One of the most painful things in life is dealing with wayward children. Although this is not unique to religious types, it is particularly difficult for those who hold strong religious convictions. One of the characteristics of those who hold strong religious convictions is that they are to pass their strong religious convictions on to their children.
As I said, this is not unique to those with strong religious convictions. Even those strong religious convictions have hopes and dreams for their children and are often dismayed when their children fall short of their hopes and dreams. And even when kids aren’t falling short of specific parental hopes and dreams, the pains and agonies of the kids become the pains and agonies of the parents. And these pains and agonies of the parents are multiplied because said parents have often taken great pains and agonies to protect their kids from and educate them against these pains and agonies.
But this situation is especially acute for parents with religious convictions. Those without strong religious convictions may lament the prodigality of their children and may wonder where they went wrong, or how it could be that their kids didn’t learn any better; in short they may feel that there has been some sort of failure on their part or the kids part. But with religious parents this is compounded because they carry the added weight of feeling that they have let God down too.
I speak from my own experience as a Christian. The most important thing to me in regards to my kids is that they embrace the faith that I am trying to pass on. I think this is true of most Christian parents. I have served as a youth minister for five years and have served as a senior pastor for five more years. Thus I have had a front row seat to myriads of modern adaptations of the story of the prodigal son.
I got to thinking about this recently when I read Michael Spencer’s post A Prayer for Alex: what do do when your child says he doesn’t believe anymore. Michael really hits a home run with this post. I strongly recommend that you read his post because he talks about what it is like to be a kid and he talks about all of the influences that pull kids away from the faith of their fathers. He shows that we shouldn’t be surprised when kids wander away from the faith and that a time of wandering doesn’t equal permanent desertion.
As I read Michael’s piece I echoed his sentiment to the effect of “why should we be surprised when kids reject the faith?” The only thing I can add to this is that the bible is full of such instances. In fact, it seems to be the norm in Scripture that most of the characters in the bible have a period of wandering from the faith. Think of Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, Samson and think of all of those kings of Israel and Judah. Think of Peter and the other disciples who deserted Jesus in His hour of trial. It seems that almost no one, no matter how close they are to Jesus, lives a life without some kind of wandering.
Parents today are bombarded with books, tapes, cd’s and seminars full of helpful material on parenting. This goes for religious and non-religious parents. Again, in my context as a Christian, I can rattle off the top of my head many names of authors and titles of books that are specifically devoted to helping you raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord and keep them walking with Christ.
We read all of these things and think that there is some guarantee in reading them and applying their principles that, if we read and apply these principles, our kids are going to turn out perfect, or if not perfect, at least pretty good. Yet in the Bible you’ve got people like David, a man after God’s own heart, who commits adultery and murder. The disciples themselves had three years of training at the feet of Jesus yet they deserted him. And we don’t even need to mention Peter.
So the question again is, why do we think our kids won’t rebel? Michael Spencer does a good job of showing that a period of rebellion can actually be the catalyst of a renewed commitment to Christ.
The problem I have seen with so many Christian families is the sense of doom and gloom when there is a period of rebellion. Parents act as if it is the end of the world. I don’t mean to minimize the fact that these can be periods of great pain. As I said, the pains and agonies of the kids become the pains and agonies of the parents. Yet, if we could maintain a sense of perspective, it would help us and our kids.
When kids start to wander parents tend to either go into panic mode or crackdown mode. This is harmful to both the parent and the kid. It robs the parent of any sense of peace and joy and it further alienates the kids.
I have asked several parents, whose kids are in a state of wandering if they ever had a period of wandering themselves. The answer is always yes. Then I ask them if God brought them back to Himself? The answer is always yes. My next statement is always “then can’t you trust God to do the same thing in your child’s life that He did in yours?” And the reply I get from that is always the same – “yes, but I have worked so hard to do all I can to see to it that they don’t wander.”
I often find that these parents don’t understand grace. In their heart of hearts they don’t truly believe that they have been forgiven for their own transgressions, so they are seeking atonement through their kids. If they can raise kids who didn’t do the wrong things they did, this will become a way of atoning for their own sins.
To read in full, please go to http://jollyblogger.typepad.com/jollyblogger/2005/05/what_about_thes.html