What do you do when your children don’t understand? I often get emails from parents of older children, who do not understand why their parents no longer attend the religious services they made the children attend when they were younger. Some are curious, but I get lots of email from those whose kids are deeply confused, fearing their parents have fallen away from Christ. Some have even threatened to withhold their grandchildren from their parents for fear they will lead them astray somehow. “What should we do?” they ask.
I just tell them to love them right back. Don’t get angry or defensive, just keep opening your hearts to them trusting that your relationship with them some day will overrun their fears and apprehensions. It would be nice if we could go back and re-train our kids, but once they’ve become adults, they will resent attempts they perceive are manipulative.
A couple of days ago I got an email from one of those adult children who had had a hard time with their parents’ journey… for a time! But God has ways of sorting these things out. I have corresponded with the parents in the past so it was fun to hear from their daughter:
I grew up in a small town in the southwest where my parents gracefully raised me and home schooled me and my brothers through high school. Through my growing up years I was raised as a run-of-the-mill Christian, who attended a small non-denominational group of believers where I grew accustomed to their rules and regulations. I attended this place up until I was in college where I started attending another non-denominational congregation. I met my husband there and dated him for three years. We attended this place, and made long lasting relations with these brothers and sisters.
Meanwhile, back home my parents stopped attending and started this other profound way of living for Father. My mom talked a lot about your blog and podcasts, but at the time it never quite registered. Quite frankly, I was shocked and amazed that my parents were doing the exact opposite of what they taught us kids growing up. It was hard to fathom that this type of lifestyle, not going to a congregation, and following all the rules, was okay with God.
A couple months after attending our new fellowship in Denver, my husband one day woke up on a Sunday morning, and said, “We don’t need to go today”. And that is how it all started. At first, I was quite happy not having to get up so early on a weekend day to attend a large group of people, but as time went by, about 6 to 8 months later, my relationship with Father started developing in a more natural form than what I have ever experienced before.
I began to listen more, started finding myself in Father and was finding out what Father wanted from me. He wanted my heart, and that was it, nothing more just my heart. I thought for the longest time that as long as I lived up to others expectations and thought that they were coming from God, I was ok. And as long as I used my gifts and read my Bible every single day for at least 30 minutes, I was in the Lord’s will. But, instead of all that nonsense, he just wanted my heart, and he wanted me for himself. Once I grasp how easy Father was and how complicated everybody around me made him out to be, life became lighter and less demanding and all that was missing was knowing that Father was an gentle God who just wanted to love me. That is when I started getting to know my father more intimately than I have ever experienced before.
That is where I am today thanks to Father and the brothers and sister (my mom and dad, you, Brad, and people on the forum) that he chose to help me along the way. Just recently, Father has just opened the door for us to move back home close to our families and brothers and sisters. My husband, Jonathan and I are very excited for the move.
However, our friends back home know that we don’t attend any kind of congregation, but some don’t acknowledge that, and still try to put pressure on the subject of attendance. I am a little worried that the pressure will build more strongly once we are down there living day to day. My hope is to focus on our relationships with our brothers and sisters and develop them with Father, but how can we do that if they are so focused on the congregation and activities and things of that nature than on bonding and sharing life together like Jesus did with the disciples?
I love what God has done in this young woman and I’m sure her parents are elated to have their daughter finally appreciate and share their journey. And I love the gracious and God-focused heart it is all producing in her.
But now it comes full circle doesn’t it? The same concerns the parents had about their daughter, the daughter now has about her friends. She is realizing that there are others who may not approve of her journey and wondering how her relationships will work when she moves back to her home town. She also sees how the activities and busyness of congregational life can actually rob us of real relationships rather than promote them.
One of the worst things religion twists us to do is to try to make other see what we see. When we’re doing that we’re not just loving them where they are, but trying to get them to be where we are. That doesn’t lead to effective loving. In fact you’ll find people pushing you away, and even worse retreating into the defensiveness of their own bondage.
Perhaps the most difficult thing for us to learn is how to simply love people, being honest with them about the life Christ has shown us without trying to manipulate them. But that is the environment where the Holy Spirit works most easily to open people’s eyes. I know it takes a lot of trust in God’s ability to lay down our need to convince others that we’re right, but it is a big part of learning to live in his life and to share that life with others in a way that promotes his work in them.