In 3 John 1:4 we read that John had no greater joy than to hear that his children walked in Truth. We know John was speaking of those he had led to the Lord. All of us parents who love the Lord and raise our children to do the same can apply this verse to our children. Of course, on the flip side, there is no greater sorrow then to see our children walk away from the Truth. In every church and every ministry, we find parents who are hurting over a “wayward” son or daughter. Even though the sorrow of a wayward child will remain with us as long as that child continues to stray, I have come to some conclusions that have brought me some comfort. Perhaps sharing these thoughts may help others who are enduring this sorrow.
  1. Beware the Doctrine of Determinism.

Often Proverbs 22:6 is presented as a promise. If parents just train their child in the right way, their child will turn out the right way. Dr. Jim Binney, whose son is serving a life sentence for murder in a South Carolina prison, devotes four chapters in his book, Help for Parents in Crisis, to rebutting this false doctrine.  Be assured “bad” children can come from great homes and “good” children can come from bad homes.  If Proverbs 22:6 is a promise and your child does not grow up to love God, you are left with two choices. Either you did a poor job as a parent, or God is a liar. Broken-hearted parents hear preachers and evangelists teaching about how to raise godly children, and they suffer in silence as the ghosts of “what if” haunt their soul. Like many proverbs, Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise, but a principle. For example, “a soft answer turns away wrath.” More times than not a soft answer works much better than harsh words, but all of us have experienced situations in which our soft answer did not appease the wrath of another. Dr. Binney shares this passage from Ezekiel 18: “What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Here the children of Israel were blaming their sins on their fathers.) “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezekial 18:2-4,20) If you tried your best to raise your child for Christ, try to understand that your child is responsible for walking away from that truth. Try to learn all that the Holy Spirit teaches you through God’s Word during this time of hurting. Certainly, all of us could have done better in our Christian parenting. Realize, however, that you could have been a perfect parent, and your child could still choose his/her own way. God, the perfect parent, created perfect Adam and Eve in a perfect environment, yet they chose to sin.

  1. Ask the Lord to help you love unconditionally.

In the little book entitled The Hurting Parent, Margaret Lewis interviewed many Christian parents suffering the heartbreak that only parents of a wayward child understand. I gained two very helpful lessons from that little book.  One day, as I was agonizing over whether I should give help to a daughter while I was hurting over things she was doing, I read Christ’s words in Luke 11: 11-13. “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” I was deeply moved as I thought of how Christ died for me while I was yet a sinner, and, on the cross, He cried out to the Father to forgive those who were killing Him. In my situation, no one was putting thorns in my brow, or nailing me to a Cross that I deserved. I determined from that point on to do loving things even when I was hurt or angry. I would leave my child in the hands of the Lord who forgave me. I would pray the same prayer Christ prayed for those who tortured Him. I would love my child unconditionally, regardless of the results. The second lesson I learned from Lewis’ book is the difference between acceptance and approval. When my daughter was born, I recall the great joy and overwhelming love I felt. I could not get enough of holding her and watching her grow and develop. She could do nothing for me. It took great sacrifice and giving to care for her needs. I learned the importance of accepting my wayward child just as she was, the same way I did when she was born. Acceptance is not approval. My children all know what I believe. They were all raised to love and serve Christ. We gave them all the same love, the same example of faithfulness to our church, the same Christian education, and the same family devotions. In short, we gave each of them the best example we could give with our human and often less-than-perfect efforts. The opposite of acceptance is rejection. Do you decide one day to “kick” your child out of your home if he/she will not abide by your standards? Do you refuse to give help in meeting the needs of your adult child or wayward teen? That must be your individual decision, for you will own it the rest of your life. I do not claim to know what is right for you. As for me, I came to a decision to make my home a place of acceptance, even though I may not approve of the choices my adult child makes. I will continue to give biblical instruction and share my concerns, but I will not reject any of my children.

  1. Be steadfast in your faith and ministry.

When should someone involved in ministry, (teaching Sunday school, being a deacon, etc.), resign if they have a child who walks away from the Lord to live in open rebellion? Is there an age where that would no longer be a factor? Who wins when a faithful servant steps out of the ministry due to the concerns that come when a child rebels? If the parent is disciplining the younger child or teen and leading that child biblically, that child should witness the continued ministry of the parent. The child should learn that nothing will stop that parent’s resolve to continue to serve the Lord. I learned from a very wise pastor the great value in continuing under the horrible pressure that comes when you are in the ministry and a child rebels. He counseled me many years ago when I was going through a very dark time and was wondering if I should resign. His daughter ran away from home, and he had a son that strayed for many years. He stayed in the ministry, while under the pressure of this burden, and, with the support of his church, he served that ministry for 43 years. The great work that was done, the souls that were saved, and the great legacy that he left would have never happened if he would have resigned during those dark days. I do understand that there may be circumstances that disqualify someone from being in the ministry, but much consideration should be given before anyone quits the Lord’s work out of concern for what other people think. Also, the church itself should be very careful not to shame a leader out of service due to a grown child’s bad choices. Someone said that we are remembered more by how we finish than by how we started. The son and daughter of the pastor I mentioned returned to the Lord. That pastor is with His Lord now, and only those who were part of the church during those challenging days would know anything about those past events. Always remember that, with your wayward child, the final chapter of his/her life is not yet written. While that child has life, there is hope. Pray, love unconditionally, accept that child like you did when he/she was born, do not think of yourself as a lousy parent because of your child’s sinful choices, and stay faithful to what the Lord calls you to do.