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Paul Allen: Blog

"Adult Kids Who Don't Believe"

Posted on February 10, 2013 with 0 comments


“Stood at a Distance and Watched These Things”: 

Dealing with Our “Unsaved” Adult Children

So our adult sons and daughters are “unsaved?”  Bold declarations against church or Jesus?  Choices in “life-style” and friends?  Philosophy-of-the-month club?  All evidence of a hell-bound soul for sure. 

Are we sure?

And some well-meaning members of the Body of Christ confirm it, trying to convince us that our sons and daughters are in jeopardy unless they repent.  That's true, of course, but what these Christian brothers and sisters mean, though they would deny it, is that our children are in jeopardy unless they repent on the cue, terms, place, time, and language of our friends.  For them to “o.k.” our son’s and daughter’s redemption, the redemption must look, sound, and taste like their own.         

We must be wary of such people. Their arguments may frighten us to anger or defensiveness or willfulness.  Even worse than their “mean well” threats, such people may offer sympathy and commiseration.  ("Oh how is 'your' Carl, my poor dear, and how are you holding up?")  Such commiseration is sometimes Satan's means of getting us to feel sorry for ourselves, and self-pity is self-will run riot.  In this instance, for example, it could reinforce the delusion that our son or daughter is truly ours (rather than Our Lord’s).  Such a concept perverts our God-given parental instinct and makes us think we "ought to do something."  But an adult son on a spiritual journey is not an infant with colic. 

            After all, do we know with any certainty whether our children, in the 21-40 year old bracket, are truly rebelling against Christ?  This would not be the first time we have made mistakes when interpreting our children’s actions and words.  We mortals are often too willing to take what seems for reality—denial of Christ in someone, for example.

            Satan, we know, is never more active than he is at the altar of God.  To spread his poison, to drive people away from Christ, Satan can use our own enthusiasm for the love of Christ easier and more efficiently than he can use someone else's denial of Christ.  And if he can, he will.  We must remember that Satan is the great liar; he works best through appearances, through what seems true or right rather than what is obviously evil.

            For example, there is an atheist on the faculty at our local college.  When the local paper wants an "atheist reaction" to some news event, he is the man they call.  While the enemy can distract us with this person, there are plenty of Christians with their own clichés who can chase away more people from the body of Christ than such a “liberal” professor could ever lure—or argue—away.  While Satan cannot create an emotion, he can pervert our God-given emotions such as caring, enthusiasm, love.  Enthusiasm and caring for the souls of the ones we love can be twisted into anger, frustration, self-righteousness, and anxiety.  If we are not God’s chosen agents of change for that loved one, and yet we insist that we be the ones to bring that person to Christ, we could be acting as Satan's agent to drive our loved ones from Christ. As Mother Teresa tells those in Missionaries of Charity, “Do not give in to discouragement.  No more must you do so when you try to...convert a sinner and you do not succeed.  If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers.” (Devananda, 21)

            Could it be even more subtle than that?  The fruits from the perversion of our virtues do not have to be as obvious as anger, frustration, discouragement.  Any sweetness can be perverted to the maudlin, full of cliché, Satan knowing well that the one we love and want to bring to Christ may recoil most at "sweetness" and cliché.           

            We do not have to tempt people with obvious sin, like pornography and such, in order to cause them to sin; we can become so prideful of our Christianity that we run them away from Christ.  In a provocative essay, "The Faust Legend and the Idea of the Devil," Dorothy Sayers points out more clearly what I'm trying to say here.  She says, "It is precisely the Devil's business to appear attractive; that is the whole meaning of temptation to sin." (259)  And later in that same essay, she warns us that the devil "is much better served by exploiting our virtues than by appealing to our lower passions; consequently, it is when the devil looks most noble and reasonable that he is most dangerous" (264). 

            Like any infection, Satan finds the smallest way in and capitalizes on it.  We may try to sound convincing, for example, or we may talk or look or act "sappiest" when we are in the presence of a non-believer (or a T.V. camera), mistaking sloppy sentimentality, which is nothing more than pride, for real emotion.  "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven," says Our Lord.  (Matthew 5:16, NIV throughout) Instead of our light shining from within us, perhaps we sometimes shine our flashlights on ourselves.          

