Motherhood is complicated, and there are parts of the journey that we are often reticent to share. One of the most agonizing may not be the experience of all moms, but in today’s culture it is of the large majority. This world is busy making truth into lies and lies into the truth which, time and again, leaves a mother watching as her child becomes someone she wishes they weren’t. She is helplessly regimented to the sidelines as they adopt a lifestyle she wishes they wouldn’t.
Childhood rebellion comes as early as the toddler tantrum and peaks at the middle school personality shift, often leading to teen rebellion. But the most pronounced may not show itself until choices are made by your college or adult children. The tantrums you can handle; the middle school hormones are expected. But it’s different when your child’s rebellion goes deeper, their defiance of all you hold dear is glaring you in the face, and you discover there is nothing you can do to drag them off the path they are traversing. The faith they embraced as a child is left behind and the pursuit of a life you know will bring them harm is the life they have chosen. Their actions are breaking the hearts of those who love them.
This world is busy making truth into lies and lies into the truth which, time and again, leaves a mother watching as her child becomes someone she wishes they weren’t.
The last thing you want to do is tell anyone about what is going on, especially in the faith community. If you do, your motherhood may be judged, and your child may be spoken of in ways you don’t want to hear. You have sleepless nights, instances of mom guilt, and often the feeling of hopelessness.
You even wonder if there are enough prayers in this world to change the life of this one who crawled into your lap to give you a toddler kiss and brought a smile to your face as they created their imaginary play world as princess or hero. Will they ever hear your heart? Will they ever again know the truth of the faith they once claimed? Will they ever have the life God desires for them, the one you prayed for? It’s the good kids, the ones that don’t take dark paths that God uses, right? At least that’s what we often believe.
It takes only a cursory view of the Bible to know that is not true. Moms, I want to tell you that again: That. Is. Not. True. Yes, there are some who walked with God throughout the majority of their lives, living honorably, but if you read Scripture honestly, that is the exception. The vast majority of those who followed God were messy, making grand mistakes, and sometimes even complete shambles of their lives.
God Doesn’t Let Go When Mistakes Are Made
But the hope we can find is that that was not the end of the story for these pillars of faith. That moment in time and the compromises they made did not exempt them from leaving those destructive paths behind. Their entire story created a place for them in the pages of God’s Word; they left a heritage that, if you saw them at their lowest point, you could not have predicted. Their sinful choices were not the end of the story. Neither are the choices our child is making the end of theirs.
I can quickly list many we know… King David, a man after God’s own heart, slept with another man’s wife then arranged to have him killed to escape the consequences of his action. Saul, whom we have come to know as Paul, raged against the followers of Christ, seeking to kill them and destroy the growing faith within the Jewish community. Rahab was a prostitute. Samson was involved with a lying, deceitful woman who ultimately led to his demise. Moses killed an Egyptian and buried him to hide the murder, revealing his often-demonstrated problem with anger.
Sarah became a bitter woman who turned against both her husband and maidservant, blaming them for the mess that she created. Judah had sex with his daughter-in-law because he thought she was a prostitute. Then, when he found out she was pregnant, sought to have her killed for infidelity. Rebekah lied to her husband, manipulating him and helping her son deceive his father.
All of these are imperfect people. If you had met them on the day they killed someone, slept with another’s wife, lied, or was involved in a destructive relationship, you might have written them off. Yet, they were individuals who had moments of faithfulness and honor before God and performed magnificent deeds. What may be even more telling is that many were included in the lineage of the Savior.
The things these individuals did are the same acts and attitudes that we find in our world today. They are often the same attitudes and actions we see in our children. Your child may be in what you know is a bad relationship or involved in destructive sexual conduct. Perhaps, in their daily pursuits, they have turned their back on God, seeking a life away from Him, pursuing the treasure this world offers instead of God or denying the faith we know is the only thing that will sustain.
Their sinful choices were not the end of the story. Neither are the choices our child is making the end of theirs.
