There are many serious issues we all must deal with in a lifetime. This is part of living in a physical world with its accompanying limitations and liabilities. I would like to address a specific issue while coming from a perspective of having to live with one of the most heartbreaking things with which parents must deal. This is one many of us must deal with no matter how much it hurts. This is in regard to Christian parents who have raised children who have chosen not to follow the Lord. From my perspective this is one of the most heartbreaking things many of us must endure. Becky and I can speak with personal conviction. Of our 4 children, we have 2 children who have chosen not to follow the Lord for whatever reason. We can understand this heartbreak that we know many of you share. I have spoken to many parents of faith who speak of this hurt while tears are bravely held back. I know mine are.
For many reasons we are constantly looking back to our child-rearing years and wondering—“What did we do wrong?!” And surely there are many mistakes we can see we made, for which of us can say we were the “perfect parent”? I can think of many times in which I had unrealistic expectations and times when I said things I did not mean or raised my voice when I should not have, or gave out a discipline that was inappropriate to the circumstance. How many times did I make an issue of things when I could or should have just let the matter go? I could go on and on about my imperfect parenting that reminds me of what? That I am imperfect? What parent is not?
However, the problem is not truly about being perfect or imperfect! Even though our Father in Heaven is perfect, that in no way accounts for His children’s misbehavior. He has done everything right and look at His children! No, it is not about being an imperfect parent, though there are things we did or said that may have contributed to our children’s lack of faithfulness. It is still about personal choice, and no matter how perfect the Lord’s parenting is, He still lets His children choose against his wishes as most of them do.
Yes, there are certainly exceptions, but most children of faithful parents still make this conscious choice whether their parents made a particular mistake or not. Ultimately, there is no profitable purpose for parents to constantly feel guilt and castigate themselves as they search their memories for parenting mistakes and even blame themselves for their children’s ultimate choices. Sometimes we act as if we are to blame when our children choose against the Lord, and we forget our children must be given the same conscious ability to choose whether to follow the Lord or not just as we all must make.
Now I do not wish to be misunderstood. I praise the Lord for families in which all the children have chosen to follow their parents’ faith, and I certainly wish we had more examples of such. However, to them I say, “Didn’t you also make mistakes?” To which, if honest, they must reply of course they did. Recently, I was comforted when I heard a brother humbly give credit and praise to God for his children’s faithfulness. He wondered how his children chose the Lord in light of his own imperfections.
Likewise, it is a serious mistake for us to assume parents of unfaithful children did NOT teach their children the Lord’s will! I know Becky and I spent our child-rearing years trying to instill in our children the ways of the Lord. Those of you who passed through our home were part of our evening prayer and Bible teaching sessions that were so much a part of our family life for many years. Even with all the teaching and trying to live godly lives, 2 of our 4 children chose another way for whatever reason. I know many families in the body with such activities who still had children choose other paths. I certainly am not God, and I cannot explain such choices, but I know they exist.
Likewise, there are examples of faithful children who chose the ways of the Lord though their parents themselves may have left the Lord. Surely those parents taught their children things that may have been wrong or even showed signs of future unfaithfulness, and yet their children chose faithfulness. How does that happen? For the same reason that children with faithful parents choose not to follow the Lord: it still comes back to an individual’s choice.
For those parents who have had children choose not to follow the Lord and who feel they did their best to raise their children in the Lord, there is still hope. Remember the passage in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” I am convinced this teaches us that if we instill what is right in our children that knowledge will always be with them. They can choose to access it anytime in their lives and perhaps that may indeed lead to their repentance at some point in their lives.
The battle is not lost! You can continue to have an effect on your adult children’s lives by your walking with God. There have been many instances when adult children came back to the Lord as a result of their parents’ godly lives as examples and servants.
Now consider a sub-theme in this same area. How many Christian grandparents are endeavoring to teach their grandchildren the ways of the Lord because their children are not instilling these values in their own children? Probably many! Again, we can speak from experience. We have 3 grandchildren that Becky and I are endeavoring to have a positive influence upon. We are fortunate that our children do not object to our influencing their children in this manner. I know there are many who do, and that makes the grandparents’ job even more difficult.
What can you do in this circumstance? As grandparents you can endeavor to do everything in your power to live as honorably as God requires. With your contact, your grandchildren will see such godliness, and you may indeed have a positive influence upon their lives. I recall a discussion I had several years ago when I was lamenting my lack of influence on my grandchildren. A brother reminded me I could still show my grandchildren a picture of the Lord in my life. What a great reminder that was! Do not give up. The Lord has not and neither should we!
As long as our children and grandchildren live there is hope. The Lord is a merciful God, and He will judge all with righteousness and truth.