Parents Will Endure Their Child’s Crises of Life and Faith:
Here’s how to think through both.
Pastor Jon Bloom got me thinking. I grew up with older parents of three girls. They were not expecting a late-in-life baby, a strong-willed boy at that! They expected that I should be docile. I am not docile.
“Hot? No. Spicy – yes!” (Chef Justin)
I shall warn you before you jump into this. I’m a doctor and have a strong interest in psychology, and sociology. I was not raised by a pastor and his wife. I did not attend Bible College or seminary. I don’t run a church. All I know of theology I’ve learned reading constantly for years, looking into things only a “budding writer” would dare look into, some of them rather detestable sides of life, and I’ve committed too many sins when I knew better than to do so! I imagine the U.S. Marines would have been happy to have me during the Vietnam War experience. I’m the sort of “Get It Done NOW” personality they appreciate. Bible college students generally never have had these experiences and you will not get this advice from any of them. This is not theoretical life. This is the voice of real life, covered with the best proper manners I can muster. I do my best to maintain the deportment of a proper British gentleman. (I’m not British, I’m American, but I admire excellent British manners.)
These two parents whom I was assigned to tame, truly did believe their children are their possessions. Children are NOT your personal property! Such a basis of belief system will be where you’ll create the most trouble. Children belong to themselves and to God. (not necessarily in that order:)
You’ll have a far better next 10-years if you read with me as I display eight major ideas that have had profound ramification upon my life and my relationship with God and my family, these past nearly 68-years. All of this article, indeed the entire website/magazine, is intended to bring about a better outcome for you, for your life and the lives of your progeny.
Children are a gift from God. The child is a guest, and if you handle the gift well you’ll enjoy a lovely relationship. You’re allowed to guide and teach, but you cannot rule over your child (or wife or anyone else) like a master over a sled dog. Children are God’s property and should be respected as their own person and God’s person, not your personal possession who might be subject to the whims of one’s more darkly abusive side.
The parent who terrorizes and tyrannizes the child will eventually lose that child. It may happen at age 14 or at 54 but lose him they will. I mention age 14 because in 1968, while I was attending my 2-year degree college in Boston, a sociology teacher told us Boston’s streets and cafes were home to what was estimated as over 10,000 “run-aways” under the age 14 – and I’m sure several thousand more over age 15. The issue then is not simply that some kids are troubled. The issue is that many parents are so troubled they chase their kids out of their home.
When a boy is so willing to leave home, bed, bath, and meals to sleep on city streets, you must know something very powerful motivated him to go. He was not the source of the problem!
Some people wear a smile but behind the mask, they are terrified. Deep in their sub-conscious or “reactive mind” they really believe, “Everyone is out to get me and I’m going to get everyone first!” How did they get into such a condition? That might be a terribly long story.
But the important point to remember is, the tyrant/parent is terrified s/he must be in control of everything and everyone because if she/he isn’t in control, something terrible will happen – like maybe someone will beat his head in with a stick.
Without Christ Jesus in the mix, that may be perceived as the only effectual cure for such a personality problem.
But, indeed, that is not what the parent should fear. S/he should fear that everyone will put miles, perhaps hundreds, more in revenge even thousands, of miles between him/her and those s/he has tried always to dominate with constant arguments, fights that won’t end until the other side gives up, screaming, shouting, jumping, childish behavior temper tantrums, betrayals of trust, beatings, lies, (yes I’ve experienced all of this) and more. And that’s why I believe I’m better qualified to write on this subject. Sheltered children who grew to graduate and become pastors are on thin ice trying to explain what they’ve never experienced.
It requires courage to listen, and that means one must give up control and ASK QUESTIONS.
Oh My God! Not that. Never that!!!
Why not Mommy Dearest?
Because even acknowledging to myself that I have a question proves to myself and others that I am not in control of everyone and everything; and if I’m not in control of everyone and every thing someone will pick up a stick and punish me for being the impossible person I’ve been since my first unwanted child was born!
*You see, it’s very difficult to get mentally ill people to listen to anything. It’s even more difficult if the parent believes that the house and the child are all her territory and she must be the absolute authority. It’s so nearly impossible, sometimes one is tempted to pray for a demonic exorcism.
So the child upsets the parent because no matter what is said to him he won’t comply, (if only as means of vengeance and protest) and the two parents may start shouting at one another, each saying, “I know what’s wrong with him” and neither of them will dare to ask their son, “OK, what’s the problem. Why do you want to do what you want to do so much even though we fear it is not in your best interest?” That would be too intelligent, too sane, and too analytical for them to consider.