            Our children may think that to accept Christ is to be as some professing Christians seem to them.  The young man or woman may misread some of our exterior characteristics for the interior reality which we cannot articulate in his language:  "If I accept Christ, I'll have to go to picnics.  I'll have to socialize with other sappy, cliché-ridden people.  I'll have to vote a certain political party line.  I'll have to hold hands in living rooms.  I’ll have to like songs with simplistic lyrics and dull chord progressions."  We believers do not mean that at all, do we?  Thereto, our children take what seems for what is real.  But Scripture cautions us on this very matter:

Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person  through whom they come.  It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.  So watch yourselves." (Luke 17: 1-3) 

            I would hate to think that in order to be a member of my particular church, I would be required to be a certain type—a kind of hand-raising-Pentecostal-born-again, Christian-coalition, put-God-back-in-the-schools, the-Eisenhower-years-were-the-moral-years, liberals-are-anti-God, we-Christians-are-persecuted-by-the-humanists.... If I thought that I had to adopt those paranoias, I would leave that church.  Those are social / political accoutrements, not Biblical principles.  And for people in their 20s, the more we imply that those trappings are part of Christianity, the farther and faster they may run.  We can be political and Christian, but we must be very careful to distinguish between the two if we want a liberal young man or woman to come within earshot of God’s word.  Young people will naturally retreat from our social and political views.  If they think those are in fact our Christianity, they will retreat from Christianity as well. 

            Undebatable among Christians, however, is the surety that no one enters Heaven without Jesus Christ's intercession through grace.  Most of us believe that in order to live with Jesus in the next life, we must accept Him in this life .  Where we run into disagreement sometimes—or where Satan may see his entry point—is in what we mean when we say "accept" and "in this life," which have to do with our flawed perceptions of time and language.   

            In "Problem Picture," Dorothy Sayers explains the difference between the detective fiction problem and the "real life" problem.  The detective problem is solved in the same terms as the problem is set, she says, whereas in "real life," problems sometimes must be answered in terms outside the problem itself, in God's terms, for example: 

"Whose, therefore, shall she be in the resurrection? for the seven had her to wife."  In the terms in which you set it, the problem is unanswerable; but in the kingdom of heaven, those terms do not apply.  You have asked a question in a form that is much too limited; the solution must be brought in from outside your sphere of reference. (141) 

            The time of our children’s salvation and the language it is perceived in may be out of our "sphere of reference," and we can do harm to ourselves and to our sons and daughters if we try to minister to them as though our time and our language were real.  "Real" time and language are metaphysical, God's time and language.   



            It is widely accepted that God's time is not our time.  To God, C. S. Lewis tells us in Miracles, all time is Now.  Whether we come to our Lord early or late, all who accept the grace of Christ’s salvation—are in fact saved. 

            No matter how suddenly the death in this world, we must understand that at the edge of this world of our senses and the metaphysical world, there is more, and less, time than we can imagine.                

Let’s take the most fervent atheist, for instance: In the time the edge of her scalp touches the automobile windshield, and the ages and ages hence when her brain splatters—that millisecond may be a long time to her and to God (just as the reverse is true—eons in our time are milliseconds in God’s time).  At any rate, let us say that I am the Christian (perhaps even the parent) who told this atheist child about Christ, and nothing seemed to "take."  My regret should not be that she never found Jesus.  For all I know, she may have found Him in that moment that is the thickness of a windshield.  If Armageddon, with all its attendant glory and horror will come in "the blink of an eye," surely one heart can change between the last beat and stillness.  No, my only regret for this person would be that she did not have more joyful years in this world in His service.  But it is a minor regret, a mere occasional thought, because compared to the eternal life with Christ, any life on earth—no matter how terrible and full of sorrow, bad luck, and disease—is only the smallest pin prick moment, like a booster-shot when we were children, remembered only barely, if at all. 

