Editor’s Note: The subject matter of this article is not an easy one; however, in the reflections of those who have personal experience of reaching out with a spiritual care to help in this area, there is much for us to consider and learn. I am sure that it will be understood by our readership why this article is anonymous. Much of the work of a shepherd in such circumstances must be done quietly and anonymously. We do pray that as this article is read, and the very honest thoughts and feelings are shared, there will not only be an increased awareness of such difficult issues, but a deepening exercise amongst believers to prayerfully support the work of true shepherds among the Lord’s people.
This article is submitted with the prayerful desire that it may help and encourage parents who have experienced, or who will experience, a situation similar to that which follows. Whilst trying to give as clear a picture as possible, details are deliberately vague so as to preserve the anonymity of the family as much as is possible.
My wife and I had the inestimable privilege of being brought up by parents who loved the Lord, who taught us the scriptures and who were in assembly fellowship. When we married, we resolved that if we should be entrusted with children of our own we would follow the example we had been set by our parents. After some years the Lord graciously blessed us with children and, despite being conscious that we did not make the perfect parents, we sought to bring them up in the ‘nurture and admonition of the Lord’. Equally, we felt that it was important that we invested time and effort in giving them a balanced upbringing so that they would mature into socially adept people who could relate to their peers as well as those of an older age group.
They, like Timothy, were taught the holy scriptures from their infancy and each made a profession of salvation before they had reached secondary school age. Each day we had our family Bible time and, in addition, the children did their own Bible study using an excellent course designed for those of their age group. Thankfully, it was never a problem to get them to attend the various meetings of the assembly, not only in our hall but those in neighbouring assembles also. A two-hour conference session can be a marathon stint for children so we would make a point of dropping into a favourite eating place on the way home, or giving them some other treat as a reward for their endeavours.
Our home was a place of laughter and fun, and we did all that we could to maintain a close bond with the children. Although life was busy, and the pressures of bringing up a family presented its fair share of challenges, we had so much cause to be thankful for the way things were progressing. However, at different times and in different ways the world began to exert its influence and my wife and I observed a noticeable drop in the interest our family were taking in spiritual things. Their willingness to attend meetings slowly but surely declined, and their own Bible studies dropped off. Eventually, I concluded that the family Bible time was counter-productive and any insistence that it continued was only creating a measure of resentment rather than stimulating spiritual vitality.
I recall clearly the moment when one of the children told me that they no longer wished to go to any of the assembly meetings. When challenged as to the reason for this decision I was told that they wanted to see what the world had to offer. Despite this, they assured me that their salvation was not in doubt; they were certain they were saved. The other children continued to come with us to the assembly for a few more years but, in the process of time, each of them decided to leave. None of them had ever been in fellowship so it was not a case of leaving the assembly but rather a discontinuation of attending the meetings.
To our great sadness we watched the family move further from the Lord, and get more involved in the pleasures of the world. All our cherished hopes of being a family united in the joys of the Lord evaporated, and I was left to reflect on the way I had brought them up. Various questions and regrets entered my mind. Had I been too restrictive or too strict? Had I insisted on an orthodox conformity to certain preferences about which I could have been more tolerant? Just where did it go wrong? I knew that each had made their own decisions and, as adults, they were now responsible for their lifestyle choices, but I could not help questioning my failures as a father. More than once I have wished I could wind the clock back and just do some things differently.
Never once did we feel that taking them to meetings, having the daily Bible time at home, supporting other assemblies, and encouraging them to do their own Bible study was unbalanced or unreasonable. I had no regrets concerning the amount of time I spent with the family as they were growing up, for I was not an absent dad. My wife and I spent countless hours playing with the children, going to the beach, having family picnics, meeting up with friends and having a day in the countryside, etc. Yet, despite our best efforts, it all seemed to be in vain; spiritually they were nowhere.
Many of our friends had the joy of seeing their own children getting baptized and coming into assembly fellowship. Be assured, we were genuinely pleased for them, but it only added to my sense of failure and frustration. It is at those low moments of doubt and self-appraisal that resentment can creep in. Seeing your family give up, or, at best, hold lightly to the values that you laboured to instil in each can be so disheartening, and love can give way to hardness. The danger I was conscious of was that of distancing myself from the children. On a spiritual level we had less and less in common, and it would have been relatively easy to let them pursue their interests and for me to focus solely on the assembly and other aspects of the Lord’s work.
Mercifully, the Lord gave my wife and I the grace to help us through the times of doubt, resentment and sadness. We were both convinced that it was vital that we continued to treat the children with love, and to keep the bond of friendship between them and us from being undermined in any way. Whilst they remained in our home, there were standards about which we were not prepared to compromise, yet we wanted them to be assured that our relationship and affection for them was not going to be jeopardized by the spiritual breach that now existed.
At this point it is necessary for me to highlight that each of the family still insisted that they were saved and never at any time did they show disrespect or contempt for those things we had taught them. In fact, they appreciated the way they had been brought up, and we shall be forever thankful to the Lord for this. Even though they had no desire to attend any meetings, they were always happy to chat to anyone from the assembly if they met them in the home or outside somewhere.
Burdened about their spiritual welfare my wife and I prayed earnestly for the Lord to bring about either a work of salvation or restoration in each of the lives of the children. Friends of ours also shared this concern, and their prayers for the family were a great encouragement. Very recently, I met an old brother living in another part of the country and he said to me that he prays for our family every day. I was shocked, for I cannot recall ever having a private conversation with him, nor did I know him that well.
Today the family are grown up, married and have children of their own. Bit by bit the Lord has been working in the lives of each of our children, even though it has not been an easy path for them. We do not want to elaborate on details but it is a joy to report that there have been significant changes in the attitude, behaviour and spiritual condition of each. The word of God is read in their homes, and they teach it to their children. We can talk freely with each of them about the things of the Lord and they will contact us asking for prayer about various matters as well as assuring us of their prayers on our behalf. They are not all in an assembly but each of them are part of a Christian fellowship in the various localities where they live.
I want to close by referring to a few things that many readers may not be able to relate to nor accept. However, if you have not experienced the sadness of seeing your family go away from the Lord it is understandable that you may find the following comments strange, but please bear with me.
If I could have chosen in advance a pathway for my family, it would not have been the one they have trodden. However, this has not only been a ‘learning curve’ for them but for my wife and I also – me in particular. Had it been that each of the family had got saved, baptized, joined an assembly and lived a life of devotion to the Lord, there is a real possibility that I may have taken some credit for that. I might have thought that because I brought up the family in the right way their spiritual success was down to me and I may well have been proud of what I had done.
If our children had always been in assembly fellowship, there is a real possibility that I may have had a wrong attitude towards those who do not share my convictions relative to church truth. My awareness of Christians who meet in various different churches would have been very limited and my opinion of them would have been prejudiced by ignorance. I am so thankful to the Lord for those who have supported and prayed for my family and shown much Christian grace, even though there would be some aspects of doctrine about which we might have little in common.
If our family had not lived as they have, we would not be able to empathize with others who have had similar, or far worse, challenges and disappointments. The Lord has had to soften our hearts and has given us some sense of care for others whose children are away from Him in the ‘far country’.