How to Explain Pain to a Child

One of the things that I wonder about as I try to raise my children to know Jesus is how to approach the Passion and to explain to them what happened. The Passion is brutal. It’s one thing to say, “Jesus died for our sins.” It’s another thing to read scripture and to imagine how much suffering and cruelty that Jesus went through. And, honestly, looking through sacred images of the Passion sometimes makes me sick.

How could God allow Himself to go through this torture?

It is still hard for me, an adult with a somewhat more developed understanding of Catholic theology, to grasp my mind around the enormity of the suffering. To explain it to my children in a manner that they could understand? That seemed impossible.

So, while looking at this image, I was a bit surprised when my three-year-old daughter climbed into my lap and peered at the picture with me.

Flagellation of Christ, by Michael Pacher, c. 1495-98. Austrian Gallery Belvedere, Vienna, Austria. Via
Flagellation of Christ, by Michael Pacher, c. 1495-98. Austrian Gallery Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.

And, honestly, I was at a loss for words. What should I say? There is no doubt from the image that Jesus is suffering. His eyebrows are furrowed in pain, he is bleeding from cuts all over his body from the whip that is lacerating his skin, and — worse yet — his tormentors seem to be genuinely enjoying causing him pain.

How was I supposed to explain that?

For a minute, we just sat, me holding her gently in my lap and her looking at the picture intensely. Then she pointed to Jesus. “That’s Jesus,” she said.

“Yes, that’s Jesus.”

“He’s sad.”

“Yes, He’s sad.” I pointed to the cuts. “He’s hurting. That’s why He’s sad.”

My daughter nodded gravely. “He hurts! He needs a band-aid,” she said gravely, pointing to the cuts as well. “Lots and lots of band-aids.”

I couldn’t help it — I smiled. She did understand, in her own little way. After all, hadn’t she hurt herself before? And, just as I had put many band-aids on her scrapes and cuts that she got while exploring the world, she was thinking of how to take care of Jesus and make Him feel better.

No, she probably didn’t understand the enormity of suffering that Jesus was going through at the scourging of the pillar — but that’s okay. She is approaching Jesus in the way that she can understand and putting herself in His shoes as best as she can.

And perhaps that’s all that Jesus wants — for us to follow Him on His path to the cross (and into heaven!) in our own little ways.

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for Your Passion, as it has set us free. Help us meditate on Your Passion and reflect on it in our own little ways so that we may love You more.


Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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