            We should not dare to presume, however, that the “apparent” atheist—apparent to us through our limited perception—died without being saved, even though, riding with her in the car, the last thing we heard her say before we wrecked was "I deny Jesus."  The last thing we hear and the last thing God hears are very different things.  Time is very different; we can draw no reasonable conclusions about what happens in metaphysical time by observations in our earthly time. 

We do not know what went on between Hitler and God in the bunker, for example.  Horrible as Hitler seems to us, we do not know the conversation with God when he closed the last door.  If we judge Hitler as hell-bound, then we can argue that various mass murderers are also there.  Then not the willful murderers but the deluded—say, the members of the cult recently who killed themselves in order to ride the Hale-Bopp comet to glory.  But we do not know what went on between them and God after the video farewells with all the simpering, sad smiles recorded.  Their “final words” on tape are not their final words.  How much time—real time, God’s time—transpired between the camera’s going off and the drugs dissolved, and how much spiritual debate between worlds transpired in the thin rooms of the plastic bags over the heads of those poor, deluded people?    We do not know.



            Neither do we know what that statement— “I deny Jesus”—means in God’s language. We understand the words but not the true language.  How many children say to their parents, for example, "I hate you" or "I do not want you in my life"?  I did.  I am glad my parents knew, as I have known in my students and in my own children, that I did not really mean it.  How much more does our Father in Heaven know us? (And how much more does he love us!)  Is this not what God says in Isaiah? 

                        For my thoughts are not your thoughts

                        neither are your ways my ways declares the LORD.

                        As the heavens are higher than the earth,

                        so are my ways higher than your ways

                        and my thoughts than your thoughts....

                        so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

                        It will not return to me empty,

                        but will accomplish what I desire

                        and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (55:8-11)

            We shall come back to the statement “I deny Jesus” in a moment.  It seems a simple enough statement.

            But what about more difficult languages?  An old woman I once knew was nine years dying.  Just because we did not understand her incoherence in the last year or two, her babbling in the last weeks, or the long, sighing last gasps in the final hour does not mean that in reality (i.e. in God's language) she was in fact babbling, incoherent, or making mere mechanical breathing sounds.  Those incoherencies to us may be, to God, beautiful prayers.  There are others as well whose languages we do not understand, but God does—the infants, the retarded. 

So I, in my "wisdom," cannot "get through to" such people?  So what?  Because I don’t know their language I cannot assume that  they are not communicating with Christ in another language, one which He understands.  God speaks by way of diverse agents in the Old and New Testaments:  dreams, visions, other people's actions, angels.  God works with people in His own way, through other kinds of voices and languages we cannot perceive or, if we can perceive, cannot comprehend—the cooing of babies in their cribs, the glossalia of a dying woman.  For the old woman, there may have been a long preparation over the last years, days, or seconds of dreams, visitations, visions, "hallucinations" to get her to the point where that overly proud woman could accept the saving grace of Jesus as readily as she could accept a second bourbon and Coke back in the good years.  Because the woman did not tell me specifically that she loved Jesus does not mean Jesus did not understand something different from my understanding.  Her apparent babbling or apparent silences may have been great spiritual dialogues for all we know.  We certainly understood our 12 year old’s “I hate you” in larger terms when we refused to buy him a BB gun.  To argue otherwise is to deny the power and grace of Jesus.

            Applying Sayers' point earlier:  The problem is that the old woman did not tell me specifically that she accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior.  The solution is that she may have told God in a different language.

            If we grant that the old woman, the infant, the retarded may be speaking to God in a different language, then let us return to “I deny Jesus,” and “I hate you.”

            As the aphorism goes, and as C. S. Lewis argues in “Christianity and Culture,” “Any road out of Jerusalem must also be a road into Jerusalem.” (22)  Lewis argues that “culture”—particularly in literature—is inherently neither good nor bad—it depends on the heart and intent of the ones reading and writing it. We should not confuse judgments of taste with “Thus saith the Lord.” 

