During the month of May we’ll be highlighting our Marian dolls (which are all on sale this month!) and exploring how through play based learning we can plant a seed of faith in our children that will truly last a lifetime. Today we look at Our Lady of Kibeho!
When I was a child I had a major stumbling block when it came to the saints. Very often, I found their stories to be, well, scary. It seemed like in order to be a saint, lots of bad things had to happen to you. So in my child’s brain I thought, “why would anyone want to become a saint if it meant signing up for a life of suffering?!”.
Then one day I was finally able to articulate my fears to my mother. “I love God! I want to do good things like help people and spread his love- but I don’t want God to make me sick, poor, hated or a martyr!”
Luckily, my mother was ready with an answer that has stayed with me my entire life. “The rain falls on the just and the unjust,” she said, “you can either suffer with Christ, or alone.” While I didn’t exactly want to hear that either, it was true. No one is spared from suffering in this life, but what sets the saints apart is their response to that inevitable suffering.
The saints understand that suffering can be redemptive. You can unite your suffering to Christ crucified, and in that way become even closer to him and that suffering can be used by God.
It’s a heavy topic, but an important tenet of our faith that can benefit children. Too often the culture promotes the idea of “avoiding suffering at all costs because it’s pointless (and icky to witness).” That can breed attitudes and behaviors that are unhealthy and can cause major problems in (anyone’s) life and development. To believe that suffering is pointless breeds anger, selfishness, sloth, and despair.
We can see this play out even in very small instances of suffering. Road rage when there’s a traffic jam, keeping quiet in the face of injustice because we fear being ostracized, not fulfilling our duties in life because its “hard” and its easier to “just have fun”, or feeling worthless when sickness comes into our lives and we are no longer a “productive member of society.”
Introducing redemptive suffering to children can change their entire lives. When suffering appears, whether physically, mentally or spiritually, they can offer it up to Christ and let the pain stop with Him. Suffering that is united to Christ ends with Christ, and is transformed into something beautiful and redemptive. Suffering becomes hope, love, healing. Suffering that is not united to God usually ends in more sin- despair, anger, blame, etc.
When Our Lady of Kibeho appeared she emphasized the importance of conversion to defeat evil. But as St. Paul says, “But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greek’s foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Suffering is a major hurdle for many people, just like it was for me as a child. When we teach about suffering we allow children to approach God without fear. God is love, suffering is the result of sin. And when we remove fear, true love and true conversion can occur.
Jesus says, “if anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23). If we want to follow Christ we must accept suffering is a part of life, but united to him, it becomes transformed and can change us and the world.
Discussing suffering with children can feel really heavy. How and when the concept is introduced depends on the age and temperament of your children. We’ve used this time of social distancing to discuss with our children how their suffering at having to give up their normal lives can be sent up to God in prayer. We may not know how God uses it, but we can have faith that its not wasted. This has helped our children, they are still sad, but instead of becoming angry and bitter at this unexpected suffering, they are hopeful that their suffering and prayers are helping in some way. When given to God, no part of our lives is lost or wasted.
This is just one example of how to use this story to explore and expand on an aspect of our faith. Together with your child, I’m sure you will discover even more! God bless!