This sort of query demands something more than shouting and so forth. It demands the son be self-analytical and that the parent be self-analytical and the truth probably is, only 15% of the world’s population is dominantly analytical in their thinking style — about anything. Most are dominated by their emotional side and the logical side of their mind is most often pushed into a dark corner.
I tell you this because this pastor Jon is an extraordinary man. He actually receives counsel from his older children! I never heard of anyone admitting to that! Whether he and the boy might be talking about theology, investments, or that girl with the smile that stops traffic, there’s only so much you can say. Then, you have to simply let the child do whatever s/he will do and give it all to God.
Most wisely, Pastor Jon writes, “Most of the time we’re looking to receive, not dispense, (our) counsel.
“And one wonderful new source of counsel we’ve discovered is our (now) adult children. Their experiences of childhood and adolescence, and the good and not-so-good ways we parented them are still fresh. But there’s sufficient distance for them to maturely reflect on their experiences and enough trust between us (thank you, God!) for them to share with us honestly. It’s precious and humbling when your child matures into your counselor.”
Where Faith Begins
Youngsters will have theological questions. But, you know that. Who does not? That is a normal part of growing up. You might answer with a bible lesson or a story. I read a Rabbi who asked his son, “Do you think I’ve worshiping smoke all of these years?”
Eventually, a child with a good religious education concludes God is real. This website has science articles proving God is real to assist.
One discovers in the cold winter winds of their young life what nearly all saints discover sooner or later: the Light of the world (that being, The Christ Jesus) shines brightest in our own darkness. (John 1:5).
What we think about God and theology has a profound impact upon how successful our lives will be.
We (you and I) both know of a man can be worth billions, but eventually, in perhaps the most public and potentially embarrassing moments of his life, his sins will find him out. There he will be, exposed, his good intentions and his bad history, and all he can do then is regret his mistakes, admit they did happen, and move on through the rest of his life.
Some people have to hit the bottom of the barrel before they decide to give everything of their life to God. It might take 5, or 6 decades before a man, even a wealthy man, finally says, “Lord, I cannot run my life. If you won’t do it, it’s going to be a total washout. Please take the reins, guide my horse and lead the carriage. I just cannot do this anymore. I am at my wit,s end. I am a total spiritual failure. You must take over.
What causes us to see the terrible Portrait of Dorian Gray reality in our mirror almost always begins with a dark crisis.
For those who know The Christ, the solution must come by causing us to savor, treasure, and trust Jesus Christ.
This has unnerving implications for parents. I have heard a father roar in a neighboring apartment and the sound of a body slammed against a concrete wall that shook the building. But that won’t cure any problem. It only is a way to vent rage, not at the child, but at oneself, because father did not prepare himself for the crisis and now he is at a loss of ability to confront his failings and the problems presented.
If our children are going to see The Light of God, they and we parents, very likely must endure darkness with them, and accept an emptiness, a feeling of lonesome lack of power to determine the outcome. We must accept this as a lesson God knew was coming to us from before we were born! We cannot be in total control.
Men who seek total control, “he who dies with the most toys” cannot win! He who dies with the most prayers of love and tears of goodbye wins. Billionaires be damned, and most of them will be!
Pastor Jon writes, “As parents, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to protect our children from the forces of evil and sin in the world, which we should. And we try hard to point them to the gospel so they escape the horrible slavery of their own sin, which we should. We comfort, reassure, and counsel; we admonish, reprove, and rebuke, which we should.
“But all the efforts we pour into protecting and teaching our children can make us susceptible to the deception that by doing this our children will sail from young childhood into adulthood in a gentle breeze and across a calm sea.
But, even Jesus the Christ’s own experience in “parenting” his disciples was not so easy. It was on the troubled sea, not on tranquil waters, where the disciples began to grasp what faith really means (Luke 8:22–25).
Our children may ride on a confused sea, of anguish, sin, and failures, far from our eyes, before they and we really learn to fear and trust Christ. As parents, then, we must prayerfully prepare for the coming autumn and winter storms, because just as the seasons come, so also will the chilling breezes, and we must face into the wind as gulls during a storm, and endure.
- Expect your child to experience a faith crisis.
