Trusting God With A Wayward Child
I had no idea there was such a thing as a National Sons Day or National Daughters Day. These celebratory days couldn’t be missed, however, because pictures of sons and daughters flooded my news feed. Sweet faces, arms around the necks of moms and dads, and smiles that stretched big were captioned with “my wonderful daughter,” or, “my precious sons.”
I loved seeing every picture. But as these beautiful blessings showed up on my computer screen, I simultaneously felt an ache for the few in my circle whom I know are hurting as mothers and fathers – parents who feel an overwhelming love for their child but who are too heartbroken to post cheerful pictures. Many have experienced broken bonds with teenagers or young adults for any number of reasons. I cannot forget the times I’ve been on my knees with a parent whose child is not walking the Lord.
As I pray daily for my own children’s relationship with Jesus, I come face to face with my struggle to trust the Lord in this area. Why, Lord, do covenant children walk away from you? The temptation is to relent our fervent and sometimes long-lasting prayers and throw up our hands in defeat. At times, our doubts and insecurities keep us from coming to the cross, but not doing so is a dismissal of the mighty and unceasing work of our Sovereign Creator. In 1 Samuel chapters 1 and 2, we see God’s Sovereignty as well as His tender care, which reminds believers that we can fully and completely trust in God’s purposes because He will never fail us. What does it look like to put our confidence in Jesus when our children turn away from Him?
We read in 1 Samuel that Eli, the priest, has two rebellious sons who blatantly reject God. Though we don’t have record of it, it’s likely that Eli prayed for his sons to change. God expects obedience, and we should pray that our children love and obey and follow Him. What’s most difficult to read in this passage is that in the son’s persistent rebellion and rejection of God, it is not the Lord’s will for them to be saved (1 Sam. 2: 22-25).
How do we respond to this as parents?
As difficult as they are to read, these verses are not void of God’s love. In his meditation on this passage, John Piper poignantly observes: “While we are crying out to God for change, the answer of God is not: ‘I don’t love you.’ Nor is it, ‘I don’t hear you’…Rather the answer is (even when we can’t hear it): ‘I have wise and holy purposes in not overcoming this sin and not granting repentance. You do not see these purposes now. Trust me. I know what I’m doing. I love you.’”
Open-handed faith toward our loving Savior should be our response when we don’t see immediate change in a wayward child. What we often want is an instant result from our prayers; we desire that the Lord redirects our child’s path in the way we envision he or she should go. But open-handed trust relinquishes the need to control, and instead of coming to Jesus with hands full of plans and ultimatums, we come with empty hands asking the Lord that His will be done.
We don’t know what the future holds for our children as they grow into adulthood. What we do know is that the Lord is near with each step, no matter how rocky or how difficult the journey becomes. Open-handed faith acknowledges that our responsibility as a parent is not to follow some perfectly formulated equation that ensures a successful outcome, but it recognizes the need to trust fully and completely in God’s ultimate plan knowing that He is our child’s Creator. We do not own them, we never have, nor are we the puppet master in our child’s life, though we try to maneuver the strings.
Our children belong to the Lord. Remind them daily of God’s ceaseless goodness and love (Deut. 6:7,8). And then pray that these characteristics will penetrate your own heart in such a way that you find peace in the assurance that God is good, He is perfectly Sovereign, and He can be counted on no matter what.
In the previous chapter in 1 Samuel, we learn about Hannah’s persistent and fervent prayer for a child. She begs the Lord for a son after years of barrenness and does so in such a way that Eli assumes she is drunk (1 Sam. 1:10-18). Hannah’s prayer is not formulaic. There is nothing that indicates she assumes a certain kind of prayer will receive a certain kind of answer. But what is suggested is that Hannah prays persistently and fervently because she knows God intimately and believes, with all of her soul, that He is able to do the insurmountable.
As we hold fast in faith, knowing the Lord is at work, our prayers should be unceasing because the Scripture reminds us that nothing is impossible for God. Pray persistently and eagerly that your child will bend his or her will and heart toward the Lord. Pray fervently that He will reveal Himself in mighty and miraculous ways.
The prayers we bring to Jesus on behalf of our children strengthen our own relationship with Him. When we pray, we come to the throne of grace and cling to our Savior who never fails us, instead of clinging to another’s insufficient words or actions. Each prayer for a child acknowledges our lack of control and opens our hands to God’s ability to hold it all together. The Lord hears our prayers and the Lord works exceedingly in and through them.
And when you come to Jesus not knowing what to say, the Holy Spirit promises to intercede (Rom. 8:26-27). The Lord knows, He hears, and He answers. Here is one way to pray for your wayward child when words are lacking. From the comforting words found in Ephesians 3:17-19:
May Christ dwell in [insert your child’s name] heart through faith—that [child’s name], being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [child’s name] may be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen.
 John Piper, “When God’s Will is That His Will Not Be Done,” Desiring God (June 1997): https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/when-gods-will-is-that-his-will-not-be-done