What do you do when you fear your teenagers might be leaving Christianity? Today’s sobering question comes from a mother of a teenager, who asks this: “Hello, Pastor John. What would you do if your 14-year-old says she no longer wants to pray because she is no longer a Christian, doubts the existence of God and doubts that Christianity is better than any other religion? She considers the Bible to be true just for Christians, considers church not essential, but has to attend and attends politely because of being a part of a family that values God and the things of God. As parents, how do we proceed wisely?”
When Your Kids Say They Are Leaving Christianity
Maybe the most helpful thing I could do for any parent fearing their child might be leaving Christianity is recommend a book that meant a great deal to me at one point in my own parenting when one of my children was in exactly this situation. And the book is called Come Back, Barbara by John Miller and his daughter Barbara Juliani. I think his daughter was 18 when she ran away, moved out, got involved with a guy and wanted nothing to do with the family’s faith. The book describes what her parents felt and did, and then Barbara, who subsequently has returned, wrote responses to each of those chapters, which gives the book an unusual realism for how parental efforts were coming across.
Maybe the second best thing I could do is to point this mother to an article my son wrote back after that period of wandering, and we published it at Desiring God called “12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child.” These are the things he felt were significant while he was on his departure. But here are my front burner thoughts on kids leaving Christianity for right now.
1. You Have No Control Over Your Child Leaving
Realize that your child leaving Christianity is something you utterly and totally have no control over. Faith is a gift of God. Perhaps a better way to say it would be that the eyes of her heart, not just the eyes of her head, must see Jesus as true and beautiful and desirable in order to be a Christian—and only God can open those eyes. That is the point of Ephesians 1:18. God does use parents and pastors and teachers and friends to point children to Christ, but none of that pointing is decisive. God is decisive. It is utterly crucial that you as a burdened parent not bear more than you should or can. That is number one.
2. Prayer Is Essential
Therefore, since only God can do this, prayer is absolutely essential and indispensable. I would suggest even building into your lives periodic times of fasting for your daughter and, perhaps, asking some of your friends to join you in that fasting and prayer. I still do this. To this very day I still do this for critical relationships in my own family.
3. Pray for Balance
One of the most essential things to pray for is the seemingly impossible balance between brokenhearted concern for your daughter and indomitable joy in the face of this suffering: joy and grace and power and goodness of God. I know this sounds impossible, because it is humanly impossible, but nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:26), and the goodness of God and the power of God in your life. That is what she needs, and she needs to see it. That is a miracle. And only God can help you do that.