I have seen it. We all have. It is distressing and discouraging and heart-rending. Many I know are living it.
An adult child of two faithful believers turns from the church and from the Lord.
Parental guilt builds. What did we do? What did we not do? Much pain ensues, pain that can last until death.
Parents only get one shot at rearing children. The day, the moment that passes cannot be revisited. Often parents do not even recognize the impact of the choices they are making as parents and cannot see or foresee the long-term effects of those choices upon their children.
Some parent practices are better than others, of course, but parenting is an art. No guarantees. No 99.9% effective methods. No perfect parents.
And when children become adults, they will choose, if they have not chosen already.
The world is against godly parents. My parents lived in a time in which Christians thought the world (America) was with them. It was not. Parents of that day did not recognize the enemy for what it was, and Christian families have paid dearly over the last four decades, in part for trusting the enemy.
When adult children choose to walk away from the Lord, we must grieve with the parents. We must acknowledge that adults make decisions and that adults are responsible alone before God for their decision regarding Jesus. No parents will be condemned by God for an adult child’s decision. And no one in the church should look upon parents who sought to see their children follow Christ with any thought other than love and gratitude, wherever the child might decide to walk.
Today, for my wife and me, our four adult children follow Christ. We never take tomorrow for granted. If time walking with our Savior grants wisdom, perhaps we can share a few things with younger parents and with those who have seen their children stray.
• Love the Lord your God.
• Love each other. Nothing is more important to your children than to know that you love each other. Your love of God and of your children will be shown to them first by your love for their mom or dad.
• Parent toward the goal. The goal of parenting a 6-year-old is not a well-behaved 6-year-old. The goal of parenting is an independent adult who loves God and follows Jesus of her own accord. You cannot make that happen, but you can parent with that ever in mind.
• Maintain clear standards and be consistent, in grace, in holding yourselves and your children to them.
• Give your children increasing autonomy to accept responsibility. Included in this is granting to your children the right to fail. Often busy parents find it easier to do things for their children than to allow their children to try. By age 2, a child can carry plates from the table to the kitchen, but it takes oversight and often cleaning what is spilled as the child learns. By age 6, a child already can know to tithe and can begin to learn for himself the follies of frivolous spending of his own money. By age 10 or 11, most children can determine their own bedtimes. “Stay up as late as you like, but you must rise early and in a good attitude in the morning.” All our children stayed up almost all night the first night. After that, they self-regulated, mostly in wisdom.
• When trust is broken, pull back autonomy but do not destroy. Throughout history, by age 12, children were taking adult responsibilities in the home, on the farm, or even in the family business. See your children less and less as “children” and more and more as adults. Respond to your older children more as you would adults. Begin a lifelong friendship with these adults who already love you deeply.
• Be honest with your children. Teach them forgiveness by letting them forgive you. Hide little from them. Share life with them in a sense of trust. Let them join in toward the success of the family.
• Do not expect the church to rear your children spiritually for you. Earnest people leading church programs have not been called to parent your children, and the time they have with your children is far insufficient in any event. Parenting is 24/7/365. Accept the spiritual responsibility. Seek their holiness and righteousness at every point, as you seek your own.
• Prioritize your child’s relationship with God over status, sports, education, money, recreation, and anything else. The college that gets your child a high-paying job might be the college that destroys your child spiritually. The sport that meets some need in your or your child’s mind might be that which undermines the supremacy of Christ in his heart. Be careful.
Parents of Adult Children Who Stray
• Do not neglect the influence of prayer or the power of the Holy Spirit. Read Luke 18:1-8 regularly and repeatedly.
• Parents should not fear to seek the church’s prayers, and the church should eagerly join these prayers. The church should pray together over the long haul for these children.
• Trust the Holy Spirit to convict the child who has strayed. Do not try to be the Holy Spirit.
• Love and hold near the adult child without Christ. Remember how Christ treated Zacchaeus, lepers, and women of ill-repute.
• Pray for Christians who will cross paths with your child and that God would send many believers to walk beside your adult child.
• Invest your love in others. Pray for the children of others. Disciple and encourage others. Rejoice with parents whose children have not strayed.
• Do not lower Christ’s standards and commands to accommodate the sin of the child who has strayed.
• Remember, your child is choosing daily. Today or tomorrow could be the day he chooses to obey Jesus.