My husband and I feel a certain level of sadness and disappointment that our children—who are now working young adults, college graduates, and on their own—have left the church. We know we were not perfect parents; however, we did our best to love our children and to provide them with a stable and spiritually involved home environment. We also sent them all to church school. Even though the children of many of our friends have left the church, we didn’t expect this would also be our story. Where did we go wrong? What could we have done better? Is there anything we can still do? Thank you for your help.
Thank you for trusting us with such a personal and delicate issue. We are also sad to hear that your children have left the church. This is one of the most difficult realities Christian parents invariably experience after doing their best to raise their children to love God. Still, our world is filled with sin and evil, which humans are naturally drawn to. It’s been in our DNA since Adam and Eve chose to disobey God in the Garden of Eden.
At this point you and your husband can choose either to allow Satan to make you feel like failures, or you can trust God to help you work through the pain of your experience and to keep sharing and showing His love to your children in every interaction with them. This is your opportunity to make this a growth-producing experience for yourselves and for your children. Find strength and hope in the Bible. Psalm 25:5, 7 says: “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. . . . Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!”*
To be sure, we are all a spiritual work in progress, even those who have not left the church and attend services on a regular basis. We still need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The apostle Paul offers in Ephesians 5:15-17: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
You must also continue to employ the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, so that instead of being discouraged you might draw closer to God yourselves, as you trust Him with the salvation of your children. Claim promises such as the one found in Luke 11:9, 10: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Finally, remember that God didn’t do anything wrong, and yet a third of His children (the angels in heaven) turned their backs on Him. So instead of beating yourselves up—recognizing that there are no perfect parents because there are no perfect people—claim the promise found in Isaiah 49:25: “For I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children.”
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and family sociologist, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, PhDc, LCPC, CFLE, a licensed clinical professional counselor, educational psychologist, and certified family life educator, is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.