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5 Ways to Maintain a Relationship with a Child Who Has Left the Faith

As parents, we do our best to raise our children with good moral values and a godly worldview so that they can grow up to be upstanding citizens and contributors to society when they get out into the world. But sometimes our kids want to live their own lives, and in so doing, the relationship between parent and child becomes strained. The problem multiplies when a child has left Christianity. Whether they were hurt by church attendees, wounded by leadership, or robbed of a service opportunity, the reasons children leave the faith are many. But when the child leaves the faith, it leaves parents feeling like there’s a gaping hole in their hearts. 

What the Research Says 

Proverbs 22:6 says, “train a child in the way they should go, and when they get old, they will not depart from it.” Yet, in today’s world, it is more probable that a child will leave the church and their faith, making strained relationships almost non-existent. According to Barna research, “three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.”1 This can be devastating for both parent and child. Parents can feel like failures because their children didn’t embrace their faith and leave a legacy for the next generations. Despite being an adult, the child can feel like they have disappointed their parents in not following the faith and meeting their parents’ expectations.

What’s a parent to do? While the instinct might be to bargain or force the child into submission to God, this is a recipe for disaster if the parent hopes to continue a relationship with the child. 

5 Ways to Restore Your Relationship 

Here are five ways a parent can restore their relationship with a child who has left the faith:

1. Pray for them

This sounds simplistic, but prayer is perhaps the best weapon you have in bringing restoration to a broken relationship. David cried out to God in his sorrow, Paul submitted to God’s authority, and Abraham sacrificed his own child to follow God’s will. Although God’s will is that no one should perish, he never forces it on anyone. The pain of free will is that people are free to make their own choices—sometimes to their detriment. While it must grieve God’s heart to see one of his children leave him, he never chases after them. He allows them to come to him out of their own choosing. 

In the same way, you must allow your kids to do the same, as painful as that might be. Pour out your heart to him. Cry on his shoulder. Tell him how painful it is. God will sustain you in your pain and comfort you in your grief. Your prodigal may never return. But you can rest easy knowing you are not alone. God will always walk alongside you during every part of that journey.

2. Affirm Them

While you may not like their choices, they are still your child and need to hear your encouraging words. Resist the temptation to tear them down and instead build them up. Highlight their good qualities. If, for example, they achieve a dream, praise them. Celebrate their accomplishments and successes. Help them understand your love is not predicated on what they do but that you love them simply for who they are. It’s what God does for us, and we, as parents, can do the same. This is the best way we can demonstrate Christ to our unbelieving children.

3. Understand Them

The last thing your adult child needs is a lecture about all the reasons why they should follow the faith. Instead of lecturing them or dispensing advice, have a heart-to-heart with them. Take them to their favorite restaurant or coffee shop and seek to simply listen. Practice active listening by not only hearing them but understanding them. Hear what they are saying but also what they are not saying. Read between the lines. Observe their non-verbal communication. Arms crossed across their chest denote a defensive posture. However, hands resting on a table suggest an open, welcoming posture. Get them to express themselves by nodding appropriately and repeat back what they said, asking clarifying questions when needed. Even if your child never returns to faith, taking the time to listen validates them as human beings and an important part of your life. 

4. Set the Example for Them

In an assertion of their independence, an adult child may tell you that you can’t speak about faith in front of them. While you can respect their decision to walk away, your child cannot tell you what to do. You may not have the same influence over how they live their life, but they cannot tell you how to live yours either. Don’t stop living out your beliefs because they don’t want anything to do with faith. Keep living with your faith as the main focus and center of your life. They may resent hearing about the latest sermon or worship song, but your words may continue to plant seeds they may never acknowledge. As Scripture says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15). 

5. Welcome Them

If your child returns to the faith, make a point to welcome them back. In the parable of the lost son, the father doesn’t chase after his prodigal son. He lets him go off to live his life as he wants to, on his own terms. Despite knowing what was best, he let his son come to that conclusion and return to him when he wanted. That way, his whole heart was in his decision. And the father made a fool of himself by welcoming him back into the family. 

You don’t want your kids coming back to faith just because they think it will make you happy. God yearns for an intimate relationship with him, and he wants us to be in a relationship because we want to, not because he is making us. 

Being a parent of a prodigal is hard but trying to solve the problem on your own without the Lord is even more difficult. Lean into the Lord and his understanding of the situation. He knows things we don’t. Ultimately, he has control over the situation. As long as your child is alive, there is always a chance for repentance and redemption both with you and with God. 

Most importantly, don’t neglect your relationship with the Lord. Read the Word. Surround yourself with those who will listen to your pain and cry with you. They may also be able to offer wise counsel when you need it. Cry out to God and tell him everything. You may or may not have a prodigal that returns home, but you can have a vibrant, deep relationship with the savior. 

And that relationship is the most important of all.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Capuski

Writer Michelle LazurekMichelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website

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