There is a hidden wound in your congregation.
There are many hidden wounds.
They reside inside the hearts of parents whose children no longer follow Jesus.
Few mention the wound – that’s why it often stays hidden – but it festers and lingers; it never goes away. It hurts. In fact, it may hurt more than most physical ailments. Because it hurts deep down in the soul.
So, the uncomfortable truth: The world is stealing and deceiving our children. And no matter what we do, some of them depart the faith never to return. So painful is this truth that we rarely, if ever, mention it in church. It used to be the case that parents with children who identify as ‘gay’ never mentioned their children’s sexual orientation. Nowadays, telling your friends that your son or daughter is gay is more likely to evince a compassionate and understanding response. But the kid who went right through Sunday school and the youth work only to abandon the faith? That is something barely to be acknowledged.
So, first, the pain itself. It is many and varied, of course, but normally falls into two categories.
Shame and its close ally, guilt. They arise from the truth that in spite of years of thoughtful parenting, your child has walked away from all the beliefs you hold as foundational to life. How has this happened? The self-recrimination floods you along with a barrage of questions to which you have unsatisfactory answers. What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? Why didn’t God protect them? Will they go to heaven? What am I supposed to do now?
The pain of a shattered family and all its attendant consequences. First, the awareness that God, whose goodness and mercy are boundless, and who provides all we need for life and happiness, is no longer a part of my child’s life. How do I share the most important aspect of my life with my beloved child, who no longer believes? Can I pray at mealtimes anymore? How do I pray for them? God, will you still take care of them? Will you have mercy on them?
And yet we don’t talk much about this in church, do we? We just suffer in silence. What can I offer you today as a leader who shepherds a flock perhaps full of such people?
Acknowledge it. How and when, I cannot say, but as with so many things that bring us shame, uncomfortable truths are more manageable when they’re openly discussed. Stop worrying about offending people, or causing discomfort, and focus instead on the faithfulness and promises of God. He never leaves us nor forsakes us, and when all seems lost, he rises from the dead.
Pastoral care. Offer opportunities to those who wish to process this particular challenge. The church is both a mission agency and a hospital. (Among other metaphors.)
Teach on it. Check back here on the Living Leadership blog page for a post entitled “God has no grandchildren.”
In this later post, I address how to encourage and support those who suffer with this hidden wound, but today, it’s enough simply to call it out. So, I will leave you with some questions to ponder.
How am I currently ministering to those with this hidden wound?
Do I need to make changes in how this “wound” is addressed in my church? If so, what changes should I make? Discuss this with God.
Whom do I know who struggles with this challenge? How can I pray for them? How can I encourage them?
As you minister to those who bear this burden, here is a Scripture to pass on. It’s a reminder of the faithfulness of God.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
- Psalm 91.1-2