Brett and Kate Ryan from Focus on the Family joined Robbo and Becci to chat about how parents should respond when the kids have decided they don’t believe in God anymore.
Kate says it’s a heavy, heartbreaking scenario for parents who’ve been praying for their children all their lives. “It just breaks your heart,” she says.
Brett adds that many people then go through that narrative of saying, what did I do wrong? “Those feelings of guilt and inadequacy come up, which we all go through from time to time. But you can’t control your adult children. Once they have left the nest they aren’t under your roof or your influence. You can go through these whole scenarios of how did I fail? We can judge ourselves and our success by whether our kids are going on with their faith and their relationship with God. And all of these things can actually give you a pass or fail or a gold star on the fridge. But when children become adults they have to make those choices for themselves, however heartbreaking that may be.”
Kate says that we still have an influence over our children, but they have the final choice. “God’s given us all free will. And unfortunately our hearts are full of sin but we are not responsible for our children’s choices. Sometimes we feel like we are, and we question what did we do wrong, what we could have done differently. But the issue is, our children are not ours. They are on loan; they belong to God. So He knows what they’re going to do. He knew that this was going to happen. It wasn’t a surprise. And He loves them more than we ever could.”
Brett and Kate believe that we don’t have the right to make choices for our adult children, but we have the right to pray. It’s heartbreaking to us, but we do have to choose not to stay in a position of grief or sadness because God’s holding them. And that’s not sad. It’s a very, very tough road to walk, but ultimately God is in control.
“We have to be careful not to make our script God’s script,” continues Kate. “If only this child would come home our whole family would be restored, but that’s not the ultimate thing. Our prayer has to be that their hearts are sold out for God. I think we get caught up in this messy world. As parents, we’re going to make mistakes and we have to rely on the fact that God put our children in our family for a reason and we do the best job we possibly can. The rest is prayer.”
Brett points out that in the Bible story of the Prodigal son, the father didn’t go and pursue him or chase after him. “There was still a relationship, but he didn’t burn the bridges. And I think sometimes as parents, we can actually badger our kids with texts and tell them what they should be doing and that causes more friction. They know where your standards are, and at the end of the day that relationship may be the best thing. Finding that common ground of love and acceptance is so important because they already know that you are not approving of their decisions or their choices or their values. Just be there and love them unconditionally as God loves us and show grace and mercy.”
Kate agrees that we have to work on our own hearts so that we don’t stand in judgment or become bitter and hold onto hurt and resentment. “While everything’s going on with our child, God’s doing something in us. And so we’ve got to get our hearts right because we can be hurt if our child has walked away.
If we stand in judgment and in a place of bitterness and anger, all that does is eat away at us and we will never be able to welcome our children back. We have to get our hearts right with God.”
Listen below to hear the rest of this encouraging conversation with Brett and Kate Ryan.