The more you can do to get your child to read, think, write and study through scripture the better it will be. Children always protest. “Practice your piano lesson for an hour” and of course they don’t want to. But no one becomes a fine pianist without several thousand hours of practice. Similarly, no one gets a true understanding of God without continuous reading, and comparison. It should begin from age 8 and continue habitually through life!
People sometimes observe; “Jewish kids are different, wiser, smarter. Why?” The reason is, most of them are forced to study at least an hour each day from age 7 or 8 and continue learning to read, write and speak Hebrew and sometimes also Aramaic from this young age. They study “Torah” which is the first 5-books of The Bible. They are tested at these reading and ceremonial skills before the entire congregation at age 13. You can be sure, such experience affects the child. Thereafter the child is self-disciplined about study and God’s wisdom is part of his constant thinking! God’s law is written across his heart for the rest of his life.
Similarly, Asian children learn to read, write and be diligent about what they do from their youth and the richer Asian families see their children go into technical skills or business with great competence. Also, some Middle European cultures demand technical excellence.
These early lessons support the morality, ethics and personality development process all through life. If you want your kids to have a better adolescence, get them reading Bible lessons and commentary as early as possible, and do not let them waste time with nonsense on television and computer games.
For many young people, it is likely at some point, probably around age 18 he or she will wonder if he should be an Atheist, and then an Agnostic and then a Buddhist or Hindu and finally will return to The True and Living God. I was an Atheist for about 30-seconds and decided that was impossible. I studied comparative religion and got very interest in some of the sciences and satisfied myself that none of this could be accidental. That was sufficient for me to feel completely confident about giving myself to God at age 27, and again realized I had not done so completely and committed my spirit into His hands yet again much later in life.
Of course, this may lead to some conflicts but one must bravely take a stand now and then when squalls blow past. There is no entry to The Heavenly Kingdom without some suffering and sacrifice. The Lord has told his disciples and you, to sacrifice now and expect a great reward for doing so, in His kingdom.
It is written:
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Whatever events God knows are needed to call forth real faith in your child must be allowed to happen.
I wish to make an analogy which may shock you. I am a Chiropractor with a 4-year degree in human physiology and drew a memory from a college class lecture at about age 42. I was so sick with a Filipino tropical disease, I thought I would die and was praying for hours.
There is a long-held rumor that no fever should rise over 105 degrees least there be brain damage. It’s not true. There’s no evidence for it. In fact, when one has a fever the worst thing to do is force it down with medications. That only prolongs the disease as it reduces the immune system’s ability to have done with the entire problem.
The best thing to do is let the misery run its course until the patient overcomes. The patient might even have a moment of convulsions around 107 degrees and then the fever will drop quickly and the recovery will begin. I suppose you don’t believe me.
I have experienced it. I felt like a gas fire lit in my chest and I sat from dizziness, pounded my leg with my fist as the pain was so severe, and then fainted onto the tiled bathroom floor.
I’m here to tell you that the body is able to heal itself. The high temperature kills bacteria and viruses and oxidizes toxins.
Is that the best treatment in all cases? Well, obviously some people die while febrile. But a broadband antibiotic has its risks too. Lots of people die while in medical treatment! There are no guarantees of a longer lifespan. God decides.
In any case, I had that crisis and became not only physically stronger, but also stronger in my faith.
Thankfully I’ve had a crisis or two about business, money and lost love, but never have had any involving alcohol or drugs, or demons. I did actually face a demon/ghost once but by then, as cold and terrifying as it was, I kept my faith, prayed aloud, “By the power of the sacrificial blood of Jesus the Christ I bind you and command you to go to the depth of the sea and remain there until The Lord calls you.” He went. The fear and freezing temperatures around my lower body suddenly were gone, and I knew Jesus had taken the victory!
What can a parent do if the child is involved in worse? Divorce, drugs, alcohol, or has decided to distance himself from God? The best thing to do, I think, is pray, ask questions and listen. Do not be quick to answer. Just listen and say you’ll think and we should talk again soon. And say again, God is real, he knows, if you will reach for Him, he will open a shaft of light out of this, and will rescue you.
Part of being a young small boat sailor is to get knocked down, end up in the water maybe alone, and be forced to right the boat yourself, bale it out yourself, and sail it home. It’s called survival and it must be faced. Part of being a farmer is to face the season of a disappointing harvest. I’m sure it’s awful to invest, risk, and work so much for nothing, but it’s part of living on the land and must be faced. Part of opening a clinic or any other business is the slow start and the terror you won’t have enough money to survive until there is profit enough to keep growing. It’s part of business life and may be faced.