God saw each of those He included in His Word as who they could and would be. He saw not just their rebellion; He also could look ahead at their redemption. He understood their failings and knew the day would come when they would display inspiring faithfulness. We mothers must do the same. It is our place to “believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.” Because we love these children who were entrusted into our care. What’s even more important to remember is that we don’t love them nearly as much as the God we serve loves them.
Practical Advice for Parenting a Wayward Child
It’s not an easy task to parent one of these children, but there are some practical steps to take. And parenting them is something we still need to do. This looks different than it did in the past but with the same commitment we made the first day we saw their precious little face. So, when the day comes that they turn back and return to a relationship with God, we will still have a relationship with them and can readily embrace them.
- Never ban them from your life. There is no reason ever to say, “You are no longer my son. You are no longer my daughter. What you are involved in has removed you from my life.” God never, ever said that to us, and He never will. He loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8), and there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). His faithfulness is without boundaries; His love is never-ending. Ours should be too.
- Make them feel welcome. No matter how uncomfortable you are with their life choices, they should feel welcome in your home. This is your child; the door should never be closed, and they need to know that is true. If there’s an addiction involved, this may be different, but short of something that requires boundaries, they should know yours is their home. That’s not to say they will never feel uncomfortable. They will. The life they have chosen is one they know you don’t approve of whether it’s spoken of or not. But they need always to understand that you have a place for them at the table. Our home should reflect the abounding love of our Savior (Joel 2:13); love keeps an open door and an open heart.
- Listen and speak sparingly. Pray about when to say and what to say, realizing the answer is often to say nothing. They were raised in your home; they know your values, your principles, your faith. They do not need to hear the drumbeat of their sin continually. It will only serve to drive a wedge between you. You are the mother; you are the father; you are not the Holy Spirit. It is His to remind them (John 14:6), to woo your child back to Him. That is God’s desire even more than it is yours, so trust Him.
- Remember the good. Don’t ever lose sight of the wonderful qualities that are still a part of your child. Focus on those, encourage them, let that wayward child know you see the beauty in who they are, even as you find yourself disappointed in what they are doing. This is the magnificence of true love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
- Never quit praying. You may pray for months or even decades, but keep on because God answers prayer. Repeat that to yourself: God answers prayer! You may find yourself alone in the night, on your knees, feeling hopeless, but what you ask in secret God answers out loud (Matthew 6:6). And never forget this—as you are praying for your child, Jesus is interceding as well, going before the throne of the Father for both you and your prodigal (Romans 8:34).
- Don’t lose hope. What you see in the darkest time is only part of the story, only a chapter in your child’s life, not the entire book. It may be a useful chapter that God turns to good. His often quoted statement says there is nothing that He cannot make good, so trust that to be true (Romans 8:28). The life they are experiencing may bring wisdom. The day may come that they can help others; there is no life experience lost when God redeems (Nehemiah 1:9).
If you’re in this place, mom, understand you’re not alone. There are many of us who have walked this road, and there are many more who will. Take steps to find others who will pray with you. Seek women who will give insight because they have walked the road before you and understand a mother’s broken heart. Above all, be willing to offer love to both you and your child, not judgment. Moms are hard enough on ourselves without anyone else adding to the weight we are carrying.
The wayward one’s life is not to be mistaken by the moment in time. They should be viewed by the totality of their life. Like the heroes of the Bible as we read their entire story, your child can surprise you. The day may come when that one who is now breaking your heart will bring you such joy. Not only by turning back to the God they once followed, but becoming even more than you ever thought or prayed. A hero of faith for the days ahead, a light for their generation.
For more encouraging words, start here:
To the Christian Woman With a Crooked Past
Have You Ever Said It? “I’m Not Good Enough.”
When Bearing Their Burden Breaks You
Finding Your Grit Just When You Are Sure You Don’t Have Any
To the Mom Who Feels Like It Never Ends
You’ll enjoy this podcast from This Grit and Grace Life: How to Be a Grace-Filled Friend in Hard Times – 096
Above all, be willing to offer love to both you and your child, not judgment.