When our children are young we have many hopes and dreams for their lives. We pray they’ll know joy, that they’ll become men and women of integrity who pursue justice, that they’ll develop their gifts and intellect, that they’ll have a fulfilling vocation, that they’ll marry someone who loves them, that they’ll know the blessing of children.
But above all this, we pray they’ll be saved and made new in Christ. We long for their salvation because we know it matters more than anything else; all those other things—good as they are—are temporary. Their souls are eternal.
Though the path a child chooses doesn’t change a parent’s love for them one bit, when the path isn’t following Christ, the Christian parent’s heart aches for God to come along and, in His grace and mercy, make their child’s path straight.
Last night I had the privilege of teaching a group of women in our church family. One sweet, godly older woman, who is a mother and grandmother, shared with us how her two adult sons are not walking with the Lord. This mother did everything right; imperfectly, of course, but right. She and her husband pointed her children to Christ and lived out the Gospel in front of them. But her grown boys, though wonderful men that she’s proud of in every way, don’t believe in Jesus.
They don’t have the one thing that matters to this woman most, because they don’t have Christ.
A heavy-hearted parent can be tempted to repeatedly recite the same old guilt-laden questions: Where did we go wrong? What did we miss? Why my kids? Where is God in this? Why has it turned out this way?
For many of these parents I know, the guilt they feel is utterly misplaced. Yes, like everyone else they weren’t a perfect parent. Yes, like everyone else they sinned and fell short in small and big ways. But God is bigger than our failures, and God’s grace covers all our sin.
Last night in our ladies study, after that woman spoke, the conversation moved forward in a different direction from what she shared with us about her children. But I've continued thinking about her words, and if I could have paused the conversation last night, this is would I would have said.
When your heart is heavy, your soul weary, and discouragement presses in, remember that there is every reason to yet have hope. Don't give up. Don't stop praying. But don't carry a burden you're not meant to carry.
And remember what is hopeful and true.
1. Remember that God is the One who gives life. When writing about some of the trials of family life, and specifically about the trial of when the children of Christian parents aren’t following Jesus, JC Ryle writes this:
“We may use all means, but we cannot command success. We may teach, but we cannot convert. We may show those around us the bread and water of life, but we cannot make them eat and drink it. We may point out the way to eternal life, but we cannot make others walk in it. ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth.’ Life is that one thing which the cleverest man of science cannot create or impart. It comes ‘not of blood, nor of the will of man’ (John 1:13). To give life is the grand prerogative of God.”
2. Remember that God's timing is different than our timing. If we had the power to plan how the days of our children’s lives would unfold, there would not be a day they lived without Christ. But we don’t ordain their lives any more than we ordain our own. Before your child was knit together in the womb, God knew your child perfectly and knew every day of their life before they lived even one. God is the One who ordains our children's lives, and God's timing is often different than our timing.
“Lady Culross was often deeply distressed in her family circumstances for, in spite of her rare godliness, most of her children grew up in unbelief. In heaviness of heart she writes: ‘Guiltiness in me and mine is my greatest cross. I would, if it were the Lord’s will, choose affliction rather than iniquity.’ Rutherford deals sympathetically with her problem: ‘As for your son, who is your grief, your Lord waited on you and me, till we were ripe, and brought us in. It is your part to pray and wait upon Him’ (Letter 222).
What a picture of God at work. With each one of us who knows Christ, God chose, in His time, when to bring us to Himself.
3. Remember that your child’s story is still being told. Sometimes when we observe the path a person has chosen, we lack faith that God will ever reach down, pick them up, and set them on the pathway of life. And while it's important to acknowledge that God’s word never promises the Christian parent that their child will be saved, God’s word gives the Christian parent every reason to have profound hope.
Dear heavy-hearted parent,
The Lord your God is with you, the mighty One who saves. Just because salvation may seem unlikely today does not mean God will not grant it tomorrow. Don’t lose heart. Don’t lose hope. Don't stop praying. Your beloved child’s story is still being told. As long as they have life's breath in their lungs you have every reason to persist in hope and prayer that He will breathe new life into their heart.
It could be in the concluding pages of your child’s story, perhaps long after you’re dead and gone, when the Gospel seeds you planted in their childhood will spring up in wondrous new life.