Part of growing up is a season or set of circumstances when one is faced with a crisis that forces one to exercise one’s own faith and experience for oneself that God exists and is the rewarder of those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
Pastor Jon writes, “Praying for our child’s faith crisis sounds strange, I know. But if we want our child’s deepest joy, we will pray for the testing of their faith (James 1:2–4).”
- Expect your child’s crisis will be different compared to yours, and may come at any age.
God has taught you to walk by faith, and not by sight, in particular ways. But it’s likely that he will deal differently with your child. The child may struggle in ways and over issues and questions you haven’t. The unfamiliar may seem frightening. But it’s not unfamiliar to God.
- Expect to feel somewhat helpless.
There comes a point when God decides to use means unfamiliar to teach our children to trust him. We find ourselves on the periphery of our child’s life, not allowed the same access or influence we thought was our “right of ownership.”
But you see, you must at some point trust this maturing person to make the right decisions. Such a moment often becomes a faith crisis for us too, where we must learn to trust God with our children in new ways, remembering that everyone in the world is not evil and malevolent.
Years ago I was running a vitamin shop and a young lady came in. I noticed out of the left corner of my eye two adults standing outside, across the walkway, leaning against the fence from which one might look down to the lower floor. The adult woman at the fence with a man, had her arms crossed over her chest – a sign of suspicion, being “closed” to everyone. The young lady and I settled upon a good quality multiple vitamin and mineral supplement. I walked behind the counter to the cash register. As the young lady drew out her wallet to pay the two adults across the hall leaning on the fence ran across the walkway and into the store, prepared for battle, apparently – but were shocked to discover I was not cheating their daughter and was in fact, selling her a very good product. My point is to repeat. Everyone is not intent on malfeasance. Some of those around you are honest, decent people!
- Let your child know early in life, “When you are with me you are in a safe place to communicate. You’re safe here.” You must be that refuge when she needs to come in out of the cold.
Pastor Jon tells a story. He wrote that one of his sons admitted that he didn’t feel safe discussing with his father/Pastor certain theological questions with which he was wrestling. Jon says, he too had his times of theological questioning – his faith journey. He had come to his decisions. Other people come to theirs. We all do if we’re analytical thinkers.
It is wise to share ideas openly with your children about all the difficult issues in life. I find most all of them are answered in The Bible somewhere. There are answers to questions about love, sex, money, child raising, disease, starvation, enemies, and betrayers, — all of life’s roadmap are there. Be as open with your children as you can be. Show them that you respect their intelligence and their reasons for their decisions.
Whether the decision is in agreement with your theology, or some other subject, do not expect or demand, of your child to adopt them all. I can assure you, that won’t happen. And sometimes it’s best that it doesn’t. He may decide later you are right after all – but give him permission and freedom to be his own thinker and his own man.
I’m reminded of a business story, the end of which was that the son did things very differently compared to what the father had done and their little hardware business in Ohio grew much larger after “Dad” retired and left his son to do things his own way!
Pastor Jon says, We can’t always control whether we are perceived as a safe place to our children, but as much as possible, we must seek to be a safe place for them to discuss hard questions and to work through the thought process without judgment.
We must strive to be open to listen and slow to answer with more than perhaps a question. “What do you plan to do?” and if the young adult has no answer, then, “Let me know what you plan when you have a plan, or tell me if you want my help or advice. I’m here for you when you want help.” Like the boy with the swamped sailboat lying on her side, the boy growing toward maturity must make his own decisions and survive physically and spiritually.
- Do not mistake a chapter for the story.
We must try to keep our child’s faith and or life crisis in perspective. We are not so like God that we have foreknowledge. We must not assume we know how the story will end. Most biblical characters had life chapters that were difficult. That’s part of life and you can’t bear a baby and then expect that person to grow up forever sheltered. That’s just not reality. A cruising yacht is beautiful lying at anchor but that’s not what it was launched to do! A daughter is beautiful when well sheltered and maintained, but she was born to do more than live in your gold plated cage and sing pretty songs.
Do you like cats? I like cats. They’re cute and warm and cuddly when they’re kittens and finally they go outdoors and eat mice and birds and get parasites and you have to go to the Vet for medicine and administer it to the cat who is not exactly thankful for this unrequested health-care, and finally, the cat gets well. Then she goes out to run amok amongst the local wildlife again and the cycle repeats. That’s just the nature of the cat. You can’t stop life from happening. Biology always wins.