            Indeed, even in novels that could lead to the dangers of eroticism and the occult, Lewis argues that there may be “spilled religion.”  That is, “the spilled drops may be full of blessing to the unconverted man who licks them up, and therefore begins to search for the cup whence they were spilled.  For the drops will be taken by some whose stomachs are not yet sound enough for the full draught.” (23)  The pot of protein mixture served to the starving children in Ethiopia and Rwanda may not look, smell, or taste palatable to us who are used to better fare.  Well intentioned in God’s work or not, we would kill those children if we stuffed them with our Christmas pudding.  The more starved they are, the less like our food their diet must be. 

            Of course there is evil food.  Or food intended for evil purposes.  But that does not mean God cannot turn that evil to good—as in the case of our adult children.  Returning to Lewis’ “Christianity and Culture,” we confront the argument that “The same process of attrition which empties good language of its virtue does, after all, empty bad language of much of its vice” (33). In fact, he continues, “This applies also to ‘bad language’ in the popular sense, obscenity or profanity.  The custom of such language has its origin in sin, but to the individual speaker it may be mere meaningless noise.”  (33)  We must be careful not to be so self-righteous as to decide the state of a person’s soul based on our offended taste. 

            Our sons and daughters may be offending our taste, then, more than they are demonstrating their distance from God.  God may be bringing about some good we do not understand.  The rapper who wants to “rape the bitch and go to jail” because she “dissed” a friend may not be luring our son to commit rape or misogyny.  The lesson—without our son’s or our realizing it—may be closer to teaching him “Greater love hath no man than he should lay down his life for his friends.” This, I think,  is what Lewis means by “spilled religion.”

            Only Christ, then, can recognize true denial; only Christ can hear the denial in His all-knowing language. 

            The answer to all this, as Dorothy Sayers tells us, must come from outside our “sphere of reference”—language as we perceive it.  

            In Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis deals with this problem by discussing not only those who have not heard of Christ, but also those who have heard yet are unable to believe: 

Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him?  But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are.  We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.  (65) [italics mine]

In other words, let’s say a man faints while walking past my house.  He is only semi-conscious.  I may administer aid, even bring him into my house.  The decision is not his to make.  It is mine.  He does not have to know me, accept me, worship me, love me, or hate me.  I help him or don’t help him based on my will alone.  So too with Christ. If we see a 3 year old lost at a carnival, we take care of her even if our strange arms frighten her;  we—at our discretion, not hers—take her to the proper authorities to help unite her with her parents.

            Our son or daughter is the three year old, the semi-conscious man outside God’s house.  There too, whether they accept Christ (or will accept Christ) must come from Christ, not our perception or our children’s words or our analysis of whether they understand. 

Let me use a personal example.  In high school (class of ‘63) I had a problem which neither I nor my parents and teachers could know about.  I had a learning disability in math, but back in those days, if you were smart on all the national tests and all your teachers recognized that you were smart in some things, then the answer to not "getting it" in other areas was that you were lazy, or not concentrating, or that truly awful one, not “applying yourself."  We know now that such a problem was not those things at all.  My parents did all any of us knew to do at the time—paid a tutor to get me through algebra and geometry, tried to make me do homework.  Had we known then what we know now about such disabilities, my parents and teachers could have been spared some frustration, and I could have been spared some tears over those columns and tables.

            That agony, combined with other problems of immaturity, made me believe I hated school.  I did not really, though.  I realize now that I just hated the way I felt at school.  I misunderstood, and therefore claimed disbelief in and hatred for school. 

            So too our children in their spiritual growth, perhaps?  Society in the 50's and 60's did not understand a thing about learning disabilities in selected subjects.  Our adult child seems "normal," able to understand the principles of salvation and God, and should be “smart enough” to “get” the idea of eternal damnation.  Why?  Because she can understand other things? Having come through our own battles, we cannot figure why she does not "get it.”  But by all tests and outer indications, I “seemed” smart as well, yet I could not understand math, and that contributed to my misconception that I hated school altogether. 

Our son may not be denying God or “hating church” in God's terms so much as he is avoiding the way he feels around Christians.  On Johnny Carson one time, comedian George Goble was surrounded by some big stars.  He said, “Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?”  No one wants to feel like a pair of brown shoes.  Our child may not hate church; he may hate his feeling while in a particular church—ours. 

