Q: Kirk, A good friend has a teenager who “dropped a bombshell” on the way home from Wednesday night Bible class. He doesn’t want to go to church anymore because he doesn’t believe there is a God. He says if there was a God, there wouldn’t be so much pain in the world and he wouldn’t struggle so much. A church counselor and I told her he’s just trying to push her buttons. What does a parent say to this child?
A: I think this is a tremendous opportunity for you. And I don’t say that lightly. All emotional interactions provide an opportunity to build trust or destroy it.
It’s normal for you to be worried and disoriented with confusing thoughts: did I do something wrong, how dare him deny his faith, who got this thinking into his head, what about his eternal soul, what does this mean for our relationship, how do I tell people at church about this, won’t I be judged as a bad parent? That will lead you to become indignant, interrogate, demean, lecture, or use every rational fact to persuade your son that he’s wrong. That “natural” response will sever your relationship at the very moment your son needs you most.
First, I need to ask you a few questions. Who cares more about your son and his relationship with God–you or God Himself? Do you think God is shaken or surprised by this? I don’t think so. God’s pretty sure of Himself. Is your God fragile? Because we as Christians often act like God is incapable of dealing with people who question Him. I think God has a lot of practice with this. Do you really trust and believe God is in control? Really? You may profess it with your lips, but if you seek to gain control of this situation (and your son’s beliefs) with your own power, then you betray your words. Here is how I recommend you respond.
Sit down and relax. Don’t stand over him. “Jacob, those are legitimate questions caring people have asked for thousands of years. I’ve wondered that before, why a loving God allows awful things to happen. Why else are you struggling?”
Acknowledge that his questions are normal and legitimate. If you say he is just doing this to push your buttons, it delegitimizes his very real concerns. (And even if he is doing it to push buttons, don’t allow this to shake you because that makes you and your faith look weak to him). Ask him questions. This isn’t time to lecture and convince–it’s time to listen to his concerns and understand what’s driving this. Listen. Listen hard, listen without lecturing. Speak sparingly.
“Jacob, I just have to say that I’m really proud of you for having the courage to express your doubts like this–that takes guts. I like that you aren’t just accepting what we have taught you or what other people say. I want you to question because I want you to own your faith. Good for you.” Now I know that inside you will be crying and upset, but show him your confidence and don’t allow this to shake you. Keep asking questions and listening.
“Jacob, you know what else I like about you? That you have a good and kind heart. I love that you are distraught and confused about why people suffer. And I think that’s because you have struggled so much, too. Sometimes the people who feel the most pain in life are the most merciful–I think that’s why you have such a big heart.”
Create an environment in which your son can openly talk to you, ask questions and when he is ready, learn. In the meantime, there is one lecture I want you to preach loudly to your son all day and all night–and that is the silent lecture of your actions.
Does your child see you moved by the plight of the poor and hurting? Does he see you feeding the homeless or visiting the elderly? Does he see joy and peace in you that only God can give in the midst of tough circumstances? Is your faith real and alive? Are you just going through the motions, or does he see God’s grace and mercy flowing through you? That’s what will speak most loudly to him.
Do you agree or disagree with this response? Do you think you could handle it this way? What would you do?