As parents, the love we have for our children is completely unconditional. There is nothing our children could do that could sever the bond of love between us and them.
When our children are young we have many hopes and dreams for their lives, don’t we? We pray that they’ll be happy and healthy, that they’ll walk in integrity and pursue justice, that they’ll develop their gifts, that they’ll have a fulfilling vocation, that they’ll marry someone who loves them, and that they’ll know the blessing of children of their own.
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 or erode a parent’s love one bit, when the path they choose isn’t following Christ, the parent’s heart aches for God to come along and, in His grace and mercy, make that child’s path straight.
When their children aren’t saved
When talking with Christian parents who have unsaved adult children, it doesn’t take long to discern the heaviness that can press in on a parent’s heart when their beloved children don’t have the one thing that matters most.
A heavy-hearted parent can be tempted to recite the same old guilt-laden, heart-aching questions again and again: Where did we go wrong? Why my kids? Where is God in this? Why has it turned out this way?
For many parents, the guilt they feel is utterly misplaced. They had gospel-centred homes and raised their children with grace, with love, and in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In other words, they did everything ‘right.’ 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 any parent’s shortcomings, and God’s grace covers all our sin.
If this is you, if you are a parent of older children whose heart is heavy with discouragement, remember that there is every reason to have hope.
1. Remember that God is the One who gives life.
When writing about some of the trials of family life, and specifically about when the children of Christian parents aren’t following Jesus, JC Ryle writes this:
We may use all means, by 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.
Heavy-hearted parent, the new life you long for your child to have is not something within your power to give. It’s not your burden to carry. So give this burden to Him because God, not you, is the One with the power to soften hearts of stone and turn them into hearts of flesh.
2. Remember that God’s timing is different than our timing.
If we had the power to plan the days of children’s lives, there would not be a day they lived without Christ, would there? But we don’t ordain their lives any more than we ordain our own. God does. And God’s timing is often different than ours.
In the wonderful little book, Grace in Winter, Faith Cook brings the reader through some of the letters Samuel Rutherford wrote to friends. Faith writes about the letter Rutherford wrote to a godly woman, Lady Culross, when she was discouraged because of her children’s lack of faith:
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 hopeful 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 not yet fully told.
Sometimes when we look at the path a person has chosen, our hearts fail and we lack faith that God will ever reach down, pick them up, and set them on the pathway of life. And while 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 hope.
Just because salvation may seem unlikely today does not mean God will not grant it tomorrow. Don’t lose heart. Don’t lose hope. Your beloved child’s story is not yet fully told. As long as they have breath, there is every reason to persist in the prayer that God will breathe new life into them.
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.