Maintaining Hope When Your Kids Leave the Faith
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If it looks like your son or daughter has abandoned their childhood faith, don’t lose hope. Dave & Ann Wilson, and Bob Lepine say, you can remain a steady influence in their lives.
Bob: Having a great relationship with your adult children may mean there are some things you choose not to talk much about. Here’s Dave Wilson.
Dave: We realized there are some topics we just don’t bring up anymore unless they do; and even if they do, we’re like, “Are you sure you want to go there?” because we differ. I’ve seen, as we’ve started to go there—because I was naïve; I would bring it up—they came over next week: “Let’s go there again! We can punch a little bit into the darkness,”—you know?—[Laughter]—“and finally, some light’s going to come on.”
I saw their spirit closing; and so I realized, “Oh, I need to be gentle, humble, love them, bear with them; and pray like crazy, and then let God work. Maybe it will come up later; but I’m not going to be the one, often, to initiate it anymore.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 16th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. If we’re going to have a conversation with our adult children about certain topics, it’s going to be very important that we know what to say, what not to say, when to say it, how to say it—all of those things. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. We’re spending time this week listening to a presentation we made a while back with a group of parents—moms and dads who have adult kids—talking about how we love, and pray for, and interact with our adult kids; because sometimes that can get challenging. [Laughter]
Ann: And it’s a timely message.
Bob: —especially with the holidays right around the corner.
Bob: Because we’re going to be together—many of us are—sadly, there are going to be some families that aren’t together because they’ve broken relationships, either because they’re not in the same place spiritually or because something else has divided them. This year, politics has divided a lot of families, who have said, “We’re not getting together with you, because we don’t see eye to eye on politics.”
Dave: I mean, it’s sad; but it’s real.
Dave: I mean, it’s happened. I can see it happening in our family; opinions/beliefs are really, really strong. To be able to navigate that, and love your kids, and be loved by your kids—
Ann: I like the idea—
Dave: —it’s not easy.
Ann: —I like the idea of building bridges, though.
Ann: There’s always something we can cross that bridge on in relationship.
Bob: We’re going to dive in and listen to the last part of our conversation on this subject; but before we do, a quick reminder to our listeners: we’re asking you to prayerfully consider making a yearend contribution to FamilyLife Today. Your donations at yearend are vital. The good news is, this year, every donation you make is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $2 million. The next couple of weeks are pretty important for us as a ministry.
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We’re going to continue with a presentation we’ve been listening to this week, where Dave and Ann and I have been talking to parents of adult kids about our relationship with our adult kids. One of the questions that had come up is: “What do we do if our kids aren’t walking with the Lord? We’re not sure whether they really even know the Lord, at this point.” That’s where we jump in in this conversation.
[Relating to Adult Children Panel]
Dave: Bob, what do you do? I mean, what if they never, never return?
Bob: Well, as long as there’s breath, there’s hope; and if they never return, you trust the Lord that the Lord is in control. We don’t know about what happens in the moments before death; we can’t presume. Here’s what we know: “God is good all the time, and He is in control.” We trust in Him; we walk by faith.
We also have to be on-guard against self-righteousness in our own lives. This is where I see a lot of parents, who will just put this wedge; and it’s like, “Well, you’re not living this way, and you’re not living this way…” And your kids could look at you and say, “Well, what about you? I can point out the hypocrisy in your life.” We’ve got to be very careful. This is not, “I’m better than you.” If your kids get that message, they will run from you.
Bob: Instead, it’s got to be, “Look! I’m just as messed up as you are. I know where to go when I need grace and help; I need the gospel just like you need the gospel.” You’ve got to keep coming back to that.
Two verses that come to mind for me, when I think about kids who are off in sin, even if they profess faith—the first is Galatians 6, verse 1, that says, “If anyone is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual”—you are walking with the Lord—you “should restore that one”—so the goal is not shame; it’s restoration; the goal is to bring them back—“with a spirit of”—what’s the word?—“gentleness,”—and then, interesting—“keep watch on yourself lest you, too, be tempted.” That means there’s humility and gentleness, the words we talked about before, in the midst of this. Galatians 6 says, if one of your kids is off in the weeds, you go seek to restore them with gentleness. If you can’t be gentle, then you’re not ready to go try to restore your kids; okay?
And then the other one that comes to mind—this is 2 Timothy 2—“The Lord’s servant”—and this is all of us who are walking with the Lord—“must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting opponents with gentleness,”—do you see a theme here?—“ God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth. They may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil after being captured by him to do his will.” I think “gentleness” is the operative word here when we’ve got a kid who’s off in the weeds; right?
