Awana; Sunday school; VBS; Youth Group, and a Mission Trip—then the words came sharp and hard. "I don't want to go to church anymore; I'm confused about this God thing".
These are the words every Christian parent dreads will come when their children become teenagers. What do we do? We either run to God and His word for comfort or we react out of panic and say something dumb like "You’re going to church whether you like it or not!" The latter would not be the best approach, as you can well imagine or maybe have already experienced for yourself.
I did not become a Christian until I was an adult, so I cannot relate to children who grow up in the faith. However, I had been praying for this day the moment I found out I was pregnant with my first child. The following is my story; I hope you are encouraged.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 5 To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;... a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
The last part of this verse brings tears to my eyes as I enter a new season in my life. I now have two-teenage children in the house! It wasn’t so bad with one, because the other was still young and looked up to his father and I as if we were "it". We knew it all, we did everything right. Most comforting was the fact that he listened to, and believed everything we said. Sure, he had a mind of his own, but in the important matters of life, he looked to us. Nevertheless, they get a little older and they begin to think for themselves, as they should - after all, it is God's design. Unfortunately, this truth does little to comfort the soul during the process.
When it comes to faith, they also need to make their own choice. According to Eccl. 3, every one of us has our time to be born physically, but there is also a time when we must be born spiritually. For my daughter, this did not happen so smoothly. She had her doubts and wondered whose faith she was living on. This is where the "time to refrain from embracing" came in. It takes a lot of trust and patience to wait for your child to come to genuine faith--that is, a faith of their own - a real experience with Jesus, not what we teach them to believe. It was not easy, but praise God - that day came.
Now, it is my son’s turn--no longer my little boy, but a strong and independent young man. The time to let go has come. I am having a much harder time letting him go. I thought I was doing a good job of not embracing him too tightly; thinking I was getting a head start on him becoming a man. HA! I could not have deceived myself more. Once again, it is time for my husband and me to step back and pray. We need to trust that we have planted well the seeds of faith and believe that they will blossom.
Many passages in the Bible tell us there is a difference between knowing about the Lord and knowing the Lord personally. Our job as parents is to instill truth and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, yet the Holy Spirit is the one who opens their eyes and brings them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Lord has shown me that one of the most dangerous things we can do is to assume our children (or anyone, for that matter) know the Lord.
The Bible tells us that believing in God is not enough. Everyone must come to a place where they need to have a personal encounter with God and the forgiveness of sin. Turning simple belief of knowing God exists into a complete surrender of our heart is another story. Yet, God's word tells us that this is true salvation.
During my early days as a Christian, I met many people who had been raised to believe. One of the most interesting things I learned is that a big percentage of them admitted to "playing Christian" for the sake of their parents. My first thought was "I don't want this for my children". I want to have an open and honest relationship with them on the issues of faith (as well as everything else). By God's grace, this has been true for me thus far.
If you find yourself in this same season in your life, I would encourage you to have an open and honest conversation with your children. Let them know that they do not have to play Christian for your sake. Love them unconditionally and continue to show them the way. The Lord has promised that His word will not return void and it will accomplish that which He has sent it to do. (Isaiah 55:11)
Instead of clinging so hard and trying to convince them they need Jesus, let go. Pray. Speaking from experience, the tighter you hold someone, the more he or she will squirm to break free from your embrace. Step back and let the Lord do the work. It is a heart-wrenching season for sure, but the reward is sweet. Not only will you begin to see God's hand move in their lives, your own faith will grow!
Consider the following story found in 1 Samuel 2:18-3:10:
"But Samuel ministered before the LORD, even as a child.... meanwhile, the child Samuel grew before the LORD....while Samuel was lying down, the LORD called Samuel and he answered "Here I am!" So he ran to Eli and said, "here I am, for you called me" and he said "I did not call you, go lie down again.. Then the LORD called again, "Samuel!" so Samuel arose and went to Eli..."here I am, for you called me" (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him) and the LORD called Samuel again the third time. So he arose and went to Eli.. Then Eli perceived that the LORD had called the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you that you must say, speak LORD, for Your servant hears." ...Now the LORD came and stood and called as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" and Samuel answered, "Speak for Your servant hears."
We see in verse 7, that even though he was raised in the ways of the Lord. It was not until Samuel had his own personal experience with God that he entered into a relationship with the God he was taught to believe in.
Our security and true salvation does not come by how we live, but by Who we put our trust in. Everyone must believe that they are a sinner and in need of a Savior - the only Savior, Jesus.
My husband and I have a great relationship with our children. They have thanked us for not forcing them to go to church. Our daughter’s faith continues to grow and our son is asking many questions, and has recently signed up for another mission trip.
We have learned when to embrace and when to refrain from embracing. By entrusting our children to God, they have learned to trust us. My son is not afraid to ask questions because he knows I will stop talking when he is no longer listening.
Has this message spoken to you? Have you discovered that your faith is not your own? Take a moment to respond as Samuel did and say, “Here I am, Lord.”
(C) Teresa Ortiz 2006
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Teresa, thank you for this very enlightening article. As a mother with two children in their 20's ,I thought it would be easier after their teenage years. It's harder now when they have minds of their own. You are right, forcing them to go to church wont help. Even if we raised them inside the church, the reality is we live in a world of peer pressures and distractions. Many things can get in their way of faith. Praying and trusting God for everything is the best we can do. I have bookmarked this article. Thanks and God bless!