Scott asked this question in a comment.
I know this has probably been covered elsewhere, but can we unpack the role of godly parents who have grown children that have walked away from the Lord.
A hypothetical (all too common one): college daughter chooses to cohabit with boyfriend. Gives ultimatum laced with bitterness. “Either you accept my lifestyle or have nothing to do with me.”
Is there a manner in which hurting parents may or should communicate the path to forgiveness? Should this be frequently repeated? Should estrangement be accepted? That is to say, if the daughter chooses to place unreasonable conditions on their relationship, should the parents find ways to stay connected (emails, calls, cards, and etc.)? How best can they show love, forgiveness, truth, holiness?
Finally, what absolutes are essential in such an arrangement?
First, if you read nothing else, read John and Abraham Piper’s post below.
Working through such a situation can only be done through biblical wisdom. Biblical wisdom doesn’t grow like weeds in the flower bed. We have to cultivate it through having our minds renewed in the Scripture, being with other believers, and hearing the Word preached. So, the first thing I would say to parents in such a situation (and there are many) – - – grow as a believer.
From there, several things should be wisely held in tension. This is a blog post – - not a book – - so this answer will be rough!
- Pray and ask others to pray. Don’t allow your own pride to prevent you from asking others to pray. Pray on your knees. Journal your prayers. Fast and pray. Walk and pray. Pray, pray, pray.
- Support your church if it works through church discipline with one of your children. Paraphrasing Bonhoeffer, there is nothing crueler than the “love” that consigns another to his or her sin. If your church is willing to confront your child, then don’t get upset about that. Praise God for godly leaders. Understand that such confrontation is precisely what God may use to bring your son or daughter back, though there may be anger in the short run (1 Cor 5:5, Matt 18, esp 15-18). Your pastors and elders won’t be perfect in the process. They will make mistakes – - we always do. But, God is pleased to use His church despite our imperfections.
- Keep a relationship with your son or daughter if at all possible. Always extend grace and love. E-mail. Send gifts. Pray for them.
- Do not make the sin the central issue of every conversation. Be clear. Warn them. As someone has said, “Choose to sin, choose to suffer.” Express concern. But, then, don’t continually bring it up. (I don’t have chapter and verse for this – -).
- Don’t make provision for the sin. If your child is involved in a wrong relationship, you may allow the other person to come to dinner. But, I wouldn’t allow them to sleep together in my home!
- Don’t enable the sin. Parents do their children no favors if they given them money to buy more drugs. Of course, giving a child over to the consequences of his or her sin is unbelievably difficult. You need the support of your local church!
- Grow your own marriage. The parents of rebellious children will know extra pressure on their marriage. Grow together in Christ. Don’t allow distance to grow because of tensions over a wayward child. Where there is distance and there are wounds, unpack forgiveness today – - I know of a book I would recommend on forgiveness. . .
John Piper and his son Abraham have written some excellent posts on this subject after Abraham’s time of rebellion.
My son Abraham, who speaks from the wisdom of experience and Scripture, has written the article that follows. I read it with tears and laughter. It is so compelling that I asked him immediately if I could share it with the church and the wider Christian community. There is no greater joy than to see your children walking in the truth—and expressing it so well. The rest is Abraham’s untouched. -John Piper
Many parents are brokenhearted and completely baffled by their unbelieving son or daughter. They have no clue why the child they raised well is making such awful, destructive decisions. I’ve never been one of these parents, but I have been one of these sons. Reflecting back on that experience, I offer these suggestions to help you reach out to your wayward child.
1. Point them to Christ.
Your rebellious child’s real problem is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or pornography or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or homosexuality or being in a punk rock band. The real problem is that they don’t see Jesus clearly. The best thing you can do for them—and the only reason to do any of the following suggestions—is to show them Christ. It is not a simple or immediate process, but the sins in their life that distress you and destroy them will only begin to fade away when they see Jesus more like he actually is.
Only God can save your son or daughter, so keep on asking that he will display himself to them in a way they can’t resist worshiping him for.
3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.
If your daughter rejects Jesus, don’t pretend everything is fine.
For every unbelieving child, the details will be different. Each one will require parents to reach out in unique ways. Never acceptable, however, is not reaching out at all. If your child is an unbeliever, don’t ignore it. Holidays might be easier, but eternity won’t be.
4. Don’t expect them to be Christ-like.
If your son is not a Christian, he’s not going to act like one.
You know that he has forsaken the faith, so don’t expect him to live by the standards you raised him with. For example, you might be tempted to say, “I know you’re struggling with believing in Jesus, but can’t you at least admit that getting wasted every day is sin?”
If he’s struggling to believe in Jesus, then there is very little significance in admitting that drunkenness is wrong. You want to protect him, yes. But his unbelief is the most dangerous problem—not partying. No matter how your child’s unbelief exemplifies itself in his behavior, always be sure to focus more on the heart’s sickness than its symptoms.
5. Welcome them home.
Because the deepest concern is not your child’s actions, but his heart, don’t create too many requirements for coming home. If he has any inkling to be with you, it is God giving you a chance to love him back to Jesus. Obviously there are some instances in which parents must give ultimatums: “Don’t come to this house if you are…” But these will be rare. Don’t lessen the likelihood of an opportunity to be with your child by too many rules.
If your daughter smells like weed or an ashtray, spray her jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when she leaves, but let her come home. If you find out she’s pregnant, then buy her folic acid, take her to her twenty-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you’ve been forgiven, don’t give him any more money, and let him come home. If he hasn’t been around for a week and a half because he’s been staying at his girlfriend’s—or boyfriend’s—apartment, plead with him not to go back, and let him come home.
6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.
Be gentle in your disappointment.
What really concerns you is that your child is destroying herself, not that she’s breaking rules. Treat her in a way that makes this clear. She probably knows—especially if she was raised as a Christian—that what she’s doing is wrong. And she definitely knows you think it is. So she doesn’t need this pointed out. She needs to see how you are going to react to her evil. Your gentle forbearance and sorrowful hope will show her that you really do trust Jesus.
Her conscience can condemn her by itself. Parents ought to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that they want their child to return to.
7. Connect them to believers who have better access to them.
There are two kinds of access that you may not have to your child: geographical and relational. If your wayward son lives far away, try to find a solid believer in his area and ask him to contact your son. This may seem nosy or stupid or embarrassing to him, but it’s worth it—especially if the believer you find can also relate to your son emotionally in a way you can’t.
Relational distance will also be a side effect of your child leaving the faith, so your relationship will be tenuous and should be protected if at all possible. But hard rebuke is still necessary.
This is where another believer who has emotional access to your son may be very helpful. If there is a believer who your son trusts and perhaps even enjoys being around, then that believer has a platform to tell your son—in a way he may actually pay attention to—that he’s being an idiot. This may sound harsh, but it’s a news flash we all need from time to time, and people we trust are usually the only ones who can package a painful rebuke so that it is a gift to us.
A lot of rebellious kids would do well to hear that they’re being fools—and it is rare that this can helpfully be pointed out by their parents—so try to keep other Christians in your kids lives.
Read the whole thing here.