When Your Child Walks Away



(Returning readers can jump down to an update)

He was the one who at a very young age would say things out-of-the-blue displaying his understanding of a message at church.  He was the one who went to Bible camps, went to Africa on a mission trip and talked about how much God had shown Himself. And now, he’s an atheist and a loud, confrontational one at that. He’s the one who was listening to Ravi Zacharias and other apologetics speakers during the first couple years of college.  I love him something fierce.  He is our oldest son.

It’s been about a year now that our son has become public with his atheism, and it tears at the core of me and my husband.  There are so many facets to this subject: guilt, fear, disappointment. What about his future? What did we do wrong?  When did this happen?  What can we do now?

Frankly, I’m not sure what to do now except to pray nonstop and continue to love him. 

Many people have quoted to us the scripture from Proverbs 22:6: “train up a child in the way he should go”… I know it’s true, but I just can’t seem to let it rest there.

Here’s what I’m learning:

1. God loves our son more than we do.  He is working even while we sleep.  

2. Don’t engage in a religious debate, at least not now.  That doesn’t mean that we compromise our beliefs.  Just don’t bring it up, and definitely don’t try to “fix” him.  It will only backfire.

3. Our son’s anger may be a good thing.  Anger could mean there is a war raging in him and he’s lashing out with antagonism and mockery.  The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference.  And our son is definitely not indifferent.  

4. It might get worse before it gets better.

5. Pray diligently and believe it! I pray while getting ready in the morning, while eating dinner, while sitting at my desk at work.  I’m praying without ceasing. 

My prayers are also coming by way of song.  I insert his name wherever I can… I know who goes before [name], I know who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by [name’s] side. 

God has taken me through different stages of trust over the past several years, different levels of surrender.  This is by far the hardest one… leaving my son at the foot of the cross and trusting that Jesus has it all under control.  Lord, please whisper in his ear or hit him over the head with a 2x4 - whatever it takes to get his attention back to You.  I have to believe it and thank God for the victory but, man is it hard.  

I wait expectantly to see my prodigal running down the lane where we will run to greet him with open arms.  And, I’m pretty sure we’ll have the biggest party ever. 

What helps you in these moments while you are waiting on… and loving… your prodigal? 

Update from Suzanne on May 11th:

I have heard from so many in a few short days; parents of a prodigal, prodigals who WERE the parents and were encouraged by their faithful children, prodigals who have come back. One of the resounding items for me is that there is fear attached to this topic, certainly fear of our children’s future but also a fear I hadn’t really considered…fear to discuss, fear of judgement.  I am rarely at a loss for words, sometimes to a fault, and am such an open book but realized that even for me it was hard to expose, hard to talk about at first. For me part of it was that if I talked about it, then it was real. 

I feel as though we are locking arms and running down this road, gathering others as we go. I want to encourage and support.  I want to learn and grow.  There is lots of encouragement in the comments of the blog post. I wanted to share some of the love and hope and encouragement I have received from other avenues as well. You’ll find snippets of emails and phone conversations below.  May God bless you where you are today, knowing you are not alone.  I’m so grateful for this connection.


Stories from others...

“I eventually went back to church & God, but you’re wondering, what brought me back?  The deal clincher was seeing my daughter’s faithfulness to God….going to church weekend after weekend, her participating in church functions, her non-judgmental attitude towards me (can’t emphasize this enough), her lovingly inviting me to attend church or a church function (her being gracious when I didn't accept), and how she patiently sat by and loved me, waiting for my butt to get in gear. I don’t think there’s anything you can do right now except what you’re doing… faithfully praying, faithfully loving your son and faithfully waiting.  One last thought, and let it give you hope:  C.S. Lewis was an atheist!!”

“Pray. Continue to try to talk reason when God directs. Have faith that God will pursue him relentlessly as He did me. Don't blame yourselves. It's probably because of things beyond your control and it's just going to take time for your prodigal to realize the mistakes he's making right now. When he does come back, welcome him back and praise God for His wonderful grace.” 

“I could not think of a prayer to pray in the moment but God put a song on my heart about it... and it in itself is a prayer... a mothers prayer...or a fathers prayer etc. The whole song might fit your situation... I think my prayer for your son is the second verse... because I have been a prodigal as well...I struggle with this a lot...Giving my life to Jesus.. then taking it back... Unbelief... the want, the will, anger, frustration, denial the one thing I can tell you is that Jesus never stops working, never stops the pursuing us... that is such a wonder!!!” 

“I was raised in a Christian home but I was living half in the Word and the other half in the world. Living half in the world led to a prison sentence. But God can work all things for good including a prison sentence. I wrote a book called "Therefore I Have Hope" while I was in prison. The Lord has given me the opportunity to share my story… Sending Prayers your way.”