When a Child Doesn’t Believe


I’ve hesitated to share this deeply personal struggle. One of my children has told me that he/she does not believe in God. My first reaction was to blame myself for my child’s lack of belief. I thought, “If only I’d been a better example… if only we’d gone to another church sooner…if only…” Well, let me tell you, those “If onlys” can drive a person nuts.

I have struggled, argued with my child, seen that did no good, and finally came to the realization that I need to get over myself. I  admit that there is a big part of my ego involved here. I have worked in Christian publishing for my entire career. I worried, “What will other people think of me when they discover my child doesn’t believe in God?”

As I prayed about this situation, God helped me to come to a new place in my parenting journey. “It’s time to let go … and trust me,” I felt God saying. So I began to pray differently. “Lord, I give my child to you. I know you love this child even more than I do. Please, God, please…let my child meet some Christians who will treat him/her with kindness, unconditional love, and respect. Let my child encounter Jesus followers who are comfortable with questions, doubts, and who will accept him/her as he/she is.”

That led me to write the following prayer, which appears in Prayers for Life’s Ordinary and Extraordinary Moments, compiled and edited by Mary Lou Redding and published by Upper Room Books in 2012. I share this prayer with those readers who know someone who’s an atheist, and for those of you who are dubious about the existence of God, and especially for Christian parents whose children have arrived at beliefs they never expected.

Father God, thank you for your unconditional love
for each of your children.
I pray today especially for my child
who says he doesn’t believe in you.

Lord, help my child who’s struggling with cynicism and despair.
I believe that doubt is part of the faith journey.
Please send a sensitive soul to encourage my child–
someone who will say words to gently point
this one I love so much toward you.

Loving God, I lift up __________ to you.
Though it is difficult, I release my child to you,
trusting you to continue to work in his life.
Help me to let go and trust
that the seeds of faith I helped to plant will take root
and that my child will grow in the sunlight of your love.

Thank you, dear God, for hearing and acting.
I am grateful that you love this child
much more than I ever could,
and that though I must let go, you never will. Amen.

From page 17 of Prayers for Life’s Ordinary and Extraordinary Moments, compiled and edited by Mary Lou Redding. Copyright © 2012 by Upper Room Books. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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5 thoughts on “When a Child Doesn’t Believe

  1. I would recommend you respect your child’s opinion and encourage them to question everything. Perhaps they have learned something that you have not. Instead of telling them to believe, ask them why they don’t believe, and listen with an open mind. Maybe they will persuade you! 🙂 Encouraging open inquiry is the best way to defend against ignorance 🙂 Take care

    • Thanks for your comments. I did not intend to communicate through my writing that I had not respected my child’s opinion. I have tried (not always successfully) to let my children express their opinions. During their growing-up years, we were part of a church that, for the most part, did not encourage questions. I had to do “damage control” at home. My own background is fundamentalist, but I have changed a great deal during my adult years. Sometimes my upbringing comes through in my first response to situations. I have to work to keep those judgmental voices at bay. As time has gone by, I have become less defensive and more accepting of differing opinions, especially when they challenge my own. That is the way we grow.

      • Good to hear things worked out in the end. I think that, to be honest, trying to force your child to believe something would be detrimental for two reasons. First, it’s actually impossible to force yourself to believe something you don’t currently believe. Try it. Imagine you could go to heaven if you could force yourself to believe that invisible monkeys live amongst us. Could you do it? I doubt it. Same would go for your child’s belief in God.
        Second, forcing him or her could form a rift between the both of you and harm your relationship unnecessarily.

        So, I’d say, let your child work it out and provide a good example for him or her. Let him or her decide to come back to your faith. 🙂

  2. I completely agree with you…I have not forced my faith on my children. I did what I felt was my responsibility: raised them to believe in something bigger than themselves, tried to instill good values, and attempted to model/practice what I “preached,” knowing that actions speak much louder than words. I know some very moral people who are atheists. You’re on target when you say that forcing someone to believe in God could make a rift between me and that person. I’m all about building bridges instead of putting up walls. And another part of parenting is to let go when your children become adults. I’m working on that. I think I’ve done a pretty good job. Both of our children have turned out to be caring human beings who have a heart for helping others. While I would like to see them both live as Christians, I know that the ultimate decision is up to them. My part is to keep a relationship with them and to love them unconditionally. Thanks again for your comments.

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