Hope for the Parent of an Unbelieving Child

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Join us for Rooted’s 2022 Conference in Kansas City, MO, and learn from Luke Paiva, father of four and member of the Rooted Parent Steering Committee, in a workshop for parents whose children are struggling with their faith.

There may be no greater pain in this life than the loss of a child. Perhaps this is why watching a child reject reconciliation with God through Christ is so painful. When our children are actively rejecting God, we are watching them reject eternity at peace with God, moment by painful moment.

I spent time in the military and law enforcement where I was frequently reminded that the will to continue is as essential as any survival skill. There is a “Rule of 3” in survival situations. The list will vary slightly from source to source, but the central theme is this: “You can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, and 3 minutes without oxygen . . . but you won’t make it 3 seconds without hope.” The Rule of 3 is a reminder of priorities, and our priority as parents is this: the first thing we need each day in discipling our children is hope, and our hope must be rooted in the goodness of God.

 As parents, we should be deeply concerned about the faith of our children. The family is the first and primary discipleship community God gives his people, and there is much we can do as parents to shepherd and disciple our children. A sincere faith, displayed openly before our children, the direct instruction of God’s Word, humility, the confession of sin, the asking of forgiveness, and a faith that transcends Sunday morning have all proven to be essential elements of making disciples of our children. However, while it is our job to plant and water the seeds, it is God who gives the growth in his time (1 Cor 3:6-7).

The Source of Our Hope

As we tend to the gardens of our children’s hearts, the waiting can be painful. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming and hopeless. Diving into the wisdom of God to disciple our children must begin with remembering who God is and what he is like. We look to God’s whole-picture promises. To prepare for the daily journey of loving our children toward God’s kingdom, our beginning point must be God’s promised end, the kingdom itself obtained through merciful redemption freely given by a loving God. God offers us great hope as parents of unbelieving children, and the greatest hope he offers us is the revelation of his character through his promises to save the lost.

The Source of Our Patience

We do not get to know God’s timing with our children. We cannot know the infinite intricacies of all things being woven together for God’s good purposes. We must rest in God’s goodness and receive daily strength and wisdom from him before we do anything else. Whether our children are in outright rebellion or a season of doubt, whether it has been months or decades that our children have wandered, we must set our hope upon God alone. We must draw our strength from our God who remains steadfast and faithful, loving and merciful (Ex 34:6-7), without shadow or change (James 1:17). There are many things we can do to disciple our children as parents who know the love of God, but it is impossible to go on day after day without hope.

The Objective of Our Perseverance

Theologian Geerhardus Vos reminds us that eschatology (the last things; the final state of all things) precedes soteriology (the way of salvation). This is a formal way to say that God secured the end of the story before the beginning. The new heavens and the new earth where God will wipe away every tear and put an end to death and sorrow forever come first in the plans of God before he accomplishes our salvation through the glorious work of Christ (Rev 21:4). God has determined to bring his people to himself since before the foundations of the earth (Eph 1:3-6), and he will finish the work he has begun (Phil 1:6). Like us, our children are rebellious creatures, but God is a saving God. God has been bringing his rebellious children home since he created them. We must remember that the God we are trusting with our children is the God who is willing to go to the cross to redeem us before he even makes us. He is a God worthy of our trust.

From the moment of rebellion in Genesis 3, God promises to save (vs 15). In covenant with Abraham, he tells Abraham to count the stars, if he can, because the family of God will be that numerous (Gn. 15:5). In Genesis 22 Abraham is told that God’s family will be like the grains of sand on the seashore (vs 17). We must remember that we can never fully comprehend the depths of God’s love and mercy. God’s love is always greater than we imagine (Rom 11:33-36; Col 3:18).

Do not fear, parents of unbelieving children. The love of God is not running out. He is not miserly with his love. The creation itself testifies to the hope we have. I marvel and rejoice every time another galaxy is discovered. Stars upon stars have been discovered throughout the creation. Rather than finding the limits of the stars in existence, we only seem to find more, and that is the picture God gives us to know how mighty and loving he is to save. Like the stars, like the sand on the shores, count them if you can.

The Source of our Zeal and Strength

Yes, we are exhorted to have zeal for making disciples and living out our faith (Rom 12), but not zeal that we have mustered through our own strength. We are not the sustainers of our own hope. It would be impossible to pursue our children, for whom our hearts are breaking, if we had to be the powerhouse generating our own zeal and effort. Praise God that is not what he has called us to. Praise God he does not abandon us to get the job done in our own strength (Matt 28:20; John 16:33). No, he calls us to a zeal born out of looking to him and his goodness. He calls us to rejoice in his hope, be patient in his strength and spirit, and to be in constant communion with him through prayer (Rom 12:12). This is the source of our daily strength. This is how we have zeal as we seek to disciple our children.

When the road has been long and painful, when the future is murky and unknown, when your heart is breaking for your beloved children who are rejecting their Savior, lift up your eyes to the Lord and see how good he is. Where does our help come from? Our help comes from the Lord (Ps 121). Remember his mercies to you. Remember his promises. Remember his salvation is vast and unfathomable. Remember that you can trust him. The first step in ministering to your children is to remember that God is good and to be strengthened by his hope.

It is true that God loves our children more than we do. There is hope for today, and tomorrow, and for every day to come because God is a saving God. He is a father running to receive his prodigal children (Lk 15:11-32). God only has prodigal children, and he is receiving multitudes upon multitudes of us into his arms. He is filling his kingdom with children numbered like the stars. Be filled with the hope of God because you know how good he is. Be refreshed in his faithfulness and power. Receive your daily bread from him before you show your children his goodness today, and every day to come.

Luke Paiva has a B.A. in English and an M.Ed. from The University of Tennessee Knoxville, and is currently working on his MDiv through Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been married for sixteen years to his wife Johannah, and has four children – Jack, Benjamin, Lucy, and Grace. He began his career teaching high school English and has returned to the classroom after a decade in law enforcement. He currently teaches Biblical Studies at a Christian high school in Nashville, TN.

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