You Asked For It: When Adult Children Stray from Faith

July 16, 2018
By Rev. Jonathan Lawson, Pastor of Adult Discipleship

“What do we do when adult children stray from the faith?”

As the father of an 11-year-old boy, how my son is going to respond to the Christian faith in his adulthood is something that I think about and pray over constantly. There are at least two great men who serve as mentors to me who have sons that, despite having been raised in the faith by some of the most godly and wise men and women I know, have rejected Christianity and chosen another path. I know, through their heartache and pain, the desperation and confusion that one can feel in trying to know what to do to bring their children back into the fold of the Church. I can also speak as one who grew up in the church and turned away from God as I reached adulthood. Often there is a pain and a fear that manifests itself in a skepticism that tunes out almost all overt attempts at being reached. But this doesn’t mean that we must despair, for our hope is in Christ, and it is a real and living hope. So what does it look like to live in that hope?

Pray for them, and for yourself.

It’s difficult to say this without sounding trite. Of course you are going to pray for your children–they’re your children. I would never suggest that any Christian parent wouldn’t pray for the spiritual life of their child, but this act shouldn’t be taken for granted. I know I often pray about problems and then go right on trying to solve them as if I didn’t expect God to act. We can’t look past this most critical and effective privilege given to us by our Heavenly Father. How we pray is important as well. For a child not walking a path of Christian discipleship, our temptation is to pray simply that they come back. Perhaps instead we should be praying for God’s grace to be at work in their lives to help them find the truth and the peace they are searching for and trust it will only be found in God. We might also consider praying for ourselves, that God will grant us the confidence to trust His love and goodness. Remember God loves them even more than you do, and that’s the same love God has for you.

Love them in ways they can know.

No matter what, our children should know that we love them and care about what is in their best interests. Sometimes, even though this is how we truly feel, it doesn’t get communicated or at least that communication isn’t received. We don’t have to endorse or validate our child’s rejection of Christian faith, but we also don’t have to remind them of how much it hurts or displeases us. They want to know that no matter how much they may mess up, you will always love them and be willing to forgive them. Remember that in order to have any influence in someone’s life you have to remain in relationship with them. Being willing to walk with them no matter what not only keeps the lines of communication open–it also builds credibility that you’re not just trying to control how they live, but you truly do care about what is in their best interests.

Focus on your walk with Christ.

I am a firm believer that the greatest thing we can do to bring others to Christ is to allow Christ to be real in every aspect of our lives. Our lives are the witness to the world of the reality of Christ’s power to transform us and to overcome darkness. Our families see that more closely than anyone else. One of the shocks of growing up is to see the fallibility of the people we once thought infallible. No one is perfect, and we shouldn’t place that expectation on anyone–including ourselves. We can, however, dedicate ourselves to walking the path of Christian discipleship with commitment and authenticity. Christ has told us in John 12:32, “And I, when lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” When Jesus is lifted up in and through our lives, He will draw all people to Himself. Continuing to faithfully and intentionally walk with Christ, even through the difficult times of watching our children walk away from Him, lifts Christ high.

In the end, we can only present Christ.

Just as God does not compel people to love Him, because love cannot be compelled, neither can we compel people to run to the One who draws them. But what we can do is remain in relationship with others while also remaining in relationship with Christ. The closer we can walk with each, the closer we can bring them together. Perhaps our children aren’t walking with God, but if we can walk alongside them as we walk alongside God, then the Holy Spirit can begin to shape us both.