– You commit to saying prayers as a family each night before bed… and then your children run around the room, screaming and playing, during the prayer.
– You take your son out for a special dessert, hoping to have a chance for quality conversation and hearing what’s on his heart, or sharing some Godly wisdom with him… and instead, he spends most of the time texting on his phone, refusing to talk with you.
– You’ve spent years raising your child, praying for her and sharing Christ with her… and now as a young adult, she’s left the church and walked away from her faith.
– You have been discipling a young teenager, mentoring her to become a young woman of integrity and purity… and then she tells you she is expecting a baby.
– You want to bring your children to church with you every Sunday, but week after week, you leave church frazzled as your children either misbehave or zone out through the whole service.
Have you ever felt like a failure as you seek to pass faith down to the young people in your life? I sure have!
Whether it’s a day when my toddler declares “No! No! No!” when we try to say a Bible memory verse together, or the nights I returned from a youth ministry event feeling like I had made absolutely no difference… There are times when the situation feels impossible and we feel like we are not pointing them to Jesus.
Here are a few suggestions for what to do when you feel like a faith-building failure:
1. Remind yourself of God’s grace. Repeat after me: “This is not my fault.” You are trying to serve God and serve this young person! Way to go! Just because you are not seeing the result you want does not mean you are a failure, even though you feel that way. Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Give yourself His grace, remembering that He works in weakness and offers grace and peace, not judgment, in your efforts to share Christ with the young people in your life.
2. Focus on your own actions rather than the actions of your child. You cannot control the behavior of your child. Of course, you can try to lead them in the right direction, but ultimately, your child is not a puppet but rather a unique person, capable of decision-making and free will. God is not holding you responsible for your young person’s choices – only your own. You can control your own actions – Do you respond with love? Do you act with integrity? Are you providing a good example in your own life? Rather than seeking to force your child into a certain behavior, seek to follow God with your own behavior, and trust Him for the outcome.
While you’re at it, don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s actions either. It’s so easy to believe everyone else has it together – they don’t!
3. Pray, pray, pray. As you focus on your own actions (see #2), prayer is a wonderful place to begin. When you don’t know what else to do, you can always pray. Pray for your child, for yourself, and for wisdom in knowing how to proceed. Pray about the particular situation you’re facing, and also for your child in general (here’s a free downloadable prayer calendar with daily prayers for children and teenagers from Inspired to Action).
4. Keep an attitude of perseverance and faithfulness. Are you becoming discouraged after three days of attempting bedtime prayers? Your child may just need to get used to a new routine. You have the potential to establish a habit of bedtime prayers for many years to come… so don’t give up after just three days!
Simply focus on the good you need to do today, trusting that God will work in these little actions to bring about His good work over time. Whatever the situation, remember that you may need to invest for several weeks or even several years before you see the results of your efforts.
Be encouraged by Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6 – I trust they are true not only for the Philippians but also for our children: “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
5. Consider an intentional break. On the other hand, if you find yourself truly hitting a wall, think about taking a break. Is your relationship with your teenager at a breaking point because you are trying to force him into going to church with you every week? Consider focusing simply on your friendship/relationship, rather than including explicit Christian teaching, for a season.
If you are in a broken relationship, particularly with a teenager or older child, consider backing off on any overt Christian conversation for awhile – perhaps a period of one week to three months, depending on the situation. If your teenager is resisting your efforts to bring them to church or talk about God – give them a break. It is worth saving your long-term relationship to not alienate them, particularly if you have already laid a foundation of Christian teaching in her life up to this point.
Use this season to pray, seek wise counsel, and make a plan for your next steps. In the meantime, seek to simply be “friends” with them – go out for a meal together, watch TV together (and resist using it as a time to teach morals or good decision making!), or participate in a hobby together.
Please note: I’m not saying to eliminate all rules, like curfew and behavior standards, and let your child rule the roost. I’m just suggesting that if your child is specifically having an issue with your Christian faith, this isn’t the moment to force them to attend church or participate in family devotions.
Together, work out a time frame for a break: perhaps a six-week period where he can skip church. Be sure to set an end-point, and reevaluate at that time.
6. Ask for forgiveness if needed. I know we said earlier that this isn’t your fault. 🙂 But, do consider your own actions for a moment. Have you genuinely made a mistake? As you examine your own actions in this matter, do you realize that you have sinned? If so, confess and ask forgiveness from the Lord and also from your child.
7. Seek wise and Godly counsel. Set up a meeting with a pastor, Christian counselor, or wise friend/family member. Ask if they can honestly see anything you should do differently. If so, see why they think this – just personal opinion? Or something Scriptural or backed up by statistics? Ask for advice, or share your plan and ask for any feedback. It may be helpful simply for you to have a chance to talk about your concerns and pray with someone about it. Be sure to ask for confidentiality, especially as you may be painting your child in a negative light.
8. Keep going! You are doing a great job. You are a parent or adult mentor who cares about Jesus and cares about the young person in your life. Keep up the good work! Don’t give up! Through His grace, you can do it!