It’s a parent’s greatest fear—and if it actually happens, their greatest heartbreak—a wayward child.

How do you respond during this crisis? Whether your child is a fifteen-year-old who is struggling or a twenty-two-year-old who is questioning their faith, it is vital that you navigate this season with wisdom and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

Many times, I have observed parents’ knee jerk reactions to their kids struggles actually make the situation worse. On the other hand, Spirit-filled responses breathe hope back into the situation.

What do you do if and when your teenager or young adult is rejecting? Here are some thoughts:

1. Love Christ unconditionally.

If there is anything that matters at a time like this it is that you personally have a real relationship with Jesus Christ. Allow this trial in your life to draw you closer to the Lord. Regardless of the choices your child has made or will make, determine now that you will continue to love and serve the Lord. As you draw closer to your Heavenly Father during this time, you will understand more than ever before His unconditional love for you (Jeremiah 31:3). Additionally, you’ll learn how to better love your own child unconditionally, which is the next point…

2. Love them unconditionally.

Every Christian parent holds a deep love for their child that is placed there by God. At times, it is astounding the depths of sacrifice a parent will make for their child.

But unconditionally? A young person’s struggles, especially when they are expressed as resistance toward you or when they publically embarrass you, can sometimes reveal the points where our love has become selfish.

I’ve noticed two extremes in these times with parents—passivity and aggression. One parent compromises himself out of the position of being a parent, and the other drives his child away from wanting a relationship. The balance is love. Our children need to know that no matter where they are or what they are doing, nothing will stop us from loving them.

There are times that as parents we have to exercise “tough love” in not supporting hurtful habits, but that doesn’t mean we love them less. Don’t ever give up on your children. Love them unconditionally, and make sure they know that you do.

3. Pray for wisdom.

There are many causes for the outward manifestation of kid’s struggles. This could simply be a season—a struggle in the maturing process. On the other hand, there could be a deep root to it—bitterness over an offense, a dabbling in sin, dangerous influences, or inconsistencies in authority. Although not the norm, it could be a turning from the faith. Sometimes we put a label on a behavior without really knowing what is going on.

As a parent, you need God’s wisdom to understand the nature of this time in your child’s life. Thankfully, God offers wisdom for the ask: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Ask Him to help you discern the cause of your teens rebellion and how to guide your teen back to Spirit-filled submission. Ask Him to search your own heart and reveal anything in your life or parenting practices that may be hindering His work in your teen’s life. As you ask for wisdom, study His Word and seek out His answers.

4. Be sure your own walk is real.

A teen will not leave their fathers’ faith if their father didn’t have one. Paul was able to say “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do” (Philippians 4:9). His walk was so genuine that he could encourage his followers to copy his example.

We’re too quick to leave our child’s spiritual development with the church and the youth group. But Deuteronomy 6:7 is clear—this is first the parent’s responsibility: “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”

When our children struggle spiritually, one of our first responses should be to search our own hearts and to ask the Lord to examine our lives for inconsistency or insincerity.

5. Realize it is the nature of young people to question authority.

The provocation to rebellion or rejection may not lie with you, a person in your church, or a teacher in the school. It may simply be a young heart questioning authority and choosing the harder way of discovering how it all works.

The point here is that a season of spiritual struggle is not necessarily the fault of authority. Teens and young adults usually believe it is. But from the perspective of experience, parents must recognize that sometimes this season is sparked by immaturity and the fallen human nature—not a failure on your part.

6. Remember to be thankful for the good benefits of your pastor and church.

When a teenager or a young adult is frustrated and feeling resentment toward the church or authority figures, it is easy for a parent to become just as frustrated and see the world through dark lenses. There may be a difficult teacher or person in your child’s life, but remember (and help your child to remember) the many positive benefits that have come to your family through your church and your church family.

When your young person struggles with the legitimacy of spiritual authorities or questions the  church altogether, maintain in your own heart a gratefulness for what God has done for you and for your family through this sacred institution. Have you benefited from the teaching, Bible conferences, spiritual relationships, answers to prayer? Focus on these! Not only is this important for the child who is struggling to see, but it is vital for the rest of your family—your marriage and younger children in your home. You need your church.

Stay tuned…in part two of this post, we will look at nine more helps for when your teen or young adult is struggling.

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