“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,” 1 Timothy 4:1-2
I am stunned. How could this happen? This painful truth of 1 Timothy 4 is being experienced by my extended family for the first time. Never in a million years would I, or they, have thought that my sweet Jesus-loving family member, who was raised in one of the godliest families I know, where both parents love each other (over 25+ years of faithful marriage) love Jesus, still love Jesus, have raised their girls in the Christian faith, participated in ongoing active church involvement, bible studies, mission trips, charity drives, who have experienced the blessing and favor of the Lord, has now decided in her twenties to depart from her faith and adopt a lifestyle of self seeking, self loving, self serving, self healing and self idolizing pursuits, going so far as to reject her Christian faith publicly on social media. After reading her post last week, I simply sat stunned with tears as I tried my best to sort out my own emotions surrounding this grand reveal.
How in the world did this happen?
How are her parents taking this?
Where did things go wrong? What can I do?
Some of you may already be very familiar with the emotions present and the relational challenges you have with loved ones who have similarly decided that Jesus wasn’t enough, or real enough; or that Christianity is outdated, out of touch, not culturally respectable – that the bible is unreliable, archaic, prejudiced, homophobic, intolerant, and untrustworthy.
Some of you feel the angst and the pain of loving someone so deeply and having cared for a son or daughter so faithfully only to lay your head on your pillow at night greeted by your personal demons of guilt, condemnation, and regret as your loved one chose to reject the God of the Bible and walk away from faith. And as the tears soak your pillow you cling to hope even as your own faith is tested beyond what you feel you can endure. And the questions fill your mind:
Why did they turn their back?
And the heavier question, Am I at fault in their demise?
After the initial shock wore off, I was left with the tremendous task of trying to figure things out, wondering how to proceed relationally as a tangled mess of emotions and relational barriers presented themselves.
I remember as a child fishing with my family at Big Bear Lake in California and was always the kid who, within the first 30 minutes of settling into our desired fishing location, had managed to end up with the largest rats nest of fishing line to be untangled. I remember how frustrating it was to try to untangle the mess and in the end needed help from my father who was patient enough to lay aside his pole and come help me. In some ways, that’s how I feel today. There is an emotional rats nest of lifeline that is so tangled up leaving me feeling like I can’t undo and fix this. I need to turn to my heavenly Father and with His help begin to sort out the knots I’m finding in my own soul regarding her and regarding my own life.
You see, I am not so naive to believe that something like this couldn’t happen to one of my own kids. As a pastor, I do not have the guarantee that all my children will love the Lord Jesus, faithfully serving Him and passing along the biblical truths and values to their kids and beyond. I am filled with the knowledge of prominent Christian leaders who currently have kids who have rejected Christ. Respectable, God honoring people, like Pastor John Piper, whose son walked away.
So I must not be a person who naively believes that just because I have faith in Christ and take my kids to church that ensures they will turn out fine. Nor should I be arrogant to believe that this could never happen to my kids and become judgmental of other families struggling with their wayward kids. No, this issue can only be met with humility and the reality that we live in a broken world, where sin is the issue. There is an enemy to contend with and it is not our child; we must contend with evil forces that seek to steal the hearts of our kids away from devotion to Christ.
Paul in his letter to the Corinthians shared a common concern:
2 Corinthians 11:3 “But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent.”
It seems apparent from this scripture that though one starts out as a devoted follower of Jesus, there is the possibility of being corrupted.
So where do we begin? Hopefully the following thoughts will be helpful if you find yourself dealing with this issue. It’s not exhaustive, but more of a launching point into finding hope and healing.
- Examine yourself first
The bible says that we should examine ourselves, and it is good to take a good and honest look at our own lives first as it relates to how we raise our children. Here are a few questions parents should ask themselves as they examine their parenting:
- Am I motivated to simply get my child to say the “sinners” prayer? Some parents who desire their children to be saved will put great pressure on their children to get them to ask Jesus into their heart. If this has been forced upon your child and they did “become a Christian” it might have been prayed more to please and appease you than it was and actual authentic display of faith in the person and work of Jesus.
- Was/is our home culture that of performance or is it that of grace? Am I trying to raise “moral” kids who look good on the outside to others, but whose hearts do not embrace such values? Do I get angry or upset when my children fail in front of others as it makes me look bad? Am I pressuring my kids to perform to maintain an image of godliness? When was the last time I humbled myself before my child and confessed my sin to them asking them to forgive me? Do we have a culture of religion (performance based) in our home or a culture of grace whereby our kids see imperfect parents who are honest with their own shortcomings and willing to model repentance?
- Have I shown honest interest in what my kids are thinking and feeling, and am I giving them the opportunity to talk about the questions they might have regarding faith? Or am I simply telling them how it is and what they have to believe?
- Do I recognize the areas of struggle that my children are encountering (this could be everything from secret addictions, to insecurities and fears, peer pressure, the desire to fit in…) or do I naively think everything is fine?
- Do I pray with my kids and/or do they seek me out for prayer?
These are a few tough questions that must be honestly answered. But what if you have been faithfully leading as a parent and they still hit the eject button?
- Recognize there is an enemy
Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
1 Timothy 4:1-2 “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,”
I am convinced that there is a full out assault on this generation by the enemy who is seeking to deceive our children. Political correctness and the new tolerance is a philosophy demonically inspired to take our children captive. There is much in the media that pressures and informs our children what to believe.
- Are we doing anything to equip our children with the truth of God’s Word to challenge the media bias in our day?
- How much teaching are our kids receiving via movies, tv shows, and the internet? Every movie and show is teaching our children something but is it biblical?
- In contrast, how much time is spent studying the scriptures?
- How much time is spent in community with fellow believers to work through these issues?
You see, as a student ministries pastor, I recognize that the majority of our kid’s lives are spent in school classrooms, in extra curricular activities, and with people who do not share a common faith in Jesus nor value God’s word. Our kids are under tremendous influence from the culture spending anywhere from 45-50 hours a week in a secular culture vs. 3 hours a week in Christian community (and that is only if you come to church regularly.) For some kids it’s merely 3 hours a month vs. 200+ hours in culture. If your son or daughter isn’t engaged actively in Christian community, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when they walk away from faith. Stats reveal this to be true. It’s no wonder we are losing so many young people. Just do the math.
But what if you’ve done all you can do to raise your kids in the faith? You’ve modeled grace and repentance in your relationships. You’ve imparted wisdom so that they can challenge the philosophy of the day. You’ve built Christian community, bible study, worship and prayer into their lives yet they still fall away.
- Understand your role
You are not your children’s savior. Salvation belongs to the Lord. You are not meant to control your children. There is only one person you are called to control: yourself. The Bible calls it one of the fruits of the Spirit: self-control. At the end of the day your role is to model the gospel (including ongoing repentance), point your kids to the glories and the wonders of Christ, pray for them and be faithful. If you are going through this season, trust that the Lord does love and care for you, that He does love your kids, that He is still sovereign and in control and is good. Most likely He is also doing a deep work in your own heart as you share in the sufferings of Christ. I’m reminded that even God in the flesh, who walked here on earth in person, was rejected by man.
May the Lord help to untangle your hearts from the relational knots and mess that happens when kids hit the eject button. May He strengthen you to continue to be faithful even if, for now, your children are faithless.
For 12 more practical tips on how to love your wayward kids, click here.