Did you know that studies show 88% of the children in our churches will leave the faith after high school? It is a shocking number, I know. Some researchers say that it is the parents fault; others say it is the churches fault. But what if it was no one’s fault? Some of us have been blessed to have children grow up in the church, and continue in the faith after graduating from high school, but what about those of us who have not been so lucky? Is it our fault, or is it all the plan of God for each and every person who has ever been born into this world.
Recently, I have had to go through the experience of watching my children fall away from God. I have had to listen to their decision to “go their own way” and “do their own thing”. I have had them tell me it’s not that they don’t believe in God, or in Jesus, they just need to do life on their own for awhile. This is a hard, heart breaking thing to hear from your children, especially when they were once so on fire for God. They would go to Sunday School, Youth Group and come home fired up for Christ. So what happened? Why have they chosen to leave? As I ask these questions, I am reminded of the Prodigal Son. This father had two sons, one chose to follow with his father and continue “in the faith”, while the other chose to “live his life”. Was the father at fault? Or was the church at fault? Jesus tells us, neither was at fault, it all took place so that each child could experience the love and mercy of God for themselves.
“Then He said, ‘A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.” Luke 15:11-13
The father illustrates for us the love of God for each and every soul upon this earth. This father’s love would allow rebellion and would respect man’s will. God too allows rebellion and respect’s each ones desire to live life the way they choose. God does not force Himself upon anyone, but allows them to experience life, with or without Him. The father more than knew the troubles that this prodigal son was going to face, but he allowed him to go and to bear the consequences for his own actions. So does God allow us to go and to bear the consequences of the choices we make, with or without Him.
“But when he had spent all; there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.” Luke 15:14
Do you believe that this famine was by chance? I don’t, I believe that God orchestrated the events surrounding the life of this younger son who chose to walk away. Matthew 5:45 tells us that God makes the sun to rise on the just as well as the unjust. There is no one born on the face of this earth that is not under the sovereign power of God. Even Pharaoh, though he was a heathen, was still under the power of God. So then, that being the case, why do we try to blame ourselves for the choices our children make? God is in control, even over the children who choose to leave the faith. Instead of trying to make them come back, let us do as God did for this son who walked away.
“Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into the fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough to spare, and I perish with hunger? I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” Luke 15:15-20
This son did experience life apart from his father; he experienced hurt and pain, trouble and trials. His father knew that he would have to go through some pretty tough times because of the way he had chosen to live. But the father acknowledged his son’s independence, even against his better judgment. My husband and I have been pretty harshly judged for allowing our children to live in the lives they have chosen to live. But when did God force His way upon any of us? Both my children are considered adults, I no longer have much say over what they do or don’t do. They are old enough to vote, to die for their country and no longer live under my roof. So how is the life that they have chosen to live our fault? It isn’t. We have raised them as God has directed us, now it is time for us to let them go and let God do what He does best, bring them to a personal knowledge of their need for Him in their lives.
The father never gave up on his son. I am sure he prayed and pleaded with the Lord to protect him, to guide him, to keep him safe and to do whatever it would take to bring him back into his loving arms. Rather than demanding that the son be in obedience, he allowed his son to make his own decisions and to find Jesus for himself. We cannot force our children to walk the same walk we do. We cannot force them to believe what we believe. There will come a time when our children will have to find Jesus on their own. Just as you and I had to learn our need for a savior, our children must also learn this truth for themselves. God does not grudgingly receive the lost. Instead He searches after them, God finds the sinner more than the sinner finds God. (Guziak)
When our children stray, and they will, don’t fool yourselves into believing they won’t. But when they do, we are to love as God loves, with compassion, with unconditional forgiving love that never ends. We try to mold our children into Christian robots, doing what we do, saying what we say, living as we live, when in all reality we have no control over their lives once they turn 18. God desires devotion and love from His children, not forced obedience because mom and dad said so. I am not saying that you should allow your children to live freely and in sin while in your home, there are boundaries to which we must adhere. But we have to let them go and to find God on their own. God has to build their testimonies just as He built yours. Let the Lord God have the control, and stop blaming yourself for the choices your children make. We forget they are sinners who are in need of His grace, just as much as we are. Don’t let the church, or other “Christians” judge you for the mistakes your children make. God doesn’t.
When you read the rest of the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 (which I encourage you to do) you will see the response from the other son. The son who stayed and followed in his father’s footsteps, and did what was expected of him. But in that son was no love, no compassion for the brother who was lost and has now returned. Unfortunately, my children have been the recipients of that kind of reaction when they have tried to return to the faith. My daughter had fallen away and made some pretty bad choices, and when she repented and recommitted her life to the Lord, she was met (by the church and the youth at our church) with judging glares and condemning words. It caused her to stop going to church, and now, it has even caused her to make some more bad choices, questioning the reality of God in her life. She was hurt by those who claimed to be loving Christians, and some of them were considered leaders in the church. When did God give us the right to condemn others for the choices they make in their lives? If they love God, if they believe in Jesus, isn’t that what it’s all about? We were not perfect, we made some pretty bad mistakes too, so why then do we judge our children for doing the same?
We can sit and try to blame the church, the parents and the world for our children who chose to walk away, but really no one is to blame. The Lord God has a plan and a purpose for every living being on the face of the earth. He loves the sinner as well as the saint. Do we forget that “God demonstrates His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us”? (Romans 5:8) Or do we assume that only applies to those of us who are walking with the Lord? Maybe fewer children would walk away from the faith if we allowed them to live the life that God has preordained for them, instead of trying to fit them into a mold that fits within our beliefs.
I know this blog post is going to probably raise some debate. But, for those who have children who have turned from the faith, we must now demonstrate to our children that same love that God showed us while we too were sinners, and while we are still sinners. We must now give them grace, we must now pray, we must now allow God to work out their salvation within each of them. Do not let others judge you and question your walk with the Lord based on your children’s decisions. Allow God to do His work, which only He can accomplish, and let us pray diligently and love on each other as our children learn their need for a Savior. In Jesus Name, Amen and Amen.