You can’t stop your kids from growing up. You can do your best to guide them and then get out of the way and let God take over. That’s just part of living. Generally, the more you meddle in their affairs the worse matters will become.
- Aim for faithfulness.
We are not the authors of our children’s story. Neither are they. God is the author. God does not call us to determine the outcome of our children’s faith. He calls us to be there and be faithful. (Psalm 37:3). Our aim is to follow Jesus faithfully, speak what he gives us to say faithfully, and to love the children God gives us as well as we can, come what may.
- Pray without ceasing.
Part of faithfulness is not to cease praying for our children to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection from the dead of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3). We pray for this person to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all spiritual wisdom and insight (Colossians 1:9). What more could anyone wish a parent to do? I have seen the all too permissive parents. It was a tragic scene. Yours is an icy tightrope to walk. But, I shall repeat. Start Bible study early. Be sure there are lessons to consider, questions to answer, guidance about real tough questions even from a young age.
May I dare tell yet another rambling story? Adults presume little kids don’t understand anything. Have you forgotten your childhood?
I told a story to children about young people being found paralyzed in New York City. Several of them were brought into city hospitals and doctors were at a loss to diagnose. A project began amongst researchers in New York and Los Angeles. Finally, someone in California remembered and found again an obscure article explaining that when making Librium if you heat it a little too hot or too long a hydrogen ion moves a further step and the product becomes a nervous system poison. Some fool had been cooking this stuff on his apartment stove and selling it on the streets! These once healthy young people were now trapped in their wheelchairs for life! I ended explaining that those you see and admire in the Olympics, ice skating and doing gymnastics are not so different compared to you. The fool who says, “It don’t do not’in to ya” should be asked, “Well then, why are you taking it?” Of course it does something to you and it can do something so terrible you’ll be sorry for the rest of your life!”
Those little ones understood and it was well received in a backwater town in Southern Washington State where the crime, drug abuse, domestic violence, and HIV spread statistics are up and off the charts!
It IS well to teach young people to avoid trouble and follow God’s Way and remind them occasionally, not only with admonitions but with real photos and news stories and articles supporting your words. Just have a look at this and if necessary, show your children with real photos what Mephamphetamine addiction does to bodies and minds. Those are images of police posters from the USA and every adventurous young person should see them, lest they quietly whisper, My old mom is just talking and doesn’t know what she’s saying. Let the authorities do the “show and tell” for you. It does something to the viewer!
- Trust God.
This is the beginning and the end of parenting our children, whatever the weather of his or her life might be. This child is not your property and never was. He and She belong to God and you are charged to pray for them and do your best to guide them first to God’s word and then with reminders. But, you cannot lock them in their bedroom every night for their best protection.
We want our children to be successful in life. Success begins with God’s connection to each of us.
We want our children to reach maturity in Christ. “For this [we] toil, struggling with all [God’s] energy that he powerfully works within [us]” (Colossians 1:29). But we cannot trust ultimately in our work; we must trust ultimately in God’s power. And when our children endure various crises of faith and life, we must pray and “wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
What Can Be Said?
The world is full of books and printed advice. No one, including you, should expect to know what to do in every crisis. No one is expected to have all the answers. If your son is up to his waist in alligators tell him to read more, search for answers from experts on the subject, and perhaps find an answer there. Fortunately, search engines like Google can make piles of information available instantly at no charge and no trip to a public library is required. In an hour a man can get all the information he could want sitting at his desk.
Every crisis in life and related to theological faith will vary in length and intensity with each person. Sometimes a crisis results in the rejection rather than the realization of faith. But even then, it’s not the end of the story.
Parenting is never easy. The sea remains the same and tests everyone crossing her.
Parenting requires a mind of faith, and wisdom, the one for whom God is their strength and ever-present help in times of trouble. (Psalm 73:26). He is the author and perfecter of our faith — and our children’s faith (Hebrews 12:2).
As the great cloud of biblical and historical witnesses reminds us (Hebrews 12:1), often, when a crisis comes, God is the beginning and the end, the mystery and the solution.
In God, all questions begin and all answers end. At the completion of life, God is the final salvation. That thought may comfort even the reader with a rent heart.
Dr. Stephen Newdell
This article was inspired by notes taken from an article by Pastor Jon Bloom at desiringGod.org