Only a parent can understand some things. We understand the frustrations of dealing with incessant questions, mysterious happenings around the house, and the disappointment of finding last night’s leftovers gone before lunch the next day. Of course, I could probably continue but I find myself buoyed with thoughts of our children’s laughter around the dinner table and other moments branded onto my heart. Yes, only a parent can understand some things… like how you feel when your child is in pain.

We have dear friends who lost their son to a brain tumor at five years old. I remember how broken I felt by his home-going but no one can truly understand or sympathize with a parent who has watched their child suffer unto the point of death. His daddy will forever be one of my greatest heroes. By faith, he stood over the coffin of his first born and preached the Gospel of salvation to family, friends, medical professionals, and co-workers with a grace that only comes from God. Though his boy’s pain had ended, he would never be the same. He has been forever changed, transformed, through the suffering of his child.

Joanna and I knew from the beginning that missionary life would be a challenging adjustment for all of us. Just going to the bank or ordering food at a restaurant can be intimidating. We arrived in Greece in June 2014 and jumped right into the mix, involving our family in as much ministry and “normal life” as possible. Our children were glad to go to real school again. At least for awhile. Unable to communicate effectively with their peers and unable to learn the material being taught, they floundered. Fortunately, not much was expected of them educationally but they were often frustrated. The little cruelties inflicted by children upon each other often bring forth blood the color of tears shed in a lonely room. Such is life for a child who doesn’t feel they fit anywhere they find themselves.

Despite the encouragement to persevere with promises of, “It will get better in time.”, our children have found little to assuage the growing pain in their hearts. They know God called us as a family to Greece but they wrestle with so many unfamiliar, and unwanted, emotions. Where once they were surrounded with family, friends, and familiarity, today they are often afraid to speak to someone. They watch, via social media, their far-away friends experiencing the things they had planned for themselves and they wilt a little more. There are few kids in our neighborhood, and even fewer who would truly befriend them. They all asked to return to homeschooling this year because they were bored and bullied in school. We cannot blame them.

Joanna and I know that the faces we see are brave facades for what is churning beneath their skin. We see and hear the many ways they cry out without knowing it themselves. The moods, disinterest in things that once were so enjoyed, and many other signs are symptomatic of the pain they feel inside. We have promised to ride this out with them. We’re not sure they even fully understand what it is they’re feeling as they lean on the Lord and trust His promises. Despite the loneliness, they know they have a God who loves them and has perfectly planned these days not only for their good, but for His glory. They are slowly realizing they can have great happiness if they simply cling fast to their Heavenly Father. Still, it is hard to see your children in pain.

Our son John loves soccer. He had never played on an organized team before but he is determined to be a great goalie. In all honesty, and he readily admits, he is not the most coordinated kid in the world. He’s a lefty and everything just seems different to him. He decided he wanted to play on a team so we signed him up and I accompany him twice a week to practice. (Unfortunately, games are on Sunday and he knows we will only make the ones played after church.) His Greek is better than most of our family’s but he still doesn’t understand the majority of the instruction… but he recognizes the taunts and teasing from the kids. One afternoon at practice, I was impressed watching him valiantly throw himself at shot after shot until the coach called for a water break. As the kids broke up into their small cliques and began walking across the field, I noticed my boy walking alone through the groups of Greek kids appearing neither happy or sad, intent only on a cool drink of water.

What was he feeling? Resignation? Acceptance? I’m not sure what to call it but I know it hurts for a nine year old boy to be in the midst of his team and feel alone. The full weight of the moment didn’t hit me until prayer meeting that evening. I began to replay months of moments like these in my mind starring all four of our children. I stood to pray and the sobs began as my heart broke wide open. I begged God to give us strength and to give them everything they need to overcome the fear, loneliness, and resentment. We have a long way to go and we know there are many difficult days ahead but we know that our Father understands the pain of His children.

I know now what my son was feeling during that walk. It was courage that pushed down fear and strength to block anything that would weaken his faith in God. He may not understand it but his courage to face the pain in his own life encourages me to be all the more courageous and faithful. Yes, there’s some things only a parent understands and I praise God for it.