4 principles for encouraging faith in your adult children.
After college, Gerry and Jen’s daughter, Melissa, moved hundreds of miles away. She not only left physically, but she also “left home” spiritually. She had been raised Christian and had always attended church. Because of a series of hurts, poor choices and spiritual battles, she no longer considered herself a believer. Like many other parents whose children have rejected God, Gerry and Jen were heartbroken and discouraged. Still, they knew that parenting was a lifelong mission, and they needed to continue to reach out to their daughter with God’s love.
They sent Melissa a letter. It was simple. They wanted her to know, in writing, how much they loved God and how much they loved her. There was no response, not even a polite acknowledgment that the letter had arrived. However, two years later, Melissa found her way back and embraced a relationship with God. When Melissa eventually shared her journey with her parents, she told them that God had used that letter to start the process of turning her heart back to Jesus.
If you have a son or daughter who is rejecting God, it isn’t too late for your faith to influence them. As Gerry and Jen knew, parenting is a lifelong mission. There are four biblical principles for you to consider as you embrace the mission of encouraging faith in your adult children.
1. Offer Your Heart to the Lord
Can we hope to lead a child in a direction we aren’t going? Consider Deuteronomy 6:5-7: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children.”
Parents tend to focus on that final thought—the command to help their children follow God. But in the larger context of these instructions, God calls us to personally love Him with all our heart before He addresses our parenting. We need to make sure that we aren’t rejecting God in any way before we can be examples to our children.
Prayer and Repentance
I believe there are two essential aspects for parents when it comes to offering our hearts to the Lord: personal repentance and praying diligently for our child. No one is a perfect parent. We’ve all made (and continue to make) mistakes. Have you taken those parenting failures to the Lord with a spirit of repentance? The purpose here is not to wallow in past sins, but to receive forgiveness and freedom through Christ’s work on the Cross.
Adult kids make their own choices and will be held accountable for what they choose. The parent is not responsible for those choices. But we also must reject the idea that how we have lived our lives hasn’t affected our kids at all. Our lives have a ripple effect through generations.
Next, when it comes to praying for your child, I encourage you to focus your prayers on the spiritual condition of your son or daughter. It may be that your son is struggling in his marriage or your daughter is experiencing stress at her job. These are important things to be praying for. But when one of our children is rejecting God, the focus of our prayers should be for the Holy Spirit to transform our child’s heart so he or she is drawn into a living relationship with God through Jesus (Matthew 6:33).
2. Turn Your Heart to Your Child
Next, ask God to “turn your heart” to your child. This principle comes from Malachi 4:5-6: “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of their children to their fathers.”
God speaks of a day when He is going to work in the hearts of parents and their children, turning their hearts toward one another. What does it mean to have your heart “turned” to your child? It means that the Lord has given you a passion, a fire in your belly, to see your son or daughter loving and living for God.
I was recently talking with a parent whose son had “come out” and was embracing a homosexual lifestyle. The father was crying as he told me the story. In a way, I was glad to see him crying because I knew his heart was “turned” to his son. I don’t believe that we will do the difficult work—spiritually, emotionally, intellectually or relationally—to pursue our prodigal children unless our hearts are fully engaged.
We also must be on guard that our concern for our children does not turn to bitterness. It may be that your son or daughter has said or done things that have deeply hurt you. Begin by taking those things to the Lord in prayer, choosing to forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Then ask God to remove anger from your heart.