One of the most common spiritual conditions I encounter is older parents whose adult children have abandoned their childhood faith. All of us as Christian parents want more than anything else to see our children grow up and live out the faith they were taught in our homes. Tragically, that’s often not the case.
Many children go off to college or otherwise move out on their own and abandon their Christian convictions. Maybe it’s their first taste of freedom. Maybe it’s the secularized environment of higher education, where anything having to do with religious faith is scoffed at. Maybe it’s a new group of friends who don’t share our child’s values.
Whatever you point to as the culprit, the fact is that the college years—as well as the years immediately after—are dangerous to our children’s faith. In fact, the statistics of adult children abandoning the faith of their parents are startling. A recent study by the Barna Group found that 75% of Christian young adults leave the church after high school.
You can find more background on all this at this link: http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/534-five-myths-about-young-adult-church-dropouts
So what are we as believing parents to do? Now that our children have left our immediate care and are out on their own. Now that our children are adults and we can no longer make them do what they should do. How can we help them stay faithful to Jesus? Here are five things I think we all need to keep in mind as we deal with the spiritual well-being of our adult children.
1. Never stop praying for them. I’ve known some adult children who wandered so far from the faith that they were living like the original Prodigal Son. Few things are so heart-breaking for a parent. But their moms and dads never gave up—on them or on God—and prayed them back into the Kingdom. For some it took years but they never gave up.
2. Be consistent in your own faith. One of the strange things I’ve noticed down through the years (and recent research bears this out) is how many Christian parents lose their passion for God and the church once their children grow up and leave home. The impression some adult children must have is that Mom and Dad were just in church for the sake of their young children. If you want your adult children to take God seriously, guess what? They’re still looking to you as a model. I’m not saying you should put on some kind of religious act for their sake. I am saying it’s unrealistic for you to expect them to follow Jesus as adults if you’re not following Jesus as an older adult.
3. Give your adult children plenty of spiritual space. My children are grown, and each has a vital relationship with Jesus. But many of the nuances of their faith are different from mine. They may well not end up in a church like mine—and that’s fine by me. Just as long as they follow God’s will for them. Parents who insist their adult children have a copycat faith like theirs are almost sure to be disappointed.
4. Don’t hesitate to give spiritual support to your adult children—they’ll appreciate it more than you may realize. My daughter, married and living in Japan, loves it when I send her a daily Bible verse. Almost every evening I select a single verse (dealing with strength, peace, comfort or some similar topic) and email it to her. Since she’s thirteen hours ahead of me, she wakes up to it the next morning. She calls these verses “Pop’s Peace Passages.” I do the same with my son, although I have to do that via hard mail. I’ve asked both of them if I should stop, since they’re adults and (theoretically) reading the Bible on their own. They both insist that I continue. The adult child of a friend regularly asks her mom to pray for her, even though she’s not exactly following Jesus herself. In fact, she grows irate when her mom doesn’t volunteer to pray without being asked. Your adult child will respond to subtle, unobtrusive reminders of faith and spiritual encouragement.
5. Don’t nag your adult children. If they’re not attending church like you think they should; behaving like you think they ought; or hanging out with people you they shouldn’t, one sure fire way to ensure that they won’t come back to their senses is to nag them. Even the biblical father of the Prodigal Son was wise enough to follow this principle. A teacher I once had noted that when we nag our children of any age, all we succeed in doing is to “awaken their demons of resistance.”
Helping your adult children stay in the faith they were raised in is a special challenge today. But faithful parents aren’t without resources. These five steps—and you’ll think of many others—can help keep your adult child in a healthy spiritual position.