Share your pain with someone and ask for prayers. God has saved us to be a part of a family in Christ, and this community context is vital for our spiritual growth, especially when we face trials. Some parents tend to keep their sufferings and problems to themselves, either to avoid exposing their children or for they do not want to be judged as a failure. However, the Christian is not called to live a lonely life. It is always possible to seek aid in the body of Christ.
In the Christian life no experience seems to be more harrowing than seeing someone we love turning away from the Lord. If this person is a son or daughter, the pain is even greater. Christian parents never raise their children to be lost because they know what the Bible teaches about the destiny of those who go astray from God’s ways. Therefore, the rebellion of the children is almost unbearable.
The suffering caused by the deviation of the loved one is aggravated by the frustration of noticing that all the appeals for repentance do not produce any effect. Having a conversation becomes challenging because the interests have become different; the core values and patterns of behavior are not the same. There is also a constant feeling of impotence since the parents cannot change their children’s minds and hearts.
Many times, these parents experience existential crisis outbreaks, being filled with despair. Thus, in these cases, a friendly comforting, a shoulder to cry on, and an open ear are always welcome. I would like to share some practical principles and actions to reflect on:
- Rejoice in the Lord always. The Bible teaches us that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Also, rejoicing in who God is and in what He has done for us in Christ Jesus is a living testimony to the rebellious children as well. If the children see their parents always sad, depressed, and in despair because of their wrong choices, they might question the solidity of their parents’ faith. Satan is crafty enough to lead them into thinking that their parents love them more than they love God. Was not this Satan’s accusation about Job when he suggested that he loved God only because of his possessions and family stability (Job 1)? Therefore, exercise your joy in the Lord in various ways, proclaiming the Gospel’s wonderful truths to yourself, listening or singing hymns and songs that speak of the Lord’s kindness unto you. Furthermore, remember that rejoicing in Jesus Christ is a wonderful commandment to all Christians (Philippians 4:4).
- Share your pain with someone and ask for prayers. God has saved us to be a part of a family in Christ, and this community context is vital for our spiritual growth, especially when we face trials. Some parents tend to keep their sufferings and problems to themselves, either to avoid exposing their children or for they do not want to be judged as a failure. However, the Christian is not called to live a lonely life. It is always possible to seek aid in the body of Christ. A good biblical example in this venue is the story of Daniel (Daniel 1). Apparently, Daniel decided by himself to resist Nebuchadnezzar’s offers (v.8). Although, later, the reader can see that he had the support, help, and prayers of his three friends, and it was crucial for his success. Therefore, do not face this problem alone.
- Pray without ceasing for the salvation of your children. We know that the only person that can change hearts is the Holy Spirit. Our argumentations, love gestures, rebukes, and exhortation are ineffective to save them from their sins. Some parents try to manipulate their rebel children by appealing to their feelings and emotions, good sense, and logic. However, they forget that the children are far from the Lord, in a relationship with the world, and their affections, values, and logic are not the same as their parents’. The parents ought to intercede for them before the Lord, who has the power to convince them of sin, justice, and judgment. Pray with your children for them, as well.
- Strengthen your marriage. Few parents notice how much the rebellion of their children affects their conjugal relationship. Sometimes, the parents end up investing more energy and time on their children’s problems than in their marital relationship. The relationship might become burdened by arguments and fights concerning the rebellious child. In this case, the parents suffer not only from the distancing of their children but also they begin to live a cold and weak marriage. Therefore, the husband and the wife should make provisions to be united at this time, pray together, cry together, and strengthen one another.
- Pray that God may reveal to your children the ugliness of the world. The Bible teaches that the world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19), and only God can reveal the darkness and ugliness of this world. Thus, the content of the prayer of these parents should encompass that the Lord opens their eyes to see the evilness of this world and the despair of a godless life. The prayer of supplication that God may open the eyes of the rebellious child is indispensable.
- Ask forgiveness for the mistakes you have committed in your parenting. Often times, to affirm their new lifestyle, a child that has gone astray will point to your parenting errors. It might be hard to agree with a rebellious child, but we are called to apologize for our mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes in parenting, and even though these mistakes do not justify the rebellion of the children, apologizing for them sets an example of Christian humility.
- Be gracious to them as God is gracious to you. It is crucial that parents of rebellious children remember that once they also rebelled against God, and that God graciously saved and redeemed them, bringing them to a new life in Christ Jesus. In His works of salvation, God uses both the severity of the law and the love and mercy of His grace. The problem is that often the parents of rebellious children solely remember to talk to them about the severity of God’s law, and they forget to tell them about the riches of God’s grace that is found in Jesus. It is necessary to find a balance in how we present the law and grace of God. In this case, we should learn directly from God, as He shows us in the Bible how He has dealt with us.
- Spend time with your child. Try to spend some quality time with your child. You should enjoy your children’s company, and your children should enjoy spending some time with you. It is not appropriate to talk about how terrible your child’s sin is during this time but cultivate a friendship with your child. It does not mean to approve blindly his/her actions. Rebuke and exhortation are fundamental, but it does not need to be the exclusive topic of conversation in your family. Pray for wisdom so that you can enjoy your child as much as possible, and never forget that there is an appointed time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
- Be careful not to indulge them. On the parable of the prodigal son, the rebellious child needed to reach rock bottom first. The Father never ceased to wait for his son’s return. But he did not send his son money or letters of encouragement (Luke 15:11-32). This is not easy; there is a thin line between abandoning (causing real damage by not helping) and indulging (causing more damage by helping). Ask for the Lord to give you strength and discernment concerning this. Pray specifically for wisdom to know when and how to help or not help.
- Be confident in God’s promises. If your child is an elect of God, God will preserve your child till the end; he/she can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace (Philippians 1:6, John 10:28,39, Romans 8:28-30). Your child may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue in them (2 Samuel 12:9, 13, Galatians 2:11-14). He/she can incur in God’s displeasure (2 Samuel 11:27), and grief the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), have his/her heart hardened (Isaiah 63:17), and his/her conscience wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments from God upon himself. However, God will bring his elect back, and they will persevere till the end.
- Be assured that God will be glorified. God’s own glory is something really important for Himself, therefore be assured that He will be glorified through the life of your children. It is a reason to encourage you to trust in the Lord and to praise Him throughout your life. The Bible tells that God predestined some for salvation (election) and some for damnation (reprobation), but He is glorified in the lives of all men – whether he is one of the elect or not (Romans 9:10- 23). God’s glory is the chief end of the life of a Christian and should be a motive of contentment, encouragement, assurance, and peace.
Following these tips will not guarantee your children’s coming back, but it will help you to glorify the Lord even amidst this challenging time of your life. My prayer is that God gives grace, peace, and strength to the parents that are facing a situation like this and are reading this text.
Filipe Fernandes Cortial is student at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a member of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Fair Lawn, NJ, and currently under care of the Presbytery of New Jersey (OPC).