We have prayed, haven’t we, that God would bring our children around?  And we’ve prayed with others about it?  And we know that God answers prayer, though not necessarily in our time or in our terms.  We do know that God will either answer our prayer or give us something better, more to his true purpose.  Should we not rejoice in the victory then? 

Part of our children’s reluctance to go to church with us or pray with us, and their turning to pop philosophies that seem a mishmash of Hinduism and Hallmark, crystals and voodoo, alcohol, tofu, LSD and same-sex relationships could be the result of our prayers!  In answer to our prayers, the Holy Spirit may be taking them (or allowing them to go) in the direction they need to go, the direction we have prayed for, so that finally and in the last judgment (where it truly matters) they will end up in the arms of Christ. 

Painful for a parent to watch, though, isn’t it?  We think of the Blessed Mother watching her son go through the streets of Jerusalem and hanging on the cross because that was the way he had to go in God’s plan for the world.  We shudder to think of Abraham and Isaac, the mother of Moses, the father of the prodigal son, Lot offering his daughters as sex slaves to the mob who wanted the angels.  

And in the world of recorded history we see the saints and martyrs having to endure torment—either by their own wills or the wills of others—in order to fulfill God’s purpose.  St. Augustine’s mother, a Christian, sent her son away for his debauchery; all she could do was pray for him.  Augustine himself had no idea that the Holy Spirit was guiding him to be one of the great lynchpins of western Christianity.  Augustine began his road to sanctification by searching for sin.  C. S. Lewis became a Christian by trying logically to research and prove his atheism.  Perhaps even we ourselves can look back over the course of our sins, our life, our youth and see clearly where the Holy Spirit was leading us to our current Christian love in a time when we most thought there was nothing of God in us. 


Giving Up

            Jesus is quite specific:  He does not want us to concern ourselves pridefully with our adult child’s status in Christ:  "What is that to you?  You must follow me."  (John 21:22)  It is not a matter of giving up on our son, our daughter; it is a matter of giving them up—to Christ.  It is a matter, as well, of giving up on our own ability to bring them to Christ in the language and time frame of our wills. 

             Jesus may love our wayward adult children more than He loves us because accepting His love is so difficult for them.  We should keep in mind Christ’s beautiful example in Matthew 18:12-13:  “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.”  Not “as happy”—happier

In the story of the prodigal son, we see that the father does not try to persuade the first son to stay but does welcome him back with love.  The father goes out to get the jealous son and tries to persuade him not to leave.  Different sons, different words, different timing:  No less love. 

Christ from the cross said, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."  (Luke 23:34)  Forgive THEM.  All of the people there—laughing at Him, denying Him, reviling Him, gambling for His cloak, or just wondering whether He was real—all.  Our Lord forgave the ones who did not understand because they did not understand.  Their repentance, their “turn around” came only after he forgave them, not before: Luke 23:48, "When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.”

Jesus does not forgive them because they repent; they repent because He forgives them.  We know that from the cross Christ forgave all those present.  He reassured the one who needed, asked for, reassurance —"Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43)—but He did not condemn the one on the third cross. Because he says one thing to one in our hearing does not mean that He says nothing to the other in another language, another way of knowing.  We are certain that one will be with him in Paradise that day; we do not know about the other one.   I suspect we are quite wrong to assume that the other one would not be with him in Paradise.  We do not know about that one. 

Christ did forgive all that day, if we read “forgive them” correctly. 

So what about the believers in that scene?  “But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things." (Luke 23:49)  Those who already knew Him watched these people being forgiven and watched as they repented.     

            We cannot deny this act of forgiveness from the Christ.  When He granted forgiveness, He did it for all, including those who did not even know enough to ask for it. 

"While he was still a long way off.”   The father of the prodigal son forgives him before the son could even ask for his father’s forgiveness.  Many of us would have seen the ragged son approaching and think, “Well here he comes; he’ll want to bum more money from me.”  And our friends would be handing us all kinds of self-help books on “tough love.”  They would be saying, “I heard about this camp in the Idaho wilderness where….” 

