God be with Christian parents of non-Christian children. They are heroes of the faith. In their Bibles, the edges around Proverbs 22:6 have grown once frayed and untouched, again, with memorization. Once, they read those words daily, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” After years, it grew harder to read. It certainly seemed like they had raised up their children in the way they should go. And it certainly seemed their children had departed. It was in the Bible, and how could it be wrong? Suspicion drew shadows of self-doubt at the edges of thoughts and sermons with the question, Where did I go wrong?
Finally, someone confirmed the parent’s suspicions, telling him as kindly as it could be said, “We must pay attention to genre when reading the Bible. Proverbs are wise sayings, not prophecies or promises.” Gray-haired heads nodded in a long-worn defeat. At least it didn’t seem like the Scripture lied, anymore.
That shook some of the earnestness of the questions. Yet, in the dark hours, they still returned. Did I really train him up in the way he should go? What about those times I lost my temper about frivolous tasks? What about my laziness? What about all of the millions of instances my sin overran my sense, leaving me selfish or godless? Where did I go wrong?
Still, on their most objective, honest days, the Christian parent knows that every Christian household consists of people, and every person wrestles with his own sin. It wasn’t a perfect place to grow up, but nowhere is a perfect place, and their home was among the good kind for gaining a Christian childhood. Still, the accuser in the back of their mind hisses that this is only an excuse, but the stable, honest Spirit dwelling in the heart vouches for its truth. The parent did the best job anyone could expect.
So, Proverbs turned into a memory, and the edges around the chapters on the prodigal son started to take on a comfortable, well-worn look. Prayers rose up, not in the tricky confidence of repeating a proverb to God, but in the yearning pain and hope of the father of the prodigal, and, after years, more frequently in thoughtful, answerless silence.
It’s a strange prayer, made fervent by standing alongside God and asking something for Him, rather than something for ourselves.
Maybe the world of heaven sees this process differently. Maybe the parent’s status is not due to distance between themselves and God, but due to closeness.
Perhaps God in His love knew at the creation of the world which future souls would be the most likely to turn to Him, and which would be the least. And, loving those rebellious souls with a love grand enough to create the cosmos, He wanted to pour into their lives everything He could that might turn them to salvation. So, He paired them with faithful Christian parents, knowing that those parents would give the rebellious children the greatest possible chance of turning to Him.
We would do the same if someone we loved were terminally ill; we would take him to the best doctors and give him the best medicine. It wouldn’t matter that it was a hopeless cause, because love demands that the lover do everything imaginable to save the beloved. In all the doctor visits and all the soothing balms, our love is spelled out.
Christian parents were the best witness God could put in the lives of these beloved souls. Eighteen years of daily exposure to Scripture and scriptural living provided their best chance of connecting with God. And, even if it was hopeless, His love was so great that it demanded that He give them everything He could.
He opened wide the doors of heaven to the prodigal children by opening wide the hearts of couples in whose heart He was center.
When the children left the faith, the parents grieved and God grieved. Yet, in the midst of their pain, He knew that those parents would continue to pray for their children, love them, reach out to them. For some, it brings them back. For others, it at least serves to soften the children’s hearts. For all such parents, it serves as a cross.
Maybe the question isn’t one of where the parents went wrong, but rather where they went right. Maybe the reason God gave them the children He did was because God trusted them to do exactly what they did. God be with those parents, praying at God’s side daily.