Even when a parent does “everything right,” many times adult children will walk away from their faith.
Rob Rienow, founder of Visionary Family Ministries in Wheaton, Illinois, addressed the issue in a “Strengthening Relationships with Your Adult Children” seminar at a Legacy Grandparenting Summit, Oct. 21 at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
After discussing how the Bible addresses fathers’ hearts turning toward their children, Rienow asked, “Now what does that have to do with helping people get ready for Jesus?
“You see, when the hearts of parents are turned and soft to their kids and the hearts of kids are turned and soft toward their parents, then everybody’s heart is soft toward Father God, seeking to express His love for us through His Son, Jesus.”
A heart of compassion
One of the first steps to help bring an adult child to Christ is to pray for a heart of compassion, especially if they are hard-hearted or have caused hurt. Rienow related the spiritual battle to a physical battle when trying to help a prodigal child.
“I want you to imagine that you have a son or daughter out there in the parking lot and they’re in a physical fight, a physical battle, and whoever they are fighting with has the upper hand. Your son or daughter has their back against the concrete. This person is on top of them, pounding, pounding, pounding.
“There are two things that ought to rise up in the heart of a parent at that moment,” Rienow asserted. “One of them is a courage and righteous indignation to want to get into the fight, even if it means getting hurt yourself.
“But the other thing that ought to rise up is this emotion that Jesus talked about — compassion. Especially if you are struggling with hurt and anger toward your own child because of things they’ve done.
“Would you ask God to give you Jesus’ heart for them, that you would overflow with compassion?”
Sometimes compassion is difficult to find, Rienow acknowledged, asking if anyone had felt like they were talking to a wall when talking to their adult children. Many raised their hands.
“Why do you feel like you were talking to a wall?” he asked.
“Because you’re talking to the wall! You’re having this conversation and you’re like, ‘I don’t think I’m getting through.’ Ding-ding-ding! You’re not! You can sense that the walls of the heart, the walls of the mind, are up.”
One response is to ask forgiveness.
Rienow challenged the group to admit to their children what they’ve done wrong. However, he cautioned that if forgiveness has been requested many times, it might not be wise to do it again because in some situations it can set up a “toxic powerplay” in the relationship.
He also noted the need for parents to be honest with adult children about their own anxieties over talking about faith issues. It might not show immediate results, but the wall could be lowered, Rienow said.
But if the child says he/she has doubts about being a Christian or has decided to leave the faith, it’s important to stay calm.
“Obviously, this is like DEFCON 1, a nuclear blast,” Rienow acknowledged. “My internal response is to freak out. ‘Well, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!’ I’m going nuts. And it’s worthy of freaking out … in private.
“But there’s one good thing that happened here — he was honest with me and he didn’t have to be. He could have kept pretending and playing some Christian game, lying to me or whatever.”
Before reacting, ask for God’s help, Rienow suggested. Respond with, “Okay. You’ve just said a whole lot but before we talk about that, thank you. Thank you for being honest with me. Thank you for telling me the truth. You didn’t have to do that and I’m sure it took a lot of courage.”
He encouraged giving the child plenty of space and time to talk about what’s going on, however long it takes.
Write it down
Lastly, Rienow suggested writing a two-paragraph letter to their child, taking no more than 30 minutes out of a day. In the first paragraph write “how much you love God” and in the second “how much you love your child.”
One mother told Rienow that kind of letter would just go in the garbage and be a waste of 30 minutes. He responded that she might waste 30 minutes on Netflix so why not try?
Two years later, after coming back to Christ, the daughter told the mother, “You know when all this started? When I got your letter. At the time I would not have given you the satisfaction of knowing I got it, knowing I read it or knowing I cared.”
“But the Lord used it as a first step to begin to soften her heart,” Rienow said. “Scripture says that the arm of the Lord is not too short to save. I’m telling you, God’s arm is long enough to reach your son, long enough to reach your daughter, and our children and our grandchildren.”
For more information about Rienow and Visionary Family Ministries, visit https://visionaryfam.com/