The curiosity seekers and the tormentors and the non-believers at Calvary were "still a long way off," believing in Him only enough to revile Him, coming close enough only to make fun of Him, spit on him.  Yet He forgave them when they were no closer than that, just as he forgives the adulterous woman who does not ask for forgiveness; indeed she’s forgiven even while she is lying to Him.  (John 8:1-11)  Was Christ’s intercession only confined to that one day on the cross?  Does Calvary have no relevance or connection to us today?  Did Jesus not die for us and our children that day?  Well, if he was dying for us and our children, was he not also praying for us and our children as he died?  Our son spits on Him. Our daughter hammers nails through His hands.  What is Christ’s reaction?  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” 

Is it not arrogance to say, “Jesus forgives me because I asked for His forgiveness, but unless my son does so, Jesus does not forgive him.”  If you can identify who in the crowd is not forgiven from the cross, then I will listen to you when you tell me who is not forgiven in your home (or your town, or your country or world).  But we cannot know which ones.  Indeed we are admonished by Christ himself on several occasions not to try to know.

As Peter Kreeft tells us, we must rely on God’s grace, in faith.  Grace, he says, “is the First Cause.  Nothing causes grace.  Nothing can cause God’s acts of grace except God, the uncaused Cause” and we can only accept that grace.  (117)  Kreeft then says, “Our prayers are often foolishly full of fussing efforts like Martha’s and empty of quiet trust like Mary’s.  We try too much and trust too little.”  (118)  We, as parents, must recognize that we can not give such grace to our children.  We can pray that God gives it to them, but nothing will bring it to the child except God’s will.  We must trust solely in that.  Solely!


What to Do?

            No one—especially those of us who are “fussing” with our adult children—knows the state of our son’s soul in God’s time or through God’s language, and the young man seems unable to understand us, seems unable to take in the rich banquet we have offered him.  What to do then?  What is our role as lay evangelists in ministering to those such as our daughter—who is not our baby now but a free-will fellow pilgrim? She was never our baby, but God’s. 

Kreeft tells us that “the less we want grace, the more we need it.” (116)  The more we as parents try to take control of our children’s spiritual walks, the more we bully, cajole, threaten, harrumph!, sigh, and roll our eyes before our wayward adult children, the more we are depending on ourselves rather than on the grace of God, thereby interrupting the work of God rather than helping Him.  We should not interfere with God’s work.  Even when our children throw bait out to entice us to anger—a sarcastic remark here, a slight laugh there—we must not take the bait and get into a fight.  Satan is trying to demonstrate that we really do not carry the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

What to do?  We must first and foremost rest in the absolute and sure knowledge that God is working with our adult children.  Scripture shows us too many who had no idea of God’s purpose, had no sense of God’s ultimate end, yet who were “brought through” to God’s purpose. 

We have asked that our children be saved; it may be difficult to watch the process.  We may want hot dogs for 4th of July picnic, but it may be quite uncomfortable to watch them become hot dogs.  We may be ecstatic when we view our house completely renovated; but there are few who enjoy the mess, expense, and inconvenience while it is going on; we “put our order in,” “signed the contract,” and said we would turn it over to the contractors.  The more we get in the workmen’s way, however (“only trying to help”), the worse the frustration becomes.  What does Pope Julius II do with Michelangelo in The Power and the Glory?  He constantly badgers him—“When will you make an end?”  And Michelangelo keeps replying, “When it is finished.”  That is our question and God’s response about making our children into Godly people.  

            We believers are charged to offer the Good News, not the conviction.  The convincing must come from Christ.  We do not know how many hairs our own son has on his head.  If a man's own parents do not know some of the clearest outer details, how much less do they know about his soul?  God knows the hairs on his head.  And God knows the intricacies of his life and spiritual walk—before his birth, now, and all the future.  God saw our sons and daughters before we, the parents, were born.  And He sees, as we cannot, our sons and daughters at 50, 80, and 10,000,000. 

            We must rest in faith, be still and know that He is God, know that His ways are not our ways nor His thoughts our thoughts.  Only God can bring a person to God.  Indeed, as many great spiritual teachers and saints tell us, including St. Augustine, only God can make a person will to will God.  We cannot make our children turn to God.  More importantly, we cannot even make our children WANT to turn to God.  Only God can do that.  As with the lost sheep, it is the shepherd himself who goes out searching. 