And then what do you do when you’ve got a child, who professes faith, but they’re living out their faith differently? They go to a church that you say, “I would never go to that church.” Do you have any kids like that?—right?—they’ve picked a church that is not the one you would pick. I think this is where we’ve got to keep in mind the words we were talking about, humility/gentleness; but we also have to know: “What is difference between what I call ‘first-ring issues’ and ‘second-ring issues?’”
There are some issues that are non-negotiables when it comes to the Christian faith; you don’t bend on that. There are other things where we allow freedom with our brothers and sisters, and we might not agree: “So how do the spiritual gifts operate in our day?” We’ve got differing opinions on that, right here in this room; right? But we can get along and love one another, so can we do that with our kids on those secondary and tertiary issues?
Dave: What would be a first-ring issue?
Bob: A first-ring issue is that they believe there are many ways to God—not just “Jesus is the only way.” We’d have to come back and say, “The Bible is really clear, so now you’re going outside the Bible for wisdom.” That would be an issue that we would say, “There’s not unity in the Spirit around that.”
Ann: So what happens if your kids come home and this talk comes about at the table, and they’re on that/they’re there; and you’re like, “No; Jesus is the only Way.”
Ann: Do you just avoid that conversation?
Bob: Gentleness is the operative word.
Bob: I would, in that situation, go, “Just share with me how you came to that conclusion.” I would start by asking questions: “That’s really interesting; because as I’ve read the Bible, I’ve come to a different conclusion. How did you come to that conclusion?” “Well, I read this book by this guy, and he says that.” I go, “Huh; so what do you do/or what does he do—the guy in the book—what does he do with John 14:6, ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; nobody comes to the Father but by Me’? How do you reconcile that in your own mind?”—I mean, I’m curious. I’m not trying to fix him; I’m not saying, “Well, you know, John 14:6 says this…!”—but just—“You’re a smart child; what do you do with that verse?”
And then, after some questions, I go, “Well, that’s interesting. I’m going to need to think about that some more.” Just back off, and let the thing breathe a little bit. Let them know that they were heard, and we may pick it up two weeks from now—or who knows when we’d get a chance to pick it up—but I’m going to be very careful and not blow up the bridge/the relationship bridge so I can never have another conversation with him about this.
Dave: So what about—it’s not theology—it’s more politics?
Bob: Yes, right.
Dave: There’s a big one!—or just morality or cultural differences with your kids.
Bob: Yes; so look at this slide. This is evangelical Millennials and their views [compared to] their elders—“Favoring same-sex marriage”: older evangelicals, only 23 percent; so if you were born before ’81, 23 percent would favor same-sex marriage. If you’re a Millennial, it’s 45 percent—“Homosexuality should be accepted by society”: 32 versus 51; I mean, there’s a gap; isn’t there? And some of you know this, because your kids are on different sides of this equation.
As we’ve had these conversations with our kids, who are trying to figure it out for themselves and come up with their own way of embracing this or thinking about it, we’ll have the conversation. I want to make sure that they know what I believe and why I believe it, and then I want to hear what they believe and why they believe it. I want to demonstrate some respect for that. Once we’ve had that conversation, and we’re kind of clear on where we are on that, we’re not going to revisit that every time they’re home for Thanksgiving dinner; right? [Laughter]
Ann: That’s good.
Bob: There may be a time in the course of a year when I would say, “I just read this article that I thought was really interesting; I’d love your feedback on it”; I’ll send it to them. It’s something that would represent my viewpoint that I know would conflict with their viewpoint: “I’m just curious what your take on this article is.” It’s always helpful when it’s a third person, who’s arguing your case, rather than you arguing your case; right? I do things like that.
Dave: And I’ve also found that you’ve got to be careful with that. It’s important, and you can do it strategically; but if they start seeing that happen every week/it drops in their email; right?
Dave: I said it earlier as a joke, but we’ve realized there are some topics we just don’t bring up anymore unless they do. Even if they do, we’re like, “Are you sure you want to go there?” because we differ; and it’s not helped it. I’ve seen, as we’ve started to go there—because I was naïve; I would bring it up—they came over next week: “Let’s go there again! We can punch a little bit into the darkness;”—[Laughter]—you know?—“and finally, some light’s going to come on.”
I saw their spirit closing; and so I realized, “Oh, I need to be gentle, humble, love them, bear with them; and pray like crazy.—
Dave: —“and then let God work.” Maybe it will come up later; but I’m not going to be the one, often, to initiate it anymore.
Ann: The other thing that makes it a little more complicated is when in-laws come into the picture. We have a son that we go there in conversations. I’m fascinated by the way his mind works; he’s intelligent—he always has these great thoughts/great ideas—he reads a lot, and so we have these great conversations. Sometimes, they can even get loud; but we really appreciate one another, and how we’re thinking. We’re very truthful and honest, but humble and gentle.
