We all have a natural tendency to seek comfort and avoid suffering. This is especially true of children, who have limited “delay of gratification skills,” meaning that it’s difficult for them to not have what they want, right when they want it.
But suffering is a part of every life. Along with the good times, we also experience illness, hardships, disappointment, and eventually death. If our faith is to be relevant to our everyday life, it is important that a community of faith be able to give meaning to suffering and be responsive to the needs of those who are suffering.
God is always with us
Once, during a rare question and answer session, a young girl from Japan asked Pope Benedict why people must suffer as they did in her country during the tsunami. Pope Benedict answered honestly, saying that he, too, had trouble understanding why suffering of this magnitude is present in the world. He then echoed the words of Pope John Paul II, saying that one thing we can be certain about is that God is always on the side of the suffering. Jesus himself entered into human suffering. In the suffering Christ, we see God’s solidarity with even the most painful moments of human existence. Children’s experience of God’s presence often takes shape in their interactions with friends and family, and most especially with their parents, but in a lesser way with teachers, catechists, and other authority figures. For this reason, it is important that they experience empathy from the adults in their lives, even when their suffering seems small by our standards. Reflecting their feelings by saying, “I know you're frustrated that you can’t play outside today,” or “I’m sorry your stomach is hurting,” lets them know that you care about them, and it helps give them the strength to bear their small sufferings and build self discipline.