To the parents of wanderers…
I know that it hurts.
You did everything that you knew to do to “raise a child in the way that they should go....”
You’ve brought them to church.
You prayed with them before bedtime.
You gave them their first Bible.
You rejoiced when they prayed a prayer of repentance.
You were there cheering for them when they got baptized.
You did everything that you knew to do and now they are making decisions that don’t honor God, reflect the values of your home, or remind you of the sweet and innocent child that they used to be.
“Where did I go wrong?”
“What can I do?”
“Why doesn’t my kid want to go to church? Should I force them?”
We get these questions a lot and the specific answers very by the circumstances, but here a few guide posts that I use to encourage the parents of children who are wandering.
You are not alone
According to many studies including this Lifeway survey, as many as 70% of churchgoing teens will drop out of church for a time as a teen or young adult. You are not alone so don’t go through this alone. Find other parents to walk with through these dark times. There are few things more difficult in parenting then watching your kids make poor decisions. Don’t go through these difficult times without the support of those who know your pain.
Don’t beat yourself up
Remember, God was the best parent Israel could ever have… and still they disobeyed and wandered. Cut yourself some slack!
Your child is not a “prodigal” while they are still a child
The prodigal son (Luke 15) is often referenced by parents of wanderers. While this is a good story to reference, I like to point out that the prodigal takes the money and leaves the house to pursue worldly living. The prodigal is no longer a child. If your son or daughter is still a child (generally speaking, if they are still in high school) then you still need to parent. Parenting a wandering child as they get older is exceedingly challenging but it really comes down to one key principal.
Go after their heart
Spend less time on symptoms of the issue and more time dealing with the heart.
If your child doesn’t want to go to church with you on Sunday that is not the primary issue; it is a symptom that there is something else going on. Something deeper. Talk to them about it. Share your struggles with the same or a related issue. Don’t dismiss their heart struggles or simply seek their conformity to behavioral norms. Seek their hearts.
If your child is acting out with a specific negative behavior, then you may need to deal with that behavior accordingly but don’t stop there! Keep going! Why was that behavior desirable? Would they do it again? Why/why not?
“But how do I go after their heart?”
By listening. The older a child gets the more you need to listen to them without commenting or giving advice. Try it out!
By legitimizing. If you do not view their struggle as legitimate then they will find someone who does. Don’t belittle, dismiss or give “fix all” solutions for complicated and inter-connected heart issues.
By praying. Our God is the God of their hearts. If you are having any of these conversations without praying for the heart of your child, then have lost the battle before it even began.
Watch God work; I dare you!
Remember - their story is not finished yet and neither is yours! Keep loving. Keep going. Never give up!