calling and sense of their own purposefulness for living!

God gives a recipient of suffering whether he be 8 or 80 a “word of bravery” to others who are experiencing that suffering. It’s like a “backstage pass” of empathy and wisdom to someone else’s healing heart. Our greatest moments of caring come when we meet some thirsty soul who is suffering in a way we have also suffered.

Suffering builds humble hearts, thankful hearts and caring hearts!

My son, Brady got beat down by his peers from 4th grade to 11th grade unmercifully! Today he empathetically pastor’s a thriving church at Walt Disney World for the Disney cast. (Imagine preaching a sermon to Captain Hook AND Peter Pan at the same time!) The Disney cast loves him and hang on every word that comes out of his mouth. You won’t find a more caring Pastor in this country. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Hebrews 12:11



Today I’d like to share a story with you about a dear friend who’s been through so much more heartache than I’ve ever known and yet remains faithful and purposeful through it all. Perhaps his story will be a great encouragement to you as Tom has been to me.

Tom was a New York City fire and rescue professional who was severely injured while doing his post-9/11 duty of locating and removing the deceased from the ruins of the World Trade Center. Tom was badly hurt in a fall on the job, and while being resuscitated, his breathing apparatus filled with contaminants which entered his lungs and caused damaging lesions. He would undergo surgery after surgery to remove a portion of his lung and several adjacent lesions.

“As if all that weren’t bad enough, Tom also had to endure his two-year-old son, Ben, battling against a severe brain tumor called AT/RT.”
As if all that weren’t bad enough, Tom also had to endure his two-year-old son, Ben, battling against a severe brain tumor called AT/RT. Little Ben suffered agonizing pain before finally succumbing to his illness, and Tom was helpless to save him. For a parent, there’s nothing worse than watching your child suffer.

Despite all he went through, Tom maintained a faith, a graciousness and a confidence in the Lord that struck me to the core of my being from the first time I met him at a men’s event in Memphis, Tennessee.


How could he hold on to such faith? I had to know, so I asked him.


“But the greatest faith sustainer,” he said, “is that I realized and exercised God’s great purpose for it all.”
He said his healing had come through countless hours of worshiping God in music and meditating on Scripture. “But the greatest faith sustainer,” he said, “is that I realized and exercised God’s great purpose for it all.”

Tom explained how Ben’s heroic fight had been a great encouragement to all the staff, parents and patients at the hospital, as well as the tens of thousands who followed Tom’s blog detailing Ben’s journey and fight for survival. Then, Tom described how he has been able to minister to countless soldiers who have returned from the battlefields of the Middle East with post-traumatic stress disorder. They swarm to him like bees to honey.

“I don’t have to be the one who figures it out.”
Tom tenderly, but confidently, added, “My tears represent my yielding to Him. I don’t have to be the one who figures it out. When I weep, it reminds me I can’t make it on my own.”

Then he went on to say of his divinely-inspired purpose to walk alongside our military servicemen who return from battle in mental torment, “I get to place the journey of Christ in me into them. My journey becomes their journey. Before I was able to minister to them, they were checked out. But, since I’ve been there before, our relationships explode, and they often become purpose-driven guys.”


The next time your child comes home in tears try the three step approach I have used countless times:


  1. Stop everything you are doing and thinking. It takes time and undivided attention to be a healing parent. Listen four times as much as you talk.
  2. Ask open ended questions with a deeply caring heart.
  3. Supply empathy not advice. Unsolicited advice during painful sharing often closes a child’s spirit and inhibits the healing process. Empathy is ‘Hearing with someone else’s ears, seeing with someone else’s eyes and caring with someone else’s heart.’

“Mommy, thanks for tying my heart back together again.”  These words are the payoff for a well cared for heart in a relationship that feels safe. A child will communicate with the parent who cares well for his/her heart. When the teen years invade your home, you will be the trusted confidant who gets to be there and hear these words.

Written by Joe White
Joe has been awarded two honorary Doctoral degrees and has written more than 20 books for teenagers and parents alike. Dr. James Dobson says "Joe White knows more about teenagers than anyone in North America." Joe and his wife, Debbie-Jo, reside in Branson, MO where they oversee Kanakuk Ministries.

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