We are to offer Christ, show Christ in our demeanor.  Paul, Peter, Jesus—they did not bang at one person's locked door until their knuckles were bloody.  They spoke, ministered, moved on, ministering through their lives as much as through their words.    We are to demonstrate the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. 

As William Faulkner has one of his characters say, “a man will cling to the trouble he’s used to before he will risk a change.”  Our sons and daughters are in trouble and turmoil.  We must offer them through our lives and reactions (fruit of the Holy Spirit) something other than more turmoil and trouble.  Otherwise, they have no reason to swap.  They’ll cling to the trouble they are used to.

            We are charged not to concern ourselves with those who seem (through our limited perception) to reject Christ.  We are to shake the dust off our feet and move on.  Why?  Not because they are hopeless but because we need to get out of the way (get our ego and pride out of the way) and allow God to work on them through His other agents—and those agents may include “sinful” music, socially inept friends, irresponsible actions. 

Jesus tells us that it is not the philosophies, literature, or music that are sinful; the sin is in the heart of the receiver.  Changing the music won’t necessarily change the heart.  The heart must change before the outside influences change.  And the heart will not change without God’s changing it—grace, “The First Cause” as Kreeft says.  The music or friends don’t necessarily cause sin, despite some scare mongers whose speaking engagements from church to church, private Christian school to private Christian school, depend on our believing such a thing.  Our children’s sinful nature causes them to want the music or friends.  The evil seeks company.  Take away the company and influences without God’s grace bringing the children around, and you’d still have other company and influences equally as bad. 

            Here we must be careful to avoid the logical fallacy of post hoc argument—short for post hoc ergo propter hoc, “after this, therefore because of this.”  Because it rains every time we take Jack to the lake doesn’t mean that Jack causes the rain.  Because a kid commits suicide after he listens to heavy metal music does not mean that the music caused the suicide.   If we think atrocious lyrics in music cause sin, then we must remember the sinners who listen to praise music.  Jim and Tammy Bakker were immersed in Christian music—collected numerous tapes of praise music, promoted it on their TV show.  Then they bilked poor people out of millions of dollars.  Jim Bakker had an affair.  Jimmy Swaggart sang praise music to his congregation, and late at night, after the services were over, he would go to prostitutes.  Well then, should we conclude that listening to too much Christian praise music leads people to steal millions, dupe the ignorant, have affairs, and visit street prostitutes?  Nonsense.    

Our job is to pray that the Holy Spirit bring our adult child to Jesus.  It is all we can do.  

            As a caution to ourselves, we must keep in mind Thomas Merton's meditation: "A selfish love...fears nothing more than the escape of the beloved.  It requires his subjection because that is necessary for the nourishment of our own affections"  (9-10)—more self-will from us born from our pride.  We must be careful that what we assume is parental caring is not actually our wounded pride that we have somehow “failed.”  We have not failed, for as in Proverbs (22:6), to the best of our ability, we have trained a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Whatever our flaws and missteps of the past in rearing our children, we are now in Christ, and the Holy Spirit is in charge, as he was when we made our mistakes.  

We must be at peace. We must not be anxious.  Satan loves anxiety, even if it is anxiety over our children’s salvation.  (Even if it is anxiety over our own!)  Anxiety is of this world.  Anxiety is a form of worshiping a god other than the One God.  When we are anxious about our adult child’s rebellion or life-style, we have the same emotional and mental feelings, do we not, that we have when we are anxious about money, or a business deal, or closing on the house.  As with the check book, Satan has perverted something good, taking us off course in our own spiritual journey.  Our trial with our children are as much about our own faith as it is about theirs.  The anxiety is not of God; it is of this world. 