Well, he gets married; and his wife sees us having this conversation, and she’s so distraught; she’s walking around the house. I said, “Robin, what’s wrong?” She goes, “I can’t do this! What’s happening?” Because of her background, when she had those conversations with her parents, it was always: “This is how you should believe”; so she gets worked up.
Ann: And C.J., our son, is like, “We do this all the time! We love each other. This is awesome!” It just changes the dynamics when you have your in-laws come into the picture.
Bob: You know, there may be some of you in the room, where we’re not in agreement on issues of gender and sexuality; I mean, the country is divided. I wouldn’t just presume that everybody on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise is thinking like I’m thinking—
Bob: —about marriage or about sexuality. I’d want to honor you; I’d want to hear your views; I’d want to be able to interact with you about that; and I’d want, at the end of the time, that we would part and you would go, “We don’t agree; but at least, there’s respect there.”
I was talking to a young woman recently, and here’s the story she related to me: she said: “My cousin is getting married to her partner,”—same-sex marriage—“My mom has said she’s not going to the wedding. My older sister sent an email to all of the siblings and said, ‘We need to confront Mom, because she’s a homophone and a bigot.’ And then the sister said, ‘And I presume all of you are going to the wedding too.’ And the sister said, ‘I’m never letting Mom watch my kids again by herself.’” This is the world that we’re living in!
The younger sister, who had gotten this email, is reading this, going, “We’re about to have a fractured, polarized family all around this issue; because one person in the family has really made this the litmus test of ‘…whether I can be friends with you.’ I don’t want my kids to think that there’s a cultural, political, or even a biblical litmus test that puts them outside of a relationship with me; because I want to be able to have relationships with unbelievers or people who think differently than me, even if I’m related to them”; right? I think that’s important for us.
Dave: Well, you’ve got your daughter, Amy’s, comments about you in her book. It’s really beautiful. Talk about that.
Bob: Our daughter, Amy—is our oldest daughter—very bright. She’s just written a second book; it’s just come out. She sent me the manuscript ahead of time. Now, she sent it to all of her siblings and all of us. She said, “If you have time, I’d love for you to read the manuscript; I’d love your thoughts on it.” I read the manuscript.
First, I wrote to her and said, “How would you like me to engage with your manuscript? Would you like me to read it critically, and would you like comments like I would do if it were any other author? I mean, I know you’re not just any other author—I’m your dad; you’re my daughter—so comments from me are going to come differently than they’d come from a professional colleague”; right?
She said, “No, Dad; gloves off. Talk about it.” Well, I’m still going to be gentle and humble in doing this; but I read her manuscript, and there was stuff in there I didn’t agree with. I wrote her; and I would say, “The way you express this on Page 42 sounds like what you’re saying is this…There are going to be people, who read it this way; they’re going to think what you believe is this…Is that how you want to come across?—is that really what you’re trying to say?” I had about nine pages of notes—[Laughter]
Bob: —going through it; I mean, I sent her a whole ton of stuff on this and just said, “If I’m a garden-variety evangelical, this is how it’s going to be read by evangelicals.”
Ann: Bob, have you and Amy always had a pretty honest relationship?
Bob: We’ve always had a good relationship—been able to dialogue—it’s always been good; but I went and asked, “How do you want me to interact with it?” And then I interacted with it; I sent it to her. She said, “Got it; thanks!” And that’s the last conversation we had about it. [Laughter] And that’s okay.
I didn’t go back, and I didn’t check and say, “Well, did you fix that part I talked about in here?”; right? She asked; she invited. I was the consultant; I gave her my thoughts. We still have a great relationship, even though there’s stuff in the book that I read and go, “You think that?!” I mean, she knows that!
Ann: But I bet you also said a lot of good things about it as well.
Bob: I did; yes, I had chances to affirm stuff in there as well. When I got a copy of the book—she sent us a copy of the book, and she didn’t say anything—I opened the book; I started looking through it. I got to the dedication page, and it’s dedicated to me. I called her and I said, “Thank you. It’s a sweet dedication. Thank you for that.”
She said, “Well, thanks for the way we’ve interacted on this.” And then she wrote a blog post, where she announced to the world, “My book is coming out. I dedicated it to my dad, and I want to tell you why.” Here’s what she said—she said, “People always ask, or often, ask me to write about my relationship with my parents, especially my dad. They want to know how we remain close—when we are not politically aligned and when our theological inclinations diverge more every year—and we are both publicly vocal Christians. The answer is grace; the rest of the answer is complicated.” [Laughter]
But she says, “Here’s part of it. When I was a teenager, Dad never discouraged my questions and never required my agreement. When I wrote an essay for an ACLU-sponsored essay contest, about whether schools should be allowed to search students’ lockers”—of course, they should! [Laughter]—“I came to a different conclusion than Dad came to, but he respected my work and the argument I made.” And I did!—I just didn’t agree with the conclusion she came to.
