“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” are words written by the Apostle John in his third epistle. While John is addressing his spiritual children, these words resonate with parents who see their children walking faithfully with Christ. Conversely, many parents will say that they have no greater sorrow than to hear that their children are walking in darkness.
It can be so very difficult and depressing, especially when we have done our best to raise our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” (Ephesians 6:1) to see them walk away from the faith. Perhaps they had made a profession of faith and were baptized at a young age and seemed to enjoy attending church, children’s programs, and youth group. It was exciting and joyful to see them follow Christ. Then, at some point, whether it was in college or at some other juncture in life, they abandoned the faith as evidenced by their ungodly actions (John 3:36) or by verbally declaring that they no longer believe (2 John 2:23).
What are we to think about this? Here are two truths and a lie to contemplate as we pray for our wayward children.
Truth #1: There’s still hope.
While the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) serves to give us hope, it may seem to us that our wayward children will never change. Maybe it’s been years since they’ve rejected the faith and there’s no indication that their opinions or convictions have moved one inch closer to the truth of the gospel.
But the truth is that our prayers matter (James 5:16b-20). The truth is we don’t know how long it took the Prodigal Son to come to his senses; perhaps it was years. And we don’t know how the Holy Spirit moves or when He will choose to do so (John 3:8). Of course, we don’t know whether or not our children will ever repent and change, but the truth is that, like the importunate widow, we can continually and persistently pray for them (Luke 18:1) and continue to hope.
Truth #2: God is shaping you.
This issue is about you as much as it is about them. When considering our wayward children, our focus is usually on what they’re doing, how they’re living, whether or not we detect any inkling of belief. But, as God’s children ourselves, He is actively shaping us as well. Pride could certainly be rampant in any parent’s life, particularly if we thought we could teach others how to raise children to be believers in Christ, “just as we did.” God is teaching us to be humble. He is also teaching us to be gracious to our children when they express ungratefulness for the truths we’ve tried to instill into them. He is teaching us how to forgive, how to reach out in love to people who have hurt us, and how to maintain God-honoring relationships with unbelieving children (Romans 5:8).
As we struggle with how to relate to our children, we need to ask God for wisdom. It’s good to remember that the promise of God’s wisdom in James 1:5 is in the context of suffering (James 1:2-8) and is not for the purpose of knowing exactly what to say to bring them to their senses, but for the purpose of our spiritual growth (James 1:3-4). God is shaping us through this, so let us be eager to learn how to become more mature and how to best glorify Him through our trial.
Lie: You are responsible.
When our children go astray, most of us are quick to look at our failures as parents. I should have led more family devotions. I should have prayed for them more. I should have kept them from certain friends or from certain forms of entertainment. I should have…(fill in the blank).
But it’s important to remember that while parenting is indeed very influential, it is not determinative. God has no grandchildren. We do not determine the spiritual condition of our children – they stand alone before God on this issue (Romans 14:12). Think about the people you know who were not raised in a Christian home, yet came to faith. Conduct an informal study in your own church and you’ll find that many, perhaps most, of the people who are faithful members of your church were not raised by Christian parents. The truth is that no one comes to Christ unless the Father calls him (John 6:44) and you and I do not stand in that place.
The truth is that yes, you are flawed and no, you were not the perfect parent. But even the Perfect Parent had rebellious children as God declares in Isaiah 1:4, “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.” We are called to be faithful to teach and to do our best as we raise our children, but only God controls the outcome (1 Corinthians 3:6).
While we should gently share truth, we don’t need to continually evangelize our wayward children. They already know what we think and believe, and most likely, they also know the Scriptures. It’s not for a lack of knowledge that they walk in darkness, it’s for lack of a regenerated heart, which only comes from God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). We must love them, cultivate our relationship with them, and most importantly, continually pray for them so that, if God so chooses by His grace and mercy, we may be able to experience “no greater joy” when we hear that our children “are walking in the truth.”