More than anything, our children need to know that we love and accept them unconditionally. And by unconditionally, I mean with no strings attached. We love them even if they reject the most important thing to us, our faith. That sentiment has to be communicated to a child that is in the midst of a faith crisis or who has renounced their faith. They need to know that despite what they believe, or no longer believe they are your child, you love them, and they will always be welcome in your home.
Having a child leave the faith can feel like a betrayal and the feelings that come with being betrayed are some of the most devastating and powerful ones we can experience. They can provide a sense that we’re justified in rejecting those who we feel have betrayed not only us, but the Lord. I’ve interviewed dozens of individuals who left their faith and were immediately rejected by their families. Needless to say, it resulted in confirming to them that Christianity is something they want nothing to do with. One of the most heartbreaking stories I ever heard was from a woman named Pam whose mother refused to speak to her after Pam shared that she no longer identified as a Christian. Years passed without a word between them. When Pam went to visit her mother on her deathbed, she turned away and refused to acknowledge her presence. Devastated, Pam’s unbelief calcified into a heart of stone that will take nothing short of a miracle to soften.
If we want to stay in the conversation with our children about their faith, they need to know that we love them. I encourage you that after listening patiently, asking helpful clarifying questions, and expressing your gratitude, your first response needs to be something like this:
You need to know that no matter what you believe I will always love you. Of, course it’s hard for me to hear this. But my love and acceptance of you aren’t based on you identifying as a Christian. I will always be there for you and support you wherever you go, whatever you do, and whatever you believe.
Something like the above is the most critical message you can convey and put into practice to have an open relationship between you and your child. Unconditional love is not only right to do because we’re called to express it, but along with it comes the opportunity to cultivate a relationship that is conducive to having ongoing conversations.