Mar 132016 10 Responses

When Your Child No Longer Believes

It’s a call few parents expect to make but I’m never surprised to receive. After some small talk, they nervously state the purpose of their call–“my child no longer believes.” Many of them are panicked. They wonder what they have done wrong as parents. They want a quick fix to get their child back in the faith.

For some, the call comes as their child is early in the process. Upper elementary school is a common time for a child to make faith their own. As their minds mature to understand life and death, they have the ability to understand grace. On occasion, some kids struggle to understand. Especially for those who think in more concrete ways, the concept of a God they can’t see can be difficult.

For others the experience happens as the parent feels they are losing control over their child. Late in high school or early in college, the child is breaking from his parents and making his own decisions. This is a common age for children to feel as though faith is an out-of-date line of thinking, unnecessary for life.

No matter the scenario, the proper response for the parents is the same.

What to do when your child says he or she no longer believes?

1. See the big picture. Too often parents worry about the immediate instead of the long-term. Our goal as parents is to raise kids into mature believers. Whether or not they believe on an individual day isn’t nearly as important as desiring them to have a life of faith. (See: The First Step to Effective Parenting)

Doubt is an important aspect of a faith journey. In many cases, a season of doubt is a time in which a child is truly considering the idea of God. They are transitioning from just assuming what they have been told to make faith their own. They need to know their doubt is acceptable, understandable, and not something which terrifies their parents.

When a parent has the big picture in mind, they can appreciate a child’s doubt, look forward to their questions, and use the time for personal growth. However, when a parent puts too much emphasis on immediate belief, a child’s doubt can be crushing. They can panic, put too much pressure on the child, and do more damage than good.

True faith is a journey to travel, not a hoop to jump through.

2. Model faith. You can’t pass to your children what you do not have. Many parents are worried about their child’s lack of faith when they need to be more worried about their own weak faith.

At times when I receive the call from parents about their children not believing, I sadly knew the call would eventually come. Because the parents have never taken their faith seriously including raising their children in a climate of faith–attending corporate worship, serving, expressing a personal faith, etc–it’s of no surprise their children show little interest in God. (See: How to Come Back to Faith)

A child who isn’t sure about God should cause a parent to dig even deeper into their own faith. This is especially true as a child goes to college. Don’t be fooled–kids are still paying attention. If a parent’s expression of faith waivers when the kids move out of the house, it can create even more doubt in the kid’s mind wondering if their parents faith was just for show.

If your child doubts, you keep believing.

3. Give a defense without being defensive. Faith is not blind. It’s not  a conclusion made in spite of the evidence. Belief in Jesus is a logical response to the evidence we have both about him and this world. Because faith appeals to the mind, we can make arguments as to why faith is right. To do this, parents have to learn why they believe what they believe.

As parents learn why they believe, they can find the right opportunities to point those moments out to their children. But as they do so, they cannot be defensive. Faith should never be a fight for a family. Each person should have room to make their own faith decisions. Yet parents can point out contradictions and reasons for belief. Every idea has consequences. While a student might think it is cool to say God doesn’t exist, they must be able to explain why good does exist, why we feel an integral sense of right and wrong, or why most humans who have ever lived have believed there is a God. (See: Don’t Tell Me Every Religion Is the Same)

A healthy family should be able to wrestle big ideas. Engage your child about faith, but do so with sound logic.

4. No matter what, love. My role in my children’s lives is not dependent on any belief they hold or any decision they make. My job is to love them, no matter what is happening their lives. What love looks like in any given situation might be difficult to determine, but the task–to love–is very clear.

While it is important to discuss faith, those discussions do not have to be the defining factor of our relationship. If we have discussed it and they have come to a different conclusion, we don’t have to continually bring the topic back up. We can find common ground in many areas, have fun, and enjoy a relationship no matter our disagreements.

Parents, love your children and honor their autonomy to make their own faith choices.

Parenting is never easy. People of faith desire to have sons and daughters who believe in God and desire to follow him.When a child doubts, parents often get nervous. While it’s an understandable response, a child’s doubt can be good for both parent and child.

10 Responses to When Your Child No Longer Believes
  1. Carrie Reply

    I needed to read this today! Thank you for allowing me to look at this as an opportunity for growth rather than a moment of disappointment.oo

  2. Patricia Reply

    Carrie, I am right there with you! I needed to hear this, too. I have two teenage son’s and this article gave me some encouragement.

  3. Erica Barter Reply

    Just last week this very topic came up when my daughter got into the car after being with her youth group at CB-VB. I think because of what she is studying in biology right now has typically caused her to become discouraged. I remember feeling the same way when I was her age. I hope what I told her & what we talked about she understood. I pray I said the right things.

  4. michelle smith Reply

    I agree that everyone has to make their own decision regarding their faith. My concern is that my daughter is dating a Jehovah’s Witness and has decided she no longer believes in the trinity. Do you also think that the right thing for a parent to do is to let their child make these kinds of choices when it’s clear that the doctrine being taught by this religion is false? This is really hard to let her make her own decisions when it feels so wrong.

  5. Margie Hoffman Johnson Reply

    3 years in with a prodigal who grew up saturated in the gospel- not some rigid set of do’s and don’t’s but grace filled home of parents who love Jesus Christ with all their hearts. This feels glib and matter of fact. As hard as it is to accept – I must believe that this season ( hopefully) of doubt is good and will bring good. Meanwhile I cry put to Jesus with every ounce of strength I have to bring my daughter back to Himself. This has been the greatest sorrow in my life and I am not a young woman, have buried a husband and two parents . This has caused me to struggle for joy and fight hard .

  6. Joe Bigliogo Reply

    So what if your son daughter is an atheist. There’s nothing wrong with being an atheist. Respect them, love them and be okay with them even if they don’t share your religious beliefs. There are thousands of religions in the world and most of the world’s population are not Christian. Learn to peacefully co-exist with them. You kind of have to respect people of other faiths (or no faith) if you want the same respect given in return.

    • Shoshana Reply

      Absolutely agree. My parents pushed their religion constantly when I was a child and it only served to estrange us. Not everyone will stay in the faith they are born into. At some point children grow up and form their own beliefs about the world. You have to choose if you to value a relationship with your child enough to accept that.

  7. Lyndy Reply

    You forgot to mention the most important aspect of raising a child in the faith and that is to pray for them. Entrust them in faith to the heavenly Father. They may depart for awhile but loving, consistent prayer always brings them back. Pray against wrong influences in their lives. Friends are a huge part of them pulling away from the faith. I have a lot of kids and this has been a pattern I have seen over and over! Teach them early to wisely choose their friends.
    BIBLE tells us that the fervent prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much. Stay righteous and pray often for your kids. That sums it up.

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