6 Conversations to Have When Your Child Starts to Turn from Faith
When our daughter hit her teenage years, I worried she would reject our faith. Though she went with us to church, she grew hostile when we asked her about the sermon or if she’d read her Bible. Here are 6 conversations parents can have to bring peace, love, and grace into those potentially frightening moments.
When our daughter hit her teenage years, I worried she would reject our faith. Though she went with us to church, she grew hostile when we asked her about the sermon or if she’d read her Bible. She didn’t engage in family devotions and often became irritated when we asked her faith-related questions. Initially, out of fear, I launched into “teaching mom” and told her why Scripture and devotions were so important. This only made things worse and caused her to shut down even more.
After one particular tense interaction, my husband said, “Jen, you need to stop. You’re going to push her away.”
I realized he was right, and that only increased my fear. I felt as if there was nothing I could do. What if she left the faith completely, determined she didn’t believe Jesus was who He said He was?
One morning, anxious for guidance, I shared my concerns with her youth pastor. His statement simultaneously calmed my fretting thoughts and lifted a heavy burden I hadn’t realized I’d been carrying.
“Just keep her talking,” he said.
With a deep breath, I nodded. “That I can do.”
His advice helped me shift my focus off of trying to convince my daughter of truth onto creating safe places of dialogue where the Holy Spirit could speak. That’s precisely what I did. As a result, God turned what could’ve been a relationship-destroying experience into ongoing discussions that drew my daughter and I closer and deepened her faith. I’ve since learned most teens go through a similar questioning period before owning their faith.
Here are 6 conversations parents can have to bring peace, love, and grace into those potentially frightening moments.
1. Ask what they think about God.
Note the emphasis on asking. When our teens are pulling away or expressing frustration, that’s not the time to teach. Trying to do so will likely only cause them to withdraw further. What they need most is a safe place to talk and investigate hard truths. When you actively listen, without judgment or reproval, to their questions, thoughts, and feelings, you create a strong relational bridge that will encourage them to come to you with doubts and questions. They probably won’t talk openly if they feel you’ll get upset or will only try to correct them.
Remaining quiet during these times can feel frightening. Our confidence grows when we remember it’s ultimately the Holy Spirit’s job to draw our children to Christ and His truth. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them” (John 6:44), and, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6).
2. Ask if they feel comfortable and accepted at church.
I’ve discovered, talking to parents and youth, most often when children walk away from the faith, deep hurts are to blame. Though our daughter never lost her belief in Christ, for a while, she had no desire to step into a sanctuary filled with His followers. She’d been wounded by many Christians throughout her life, those who had misjudged her more analytical, less-emotional personality and made her feel as if she were worshiping God wrong.
When I pushed her, whether to read her Bible or pray over dinner, I was unknowingly triggering inner lies she’d developed during painful experiences. Lies like: “I’m not good enough.” “This Christianity thing isn’t working for me.” “God loves everyone else, talks to everyone else, but not me.”
This all came out midway through her Junior year. We’d had friends over that evening. Afterward, I entered her bedroom to drop off some linens when I sensed God prompting me to engage in her conversation. I did, and what she shared broke my heart but also paved the way for healing. We talked about God and His love contrasted with people and their sin. I reminded her of grace and helped her rest in it.
3. Ask them if you’ve hurt them in relation to religion.
Sometimes, in our desire to see our kids adopt our faith, we can do or say things they find hurtful. Perhaps they perceive our concern as criticism and feel as if we’re displeased with them. Maybe they feel as if they’re failing and can’t measure up to our standards. They might feel pushed and controlled, which can cause a child developing independence to fight back.
The more passionately we feel about something, the greater the risk we’ll inflict pain. No parent is perfect; we all hurt our children, likely numerous times a day. But that doesn’t mean our kids have to stay hurt. Inviting their honestly regarding our failings can feel threatening, but it can also initiate powerful, intimacy-building discussions. When we invite our kids to share their feelings regarding our failings, we encourage conversations that lead to healing and increased trust. Hindering such conversations won’t help. In fact, that will likely only make things worse as faulty perceptions grow and one hurt piles onto another.
4. Ask them what confuses them.
Remember, when you sense your teen pulling away, lecturing them on truth will only deepen the rift between you and them. Focus on asking questions so that, prayerfully, you can catch glimpses into their hearts. You cannot reach or teach them if you haven’t first reached their hearts, and they won’t open their hearts to you unless they feel safe to do so. Honest questions and active listening helps build the trust that will encourage them to openly share.
So ask what confuses them, then, once they’ve shared, ask if they’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. If they say no, respect that, and pray that God places people in their path to speak whatever truth they need to hear. More than likely, however, if you approach them humbly, they’ll be open to hearing your view. If you don’t know how to respond, be honest with them and ask if they’d be interested in investigating the answer with you. If they say yes, celebrate! That means God is using you, your child’s question, and your conversation to draw your youth closer to Him.
Scripture promises if our kids honestly seek God, they will find Him.
5. Ask them what they disagree with and why.
This question can make parents fearful because our child’s answer may feel like a challenge or denial. One evening, God prompted me to ask my daughter how she felt about Him, and at first I didn’t want to. I was afraid she’d tell me she didn’t believe in God or the faith we’d raised her in.
But I realized my not knowing how she felt or what she thought wouldn’t change anything. It would only remove me from the discussion. So, with all the courage I could muster, I asked, “Baby girl, how do you feel about Jesus?”
She immediately started crying, and an incredibly rich, grace-filled conversation followed. Like I shared earlier, I learned of deep hurts that she’d been carrying for years and was able to address those hurts. That conversation also encouraged deeper discussions later, largely, I believe, because I created a safe place for her to speak.
6. Assure them of your love.
This is perhaps the most important conversation a parent can have, and it’s one our children desperately need to hear, especially during periods of doubt. They know how deeply we feel about our faith and how important it is to us that they embrace it. They’re likely as frightened of our rejection as we are for their salvation. Fear hinders healthy and open conversation and will cause our child to withdraw. But love protects and remains.
Children need to know our love will withstand differences of opinions, believes, and ideologies.
It’s natural to feel frightened when our kids drift from the faith. But may we remember that God’s bigger than any doubt and is, at this moment, speaking to our children’s hearts. May we focus on connecting with their hearts, relinquishing their salvation to God. We may not have all the answers. They probably don’t want us to give them answers anyway. But we can keep them talking, and we can demonstrate the gentle love and grace of Christ, a love that, God willing, will prove irresistible to their hurting, doubting, questioning souls.
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Hometown Healingand numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team love to help women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. Visit her online to find out more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event, and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HEREto learn of her future appearances, projects, and releases.
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