Our child’s seeming departure may not be a departure at all.  Indeed, it may be the answer to our prayers!  The great Puritan John Bunyan put it powerfully when his pilgrim, Christian, early in his journey, passes through the valley of the shadow of death.  He says:  “Good man, be not cast down, thou yet art right: / Thy  way to heaven lies by the gates of hell” (77).  Not everyone’s way is so dangerous.  But some must walk terribly close to the gates of hell on their journey to God.  This is what we’re seeing in our children’s messy lives.  We have been blessed by God to witness their coming to Him.  Many saints and spiritual people have told us to accept, and even rejoice in our sufferings.  Those sufferings are bringing us closer to God.  St. Jane Francis de Chantal puts it this way:

Never fail in your resolution not to desire to be delivered from this cross which God has given you.  Submit yourself humbly and with a good heart to this holy intention of His.  Do not make the slightest effort to escape it or to find your way out of it, or even to know what kind of thing it is.  In short, endure with humble, gentle patience the weaknesses, the sense of being crushed, and any sort of grief, fear, trouble, desolation…without alarm or any deliberate reflection to determine what you are doing or what may happen to you….Gaze upon God simply and straightforwardly, and let Him do as He pleases. (59)

            "But what happens," we ask, "if my son should die while living among the pigs?"  We do not know.  We must not let “well-meaning” busy-bodies convince us that the child is doomed.  C. S. Lewis clearly tells us in the passage above, and it bears repeating here: “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”  Only God knows the manner of our sons’ and daughters’ hearing the Word and the limits, timing, and terms of their ability to believe.  Therefore only God can judge accordingly. 

            When the KGB of the Soviet Union forced Father Walter J. Ciszek, S. J., to leave his flock, Ciszek says he was in grave torment for the well-being of his people, the continuation of his ministry.  But then in the airplane, God gave him a thought.  It should help us grow in peace:

Why should I doubt that [Christ] would provide somehow for those I was leaving behind—even as he had provided for them before I came.  My first concern, instead, should be to follow wherever he led, to see his will always in the events of  my life and follow it faithfully....  My task this day, as always, was to yield without hesitation and without questioning the wisdom of his will to accept it in all reverence without trying to make it conform to my will or understand it fully with my limited human wisdom, to abandon myself once again in complete trust and confidence to the mysterious workings of his grace and his wisdom.  (178)

            All of us have adult sons and daughters who seem to reject our Lord, or we have brothers and sisters in Christ who have such sons and daughters.  We must not trust our own interpretations (or misinterpretations) of our loved ones’ states. None of us can trust himself or herself to “know” our children; none of us can trust seems in such important matters.  But we can trust God.  We should remember the passage from The Imitation of Christ, one of the great books of Christianity: 

When you think yourself farthest from Me, I am often nearest to you.

When you think that almost all is lost, then often the greatest gain is close at


All is not lost when something happens against your will.

You must not judge according to your present feeling.

                                                                        (Thomas `a Kempis, 143) 


            Perhaps our commitment to spreading the Word is not being tested with our adult children; perhaps our faith is.  And our peace must come in the surety of Christ's working with our sons and daughters.  What any of us may be witnessing in our “wayward" adult children may not be the proof of their having turned from Christ.  We may be simply witnessing, in reality, their rugged journey Home—not our home, perhaps, but the home that matters, Christ as Home.  In faith, in absolute submission to the will of God, in absolute acceptance of the love and redemptive power of Jesus Christ, we rejoice in His love for our children.  


Works Cited


Bunyan, John.  The Pilgrim’s Progress.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984.

Ciszek, Fr. Walter J., S.J.  He Leadeth Me.  San Francisco: Ignatius Press,  1972.

Devananda, Brother Angelo, compiler.  Jesus, the Word to Be Spoken by Mother Teresa.  Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1986.

Jane Frances de Chantal.  Wings of Love (originally entitled St. Chantal on Prayer).  Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1987.

Kreeft, Peter.  Prayer for Beginners.  San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000.

Lewis, C. S.  Christian Reflections.  Ed. by Walter Hooper.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,  1966. 

______.  Mere Christianity.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952.

Merton, Thomas.  No Man Is an Island.  New York: Octagon Books, 1983.

Sayers, Dorothy L.  The Whimsical Christian.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.,           1978.

Thomas `a Kempis.  The Imitation of Christ, ed. Hal M. Helms.  Orleans, MA: Paraclete Press,    1996.