There are two days every parent looks forward to in his child’s life: the day that beautiful child enters the world, and the day that beautiful child brings a wad of debt (though some people call it the wedding day).
Christian parents, however, look forward to a third day: the day that child makes a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. There is such great joy on this day: all your parenting has been focused on raising your child to fear and love Jesus.
We were no different with our five children. Our goal was to see our children come to a knowledge of truth, repent of their sins, and put their trust in Christ alone. Along the journey of parenting we had our missteps; we knew they were looking at our lives first and foremost for their example of what a Christian looks like, and we learned early on to seek our children’s forgiveness when we blew it. We were not always perfect, but we tried to not live hypocritically in our home. As 3 John 1:4 says, “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
We also knew that the Scriptures teach that God is sovereign in salvation, and that we could not save our children. Our job was to be as faithful as possible to instill in our home that we loved and feared our Lord. It is pretty easy to do this when children are young and not really in a position to make choices on their own. But as they grow into their teen years, the heart comes out more freely and shows what is really hidden there. Sometimes it was in attitude and sometimes in actions.
Each of our children made professions of faith when they were young. Their desire for the Lord was intense for a week, a month, sometimes even months, but over time it would inevitably wane and we would be right back to where we started with them. This is common with many teenagers, and we always encouraged them to pursue Christ even during those waning times.
A profession of faith can be a joyous moment. We understood from Scripture that just because you say something with your mouth does not necessarily mean it is genuine faith (Matthew 7). We also understood that true saving faith is validated with fruit. As our children grew into their teen years they would become more independent and question what they had been taught, just as all teens do. These were lively times in our home of learning to shepherd our children more as adults and less as kids.
My daughter was always very strong-willed and opinionated. There was a chaffing at my authority, specifically in our family dynamic.
She is the third of five children and the first girl in our family. Her rebellion was usually in attitude rather than action but as she continued into her teen years she grew more bold in it.
Finally, when she was 16, we got that day we longed for, that day every Christian parent looks forward to. She made a profession of faith, was baptized, and for a time seemed to show fruit that evidenced true salvation.
As we had seen before, this lasted for a while before eventually she began to go back into the same pattern of rebellion. We were unaware that during this time she was leading a double life—one in front of us and another in her private life that we did not see.
She had just turned 18 and was finally at a point where she could openly rebel against our authority. And one night, in the middle of the night, she left home, never to return.
The Hope in Grace
When Brad Silverman and I started working on the story that would eventually become Grace Unplugged, we wanted to do a film that would challenge parents and young people to really examine their relationships with each other, and, more importantly their relationships with God.
You may be doing everything right to raise your child to fear and love God, but you can never change her heart. That is only something that God can do. What you can do is be a faithful example of Christ’s transforming work in your life and your marriage.
I would cry like a baby as we worked through what a father feels and how there is such a helplessness that comes with knowing you can do nothing to get your child back when something like this happens. It was very hard to finally turn it all over to the Lord and just continue to be faithful and trust in God’s sovereignty.
But my daughter’s story is not over with, because there is hope—hope not based on our wishful thinking, but in the fact that we know God saves sinners. It does not mean that He has an obligation or has promised us to save our daughter, but that rather our hope is in Him and His plan, which is always best.
As my wife and I have been transparent about our daughter to others, we’ve been surprised to find that many children who profess faith as a child walk away from that faith in their teen years. We weren’t alone.
This is not an often-discussed subject in church, and parents can feel shame in it. It has been about six years since our daughter has left. At this point she will not have any contact with us, though we still try to reach out through social media and will continue to show her Christ’s love as we are given the opportunity. Let us give you encouragement that you shouldn’t be ashamed if your child has left his or her faith. It’s important to remember that God has a plan for all things, and we need to come along our fellow parents in this situation and show them the love of Christ, caring for them as a nurse would care for the wounds of a patient.
The bottom line is we are frail sheep that need the care of the Shepherd Jesus Christ and the love of the body of Christ. Hopefully as you have taken the time to read this you have thought of others to whom you can reach out to let them know that our hope remains in the Lord. That is where my wife and I find our comfort, and we rejoice in God’s goodness to us even in the midst of our pain.
Petition the throne of Christ for your child, but rest as Jesus Christ did at the Garden of Gethsemane—in the Father’s will to be done. ✤
Russ Rice is the founder and president of Coram Deo Studios and producer of Grace Unplugged. He and his wife, Carina, live in the Los Angeles area and have five children, four of whom now work for dad.
Grace Unplugged (Coram Deo Studios) stars Amanda “AJ” Michalka as 18-year-old Christian singer/songwriter Grace Rose Trey, who plays guitar and leads worship with her dad Johnny (James Denton), a former rock star who has left his secular career behind and is now a worship leader at their Alabama church. Grace is restless for her own shot at pop stardom and seizes on an opportunity to go to L.A. against the wishes of her family. Cutting off contact with her parents, Grace seems prepared to walk away from her Christian faith to achieve her Hollywood dream, forcing her to face reconciliation—in both her faith and her family. Rated PG. Opens in theaters THIS WEEKEND!