As our kids have grown from babies and toddlers, preschoolers to big kids, and now to teens and tweens, every stage has brought different blessings and challenges. When our kids were little, parenting was all about overt instruction: moral and obedience training that we often referred to as teaching them to people. As they grew we worked to introduce more complex reasoning and training to help them consider the “why” behind the decisions we all make. Now, we are more or less in the coaching stage of parenthood, trying to help them apply all the principles and values that we’ve taught them over the years.
I’d like to think that we’ve done a decent job raising them as Christian parents ought. To raise them in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NET). To point our kids to Jesus, sharing the gospel with them, explaining what we see in the world in light of our faith. But no one prepared me for the day when one of them would say they aren’t sure Christianity is true.
The blessing and challenge of a questioning kid
One of our kids asks a lot of big questions. A lot a lot of them. On every conceivable major issue. And, honestly, that’s really great. I love that this child feels safe asking challenging questions. That this child wants to discuss big topics.
But it is honestly a little soul crushing to hear that same child say that if feels like you’re always “shoving Bible verses and theology” at them. That this child only wants me to discuss big issues with verifiable facts. With things that are true, as this child described.1 Because how do we even know that anything in the Bible is even true? How do we know that Christianity is true when there are so many other religions? So what good are opinions when trying to deal with real questions?
Full disclosure: We struggle with communication in my family. Most, if not all of us, have some kind of neurological divergence: three people have ADHD. One is on the autism spectrum. One more is waiting for an assessment for diagnosis.2 This can lead to a number of difficulties, especially when discussing complex issues. But even so, we don’t shy away from them. Instead, we try to discuss openly and honestly.
Despite all this, when my child said all this to me, I felt like I had failed as a parent. I am actually not prone to shove Bible verses in anyone’s face. Likewise, my Mighty Theological Hammer of Justice™ has long since been retired. Even so, I started replaying every interaction I could think of, looking for more evidence to confirm that sense of failure being justified.3
Wisdom to help in the moment
So why am I sharing all this? It’s certainly not to air my family business in public. Instead, it’s because I realized how unprepared we were. How unprepared I was, emotionally if not theologically. So this is offered more in the vein of sharing the truths that I need to be reminded of—truths that my wife has been wisely sharing with me over the last several days.
Words I believe and struggle to believe (Mark 9:24).
First, you can do everything “right” and still not have it work out the way you expect.
Christian parenting advice tends to take proverbs and turn them into promises. To read Proverbs 22:6 as a certainty instead of wisdom.4 But doing so doesn’t account for the fact that our children are people. So even if we do everything we’re “supposed” to do—encouraging and reading Scripture, speaking gospel truth to them, praying for them, repenting to them when we sin against them—it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to take. And it’s not our job to make it so. We can present the truth, but we can’t make them believe it (nor should we).
Second, don’t forget that your child is still growing.
There’s a lot of years left, Lord willing. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone five or ten years from now. That means that we need to keep being consistent, especially as they grow into adults. To keep modeling a consistent, credible faith. To keep praying for them and speaking the gospel to them in every opportunity.
Do you trust Jesus enough to trust your child with him?
Whether our children have all the appearances of faithfully following Jesus, wrestle with doubt and questions, or outright reject the faith, we all have to deal with this question. Do we just Jesus with our kids? Do we trust that his plans are better than ours—that, if they’re going to be saved, it’s going to be the same way we were: by grace through faith in him, and him alone? Having grown up outside Christianity, it’s very easy for me to see how unfulfilling life apart from Jesus is. I’ve lived it. My children have not. And even though I pray that my kids will have the least exciting testimonies possible, I realize that Jesus may have something different in mind for them. That, if they come to faith, it may be through a more potentially painful and circuitous route.
That’s something that’s easy to say you believe, but it’s something else when you have acknowledge the real possibility. Or even to live it. But truly, this is the fact. If the gospel is true, then it’s going to be Jesus who saves our kids, not us. He is the only one who can. And that’s the tension we have to live in. It might be 10 years before one of our children comes to faith. We might not live to see it. But it could also happen tomorrow. The truth is, we don’t know. But if Jesus is trustworthy, as he has already shown himself to be time and again, then we need to trust him with our kids. Because who else is worthy?
So all we can do is this: keep praying, and keep sharing the truth. Keep loving your kids enough to tell them the truth in a loving way. And trust Jesus with the rest.
- I didn’t interrupt this child to say that there is a difference between facts and truth, as so many philosophers have correctly say, nor a dataset that is requires no interpretation.
- That would be me.
- In reality, there’s been one conversation this year where I jumped to a relevant theological truth instead of leading up to it when discussing a societal issue.
- “Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it“ (NET).