Your children are developing their own sense of self, and their own personal faith.
When a parent has cancer and could even die, this faith often goes through a period of questioning. How could God allow their mom or dad to have cancer? Where is God in all of this? Is God punishing them?
As Christians, we’re often confronted with the question of why bad things happen to good people. There are many different conclusions that people arrive at about the answer, even within the Christian faith.
Faith, itself is born out of questions.
In the Bible, Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Questions are not being able to see the end of the tunnel. Faith is what keeps you moving, believing that eventually, you will reach the light.
Faith can make all the difference in getting through life and its challenges. It grounds you, comforts you, and gives you a sense of community support.
Our Daughter, Sam
For the first 3 years of my husband’s cancer, our daughter, Sam, seemed to either have unshakable faith or enormous naiveté. She was unflappable in her confidence that God would take care of us and that everything would work out. I recently asked her about it since she was much older and could express her thoughts more clearly. She said, “I always knew that Dad could die, but I also knew that God would take care of us, even if that happened.”
Of course, having that kind of faith doesn’t necessarily spare someone fear, sadness, frustration, or any of the other many feelings surrounding a loved one’s illness. Recently, my husband was going to California to visit our adult daughter, her husband, and children. Sam had an awful nightmare, the night before. As a result, she had a total meltdown. In tears, she told Dan that she’d dreamed he didn’t come back from California and that we’d never see him again. She asked him not to go. The reality is that the dream was really a manifestation of her fears about losing Dan to cancer. Thankfully, he was able to comfort and assure her that everything would be okay. He had a good trip and did return to us, safe and sound.
What are your beliefs about this question of why bad things happen to good people? In particular, why do people get cancer? Is it a punishment for past mistakes or sins? Is it a testing God allows, like in the book of Job? Is cancer a random event? Your answers to these questions are a reflection of your beliefs and who you are. It’s likely that your children are very aware of these things and have many similar responses to something as earth-shaking as cancer.
Children’s brains haven’t even fully developed until they turn 25. This is why it often takes that long before they really get their act together. It also makes it more difficult for them to reconcile their experience as a child of a cancer patient, with what they have always been told or believed about God.
What if your feelings about matters of faith and of God have never been clearly expressed?
If that’s the case, it’s likely that you’re wrestling with some of these same questions, and that your children won’t have a clear basis for their ideas on faith. It’s okay to tell your children that you’re struggling with what to believe. Again, this is coming from a place of honesty and trust. At that point, it’s essential that you begin to explore these things for your own spiritual well-being.
At times like these, it can be a good idea to reach out for advice and help, for yourself and your children.
Talk to a trusted pastor or a friend with a faith that you admire and feel you could connect with. They may be able to listen and explain things to you and/or your child.
One word of caution:
Often, well-meaning people will tell a child who has lost a parent, “God must have needed another angel in heaven.” This can be very destructive to a child’s image of God, turning Him into the one who took their parent away. It’s better to say, “I’m so sorry for what you are going through,” or “I’m sorry for your loss.”
For a long time, I struggled with the question of why my husband would have cancer. It seemed so unfair. I wasn’t angry with God, but what we were going through wasn’t lining up with how I believed the world worked.
What helped me come to terms with my husband’s cancer, was faith. Like my daughter, Sam, I had to trust that things would be okay. That didn’t mean that they would be the way I thought they should be, but that God would have His hand on us through this.
Above all, I take comfort in knowing that when my husband does die, whether it is in 6 months, a year, or 20 years, he’ll be in the very presence of Jesus Christ. For us as believers, there is nothing better than that. So, as hard as this journey is, I will rejoice for him on that day.
About Heather Erickson
I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.
My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com