This blog comes from Carol’s blog for Parents of Prodigals, in conjunction with the Heritage Builders folks. Here you’ll find topics and thoughts about what to do now, now that your adult child has left the faith. If you find yourself frozen with fear or shame, or you hear yourself saying the same things to them over and over again, this is a place where you’ll get some new ideas. Carol draws insights and thoughts from her own years as an atheist prodigal from a pastor’s home. As long as there’s breath, there’s hope. Come find a place of encouragement.
You run into an old friend at church you haven’t seen in quite some time. You do a bit of catch-up, the chit chat goes on for awhile, and then, here it comes—the question you’ve been dreading—“So, how’s that daughter [or son] of yours doing?”
Paste on that smile. Take in a quick breath, but inside, die . . . just a bit.
Of course, you know precisely which child she’s talking about—the one who surprised you all by turning her back on God, then the family, then doing a 180 from all that you value, finally stepping solidly into the world and away from faith. Yeah. That kid.
You are now at a crossroads in this conversation. How will you respond?
Well, you could choose Path A—tell the truth.
My kid is in deep spiritual trouble. Her father and I are heartbroken. It’s been incredibly painful to watch her make so many poor choices. It’s even possible that we will not see the face of our child in heaven. And what’s more, we’re worried it might be our fault. Thanks for asking.
Or, you could try Path B and do that little church-speak dance.
Well, she’s finding herself, trying to determine what it is God wants of her at this point in her life. We’re still hoping she’ll become a surgeon on the mission field, but that may be more our wishes than God’s. [Insert quick laugh.] We’ll just have to wait and see. [Quick redirect.] So how’s your little Bobby doing? Is he still sending all his money to that orphanage in the Sudan? [Raise eyebrows, indicating eager anticipation.]
I completely understand if the truth model makes your palms sweat. Frankly, hesitation is justified. There’s a good chance that if you open your heart and share your pain transparently with this sister in Christ, you may get whacked for it. By that I mean, she may be very quick to let you know that you must have screwed up somehow, or your child would have been faithful to the God of her youth.
You wouldn’t be the first parent bludgeoned with the famous but misused “Train up a child . . .” passage from Proverbs. I know that many people still buy into the oft-believed but yet unscriptural interpretation that your child can’t go wrong if you’ve parented right. And they’re often filled with angst at their sad duty of being the one to share it with you.
I think these people typically mean well. But I’m also just as convinced that they are very wrong. (For a longer explanation of just why I believe this is a misreading of God’s Word, take a look at my May 9th blog piece Did God Really Promise That?)
But for now, let me suggest to you that there is an alternative response you can give—a Plan C. Like Plan A, it involves speaking the truth. But for starters, it accepts the likely outcome that your listener will unfairly judge you. Expect it. Own it. Don’t even hold it against her, because your listener doesn’t know any better.
But your sharing, in the end, wasn’t really for her. Believe it or not, it also wasn’t really for you. Instead, it was shared on the possibility that this person might . . . just maybe . . . could perhaps . . . be one of the many people who have someone in their own life they are losing. And if they are, they know exactly what you’re going through because they are going through it as well.
This person needs to hear truth from you.
There are so many people in the pews every Sunday who have struggles going on at home who will never breathe a word of it at church—especially if that struggle involves a child questioning the faith. They not only know that many people will judge them as bad parents, they fear that judgment might just be correct. It’s all too much. So they will remain silent.
But by you sharing the truth, and also proclaiming the fact that children have the ability to choose poorly often in spite of clearly loving parents, you put a small light at the end of a very big tunnel. You let them know that they’re not alone. You let them know that they can survive.
You even let them know that they can have joy in spite of such pain. Support groups for parents of prodigals are popping up all over.
Maybe it’s time for one in your church?
What about you?
Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone feeling the need to share your parental failings? Are you at a point where you’ve been able to speak the truth about your prodigal’s choices without feeling personally responsible for them?