Number two, she said, “That’s a fairly impersonal example. It’s probably safe to say that part of our solution is there are a number of things we simply don’t talk about or, at least, we don’t rehash over and over again. I think this has a lot to do with our mutual respect. We work to believe the best about each other’s decision-making processes and intellectual integrity. Even more than that, it’s the result of something Dad taught me when I was very young: ‘In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; and in all things, charity,’”—you’ve heard that before; right?—
Bob: —and that’s back to first-ring, second-ring, third-ring—“If Dad and I were disagreeing about a point in the Nicene Creed, that would be something to talk about; but in everything else, liberty and charity must reign.
Number three, she said, “Dad read me stories nearly every night of my childhood: Narnia, Betsy-Tacy, Little Women, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, At the Back of the North Wind. These stories opened my eyes to a world that was wider and more complicated than the one I knew so far. And he shared music and film with me, giving me Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell,”—okay, I’m sorry; I’m a child of the ‘60s—right? [Laughter]
“Taking me to see the movie”—this is a longer story—I took her to see Good Will Hunting her senior year in high school, even though I read online that it had the most F-bombs in it of any movie that had come out so far. She is a senior in high school; she says, “Can I go see this? Everybody in my class has gone to see it,” I’m thinking, “Six months from now, when she’s in college, she’s going to see any movie she wants!”
Bob: I said, “Okay; let’s go together.” About 20 minutes in, I’m going, “I should grab her and say, ‘We’re out of here!’” [Laughter] And then I thought, “No; you’re a coach. Is this one/are you going to bench her for this?” We watched the whole thing. She said, “He took me to see Good Will Hunting when I was a senior in high school, because there were redemptive themes in it. Art and beauty bound us together as much as theology or biology did.”
She said, “He taught me”—this is number four—“He taught me that people would fail me, but Jesus wouldn’t. So when Christian leaders disappointed me, I was shocked—but not that shocked—because I knew what my foundation was. And most of all,”—she said—“I’ve never, for a minute, had any reason to doubt that he loves me unconditionally or that I’m his favorite child. Sorry everyone else!” [Laughter]
And I’ll tell you this—with our kids, every time I was with them individually—I would say to them, “Now, listen, you’re my favorite; don’t tell your siblings; okay?” [Laughter] I told it to all of them! And they knew; it got to be the family joke; so she’s playing the family joke card. But I think there was something inside of them, where they’re thinking, “I think maybe I really am!” [Laughter] I wanted them to believe that; right?
Dave: That is really beautiful!
Ann: That is a beautiful tribute. [Applause]
Dave: It is; well done!
Bob: Well, it’s great to hear those words again. Even as I was sharing it with those families, that’s what we long for; isn’t it?
Ann: Oh, Bob! I mean, I was teary, listening to that. That’s what every parent dreams of.
Dave: I want to call my boys and say, “Why didn’t you write me something like that?” [Laughter]
Ann: Because they haven’t written a book! [Laughter]
Bob: Well, again, we know how hard this is for parents and for a lot of adult children. I’d encourage you to download the entire workshop that we did. The audio is available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Maybe listen to a podcast that we did several months ago with our friend, Jim Burns; he’s written a book called Doing Life with Your Adult Children. The subtitle—we love the subtitle—Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out. The link to the podcast is available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also order the book from us online. Once again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’d like to call to order Jim’s book, the number is 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Hey, we have some Christmas gifts we would like to send you today. We’ve been inviting FamilyLife Today listeners to join us, here at yearend, to make as generous a donation as you can make to help support the ongoing work of this ministry. If you’re able to help with a yearend donation, we’d love to send you a copy of my book, Love Like You Mean It, that’s all about how to apply the biblical understanding of love that we find in 1 Corinthians 13 to a marriage relationship/what we can do to increase the love that we have for one another in marriage. We’d also like to send you a flash drive that has more than 100 of the best of FamilyLife Today from 28 years—programs with Dennis and Barbara Rainey/with Dave and Ann Wilson; guests we’ve had on over the years; programs about marriage and parenting—these are our thank-you gifts/our thank-you Christmas gifts for you when you make a donation today.
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And we hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to hear a powerful story of a young woman, whose life and worldview was radically altered when she was confronted with the claims of Christ, while she was a student at Oxford. Carolyn Weber joins us tomorrow. I hope you can be here with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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