When children’s beliefs and practices differ from ours

When you work with young people, whether as a parent, teacher, or just another adult with some influence in a particular child’s life, there comes a time when you’re dismayed to discover the child has a mind of his or her own and is not afraid to use it. 🙂 Of course we want our young people to develop and use their minds, but when they take views opposite to ours sometimes we wish for the “easier” days when they agreed with everything we told them and our primary care of them was physical (though at that time we longed for the days ahead when our kids could take care of themselves more.)

Let me encourage us to, first of all, keep the lines of communication open, and second of all, to choose our battles. I sometimes wince at that last phrase because I have seen some parents use it when they abandon training their children in some area that the child is resisting. But there are some areas of difference that are fine and just expressions of different personalities. For instance, if you like pastels and florals in your decorating, but your daughter likes dramatic colors and modern abstract patterns, that’s fine. God gave us different personalities to reach different people.

It’s a little harder when it comes to different convictions. We may hold strong views on courtship vs. dating or schooling or entertainment choices or any number of things, and we see signs that our children are not going to maintain those views in their adulthood. Romans 14 applies within families as well as within the church. I had to really wrestle with some of these things when we lived out of state and could not find a church that held to some of our convictions, though we found many with whom we agreed doctrinally. Unity in Christianity doesn’t mean we all do everything the exact same way. Roman 14 and related passages teach that good people can be on complete opposite sides of an issue and still be right with God, still doing what they do as unto the Lord, fully persuaded in their own minds that what they are doing is what He wants. So we need to discern whether the issue involved is a matter of core doctrine and truth or whether it is an issue that good people can disagree on. If the latter, as parents, teachers, authorities. or mentors, we can still insist that a certain standard be maintained in our home or classroom, but we don’t need to regard the young person with the differing conviction as a second-class Christian or as out of the will of God.

Still harder and scarier is when the young person does begin to question our core values, doctrines, and beliefs. Let me encourage us all not to shut down the questions. The first fundamentalist pastor I had was an old-school authoritarian who not only did not entertain questions but looked on the questioner with suspicion as a rebel. Even as adults we can sometimes wrestle with questions like “How do I know this is all really true?” I’ve often prayed for myself as well as my children, when those kinds of questions come up, that if there are answers, the Lord would help us find them, but also help us to be willing to take by faith what there are no answers for. One of the best messages I have ever hear along these lines was “God Is Wise and We Are Not” by Dan Olinger of the BJU faculty. I like that he says “God is able to handle our questions.” He doesn’t always answer them the way we’d like. But He’s not intimidated by them. And, honestly, I’d much rather have a young person wrestle through some of these things and truly make their beliefs their own and come out the stronger in their faith for it than to be swept along in a positive peer pressure without knowing why they believe what they believe.

The hardest of all, though, in this progression of differences between our beliefs and our young people’s, is when they outright reject truth. The Common Room a few weeks ago shared some remarks that started off my whole line of thinking here. The context of the remarks she has that I want to share had to do with a child of friends who was marrying someone the parents did not approve of. I’ve seen parents handle things the way she describes, a way that will make reconciliation all the harder, if not impossible, and I felt her thoughts here to be valuable:

I wrote last year about an unhappy wedding we attended (and that wedding has already ended), and while I wrote it specifically about a situation where a rebellious and wayward young person was marrying somebody most unsuitable, the general principles apply to several situations, and I’m reviving it slightly for this post:

I am seeing an awful lot of defrauding going on- and it’s the parents defrauding their children.

The time to raise objections, to point out possible character flaws, to object to a relationship that you believe may be toxic- even if you are right, dead on target, and absolutely correct in all your judgments is before there is a relationship to cloud judgment, before saying these things will cause a fatal wound in your child’s relationship with you, and especially if you allowed that relationship to develop in the first place.

Do not let your most fondly cherished hopes and dreams for how your child’s marriage will happen… come between you and your adult Progeny, whether they share those hopes and dreams or crush them under foot.

I have conservative views on mating, dating (we don’t believe in it) and courtship, views shared by my husband happily, still shared by our Progeny- but those views are not more important to us than our children themselves.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love….

All my earnestly held beliefs in the world will not matter a fig if I conduct a slash and burn policy towards a wayward child and use my convictions as an axe against the root of our relationship in such a way as to drive my adult son or daughter away from me. In fact, in several instances I can think of, parents have attempted to bludgeon adult children into compliance with their own cherished convictions, only to see that weapon shift in their hands and become a catapult which only serves to launch that young person as far away from his parents as possible, often into the arms of any waiting other.

It is possible to speak winsomely and gently of those convictions, to explain them sweetly when leavened well with humility.

But too often we prefer to pontificate proudly and strut and huff and puff about them, sure that we are producing a new breed, if only that breed will shut up and get in line, we mean, obey their spiritual heads, and then it is of no matter how pleasing to God the convictions themselves may or may not be, our hearts are poisoned in His eyes, and we are acting in such fashion as to poison any future relationships with unsaved in-laws and grandchildren.

It is a tragedy to see parents angrily but sincerely pleading, insisting, that their children return to the fold, something they truly desire with all their hearts, while all the time they are pleading, they are pouring gasoline on the bridge between them and their loved ones and then setting it afire.

There are times we do have to take a painful stand. But we need to remember that some of God’s tenderest expressions of love, some of the times He most reveals His heart for His people, are in those passages in the prophets where He is having to confront them with their sin. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” applies to loved ones as well as to strangers — perhaps even more so. The purpose of chastisement is reconciliation. We need to avoid destroying the relationship and making it all the harder for the young person to return to the fold while standing for truth. Let us not burn the bridges but rather, like the prodigal son’s father, gaze with anticipation down a clear path while we wait for their return.


(Photo courtesy of the stock.xchng)

4 thoughts on “When children’s beliefs and practices differ from ours

  1. Very good topic. Paragraph 3 hit home with me as that is why we had to leave our church of 15 years, and in doing so had to endure the consequences of becoming ‘2nd class citizens’ in their eyes. But, the Lord has so graciously loved us this past year and helped us work thru the forgiveness and healing process. And broadened our own views of the true Body of Christ.
    Thanks for sharing this.

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