I think we would all agree: as followers of Jesus, we are called to “love one another,” just as Christ loved us (John 13:34). Unfortunately, we don’t always know how to carry out this command. Too often, it is the very seasons of struggle that we are called to love others through, that we unintentionally isolate and hurt our sisters in Christ. Help Wanted is a series designed to shed light into just a few of those specific struggles and how we can help, not hurt, the ones experiencing them.
By Terri Brown
In all of the thing I have gone through as a parent the hardest thing, by far, was seeing some of my children walk away from God.
My husband and I didn’t come from Christian families so when we started going to church, reading the Bible and really living what we were being taught, we knew that we wanted our children to know God. It was really exciting for us to know the truth and love of Jesus! It changed us!
In Deuteronomy 6, it talks about telling your children about God and His ways throughout your day as you’re sitting, walking, when you lie down, and when you rise up. We really wanted this. We wanted to show our children that God was good! We went to a Bible teaching church, had family devotions, prayed together and gave to those less fortunate than ourselves.
We loved our children through the good and bad times and although we made many mistakes and had ups and downs throughout the years, we really tried to make decisions for our family based on what we thought God would want for us. We tried to involve God in important decisions like where we would live, how our children would be schooled, or what friendships we would encourage. We laughed, we cried, and we prayed- a lot!
As our children reached their teenage years, it became apparent that there were some things that we couldn’t teach them about God. They would have to develop their own relationship with Jesus. During this time, some of my children made choices that showed they were not following God. Looking back, those were difficult times. But even though my husband and I would probably not have let certain situations occur in our children’s lives, God knew best and allowed our children to make their own mistakes. The Bible verse God gave me at that time was 2 Timothy 2:13, “ If we are faithless, He remains faithful.” He was faithful to grow the deeper character in our children.
One of the hardest things about watching our children walk away from God was watching our friends and community walk away from us too. In addition to the pain of seeing our children hurt, it was lonely for us to be that family that nobody wanted to be around.
But though most people distanced themselves and left us to deal with the situation by ourselves, there were a few people who offered prayers and encouragement and we really appreciated it. Thankfully, I was part of a prayer group that lifted our children and family up to the Lord weekly. I know others were praying good things for us as well. Another time a friend called just to see how our family was; and I will never forget a dear woman who I just happened to run into at Costco. She encouraged me that, “This is not your fault. This is just going to be part of your child’s ‘story’.” Boy, I sure hung on to those words that day. They still encourage me.
However, I cannot lie, there were times that I walked into a room or attended an event that the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife. You could feel the condemnation.
As Christians, it may be our tendency to push away what we think is not good and surround ourselves with that which we think will positively influence our life. And yet, if we are to be known by our love for one another, I think we need to do better at reaching out to those who are struggling.
I do not blame any particular person for the way we felt so isolated. I have also been guilty of trying to keep our children away from those I knew were doing wrong.
I’ve learned that isolation, as hard as it is, can be a good thing. It caused my husband and I to draw closer to God. It caused us to cry out to Him for help. It also caused us to get outside of our own problems and reach out to others. It caused us to praise God for who He is and to thank Him for the great things He does. It caused us to pray for others. Corrie Ten Boom once said, “You never know God is all you need until God is all you’ve got.” This proved true. God was our everything! He renewed us and gave us hope. God was doing that deeper work in us as parents too.
Even as my husband and I were isolated, we knew our straying child was too. Now in one sense, it is good to demonstrate that certain behaviors are not tolerated. And yet, if our children are just pushed away from believers, we have to realize that someone else will probably embrace them. Who will that someone be?
A lot of teens put up a wall and stop letting their parents in, meanwhile peers- and even other parents or teachers- have a greater power to lead them back to the Lord. We as Christian parents and leaders possess influence over children who are not our own.
Let’s take that leap of faith and reach out to them when they are struggling. Invite them into your home! Talk to them at your dinner table. Bring them along on family events. Take them to church. Show them you care.
As far as reaching out to the parents, detour those temptations to gossip about them or condemn them. Let them know that you are praying for them and actually pray with them. Simply ask if there is anything you can do.
I do not feel anger towards those people that seemed to pull away. I forgive them. I realize that could have been me. From where I stand, we are called to respond to others in love and to extend God’s grace like it has been extended by God toward us.