An Open Letter to Christian Parents of Unbelieving Adult Children
"What about our son?" "What about our daughter?" As a pastor there are conversations that I routinely have with parishioners. One of the regular exchanges I have had over the years begins with a Christian parent or both parents approaching with downcast gazes. The discouragement, and at times even despair, are apparent in their eyes. The opening words are either, "Pastor, would you pray for our child?," or "Pastor, what advice would you give to us for child?" They then proceed to explain that their adult child has wandered from the faith. With anguish in their words, they detail how they brought him or her up in the faith: their child had attended Sunday School each week, participated in corporate worship, and attended Youth Group. A few times, I have even been told that they were a paragon of virtue and seemed to love the Lord in their teenage years. Their parents were not shy about sharing the faith with their child at home and they tried to surround him or her with good and godly friends. But now, sadly, their child has rejected Christ. They are living a life of unbelief and their parents are filled with grief.
What is a Christian parent of an unbelieving adult child to do? I usually offer three pastoral encouragements: remember the past, pray in the present, and hope for the future.
Dear Christian parent, first you must remember the past. You spent years sowing the truth of God's word in the life of your child. You taught them the Word of God, prayed for them, brought them to church week in and week out, and pointed them to Christ through your conversations and actions. Did you do it perfectly? No. Who has? But you did sow the seeds of truth. And God says His Word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11), His Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and it brings salvation to those who hear (Romans 10:14). These seeds of truth are calling out to them for the rest of their lives. In the present, you must remember all the truth they encountered in the past and trust that God will work by His appointed means.
Second, pray in the present. Various parents have asked me how they continue to call their child to faith and yet treat them as an adult. I remind them to seize moments and share little gospel truths here and there. Every conversation doesn't need to be an evangelistic sermon, but a well-placed thought or truth can be invaluable. This is necessary and good, but just as important is consistent and faithful prayer. Do not stop asking your Heavenly Father to hear and answer your prayer. Like the persistent widow, keep praying until the petition is realized (Luke 18). Enlist friends, elders, and your pastors to pray for your child. Make it the prayer you pray when you rise and when you lie down, because the prayers of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16). Your prayers working with His Word planted in the past may be the very means by which your son or daughter is converted.
Third, hope for the future. Do not despair. Trust in God, hope, and pray that they will turn to Him. Are they too far gone? Of course not! Never allow our adversary to sow such a seed of doubt. No matter how great their sin, no matter how hard their heart, no matter how firm their resolve, no matter how strident their tongue, our Lord can work the miracle of conversion in the blink of an eye. Believe and hope that God can and will work. Does it seem hopeless? Does it seem impossible? Well, I have good news, our God is a God who majors in the seemingly hopeless and impossible.
Dear Christian parent, your trial is great, but your God is greater still. He is not blind to your anguish and He does not ignore the prayers of His children. May God hear your heart's cry, answer, and work in your child's life. May He take your child and make him or her His own. He is worthy of our trust, pour out your heart before Him (Psalm 62:8).
Jack Miller Come Back, Barbara