Children’s Ministry Magazine talked to one mother who worked hard to ensure her five kids grew up with a strong foundation of faith…and then watched as every one of them walked away from their relationship with Jesus.
No one knows why some kids walk with God for a lifetime—and others walk away. We invited children’s ministers on our KidMin Conference Inside Track Team to read this article and share insights along the way.
My husband first became a Christian nearly 30 years ago. He was passionate about his faith and taught me about this thing called Christianity. It wasn’t long before I became a Christian, too. Our lives changed so much for the better. We eventually had five biological children who now range in age from 21 to 31.
During those early years in our faith, we were fortunate to move to a community where the churches were all partners working together. We raised our kids in this atmosphere, attending one regularly and also letting our kids join programs such as Awana and Royal Rangers at neighboring churches. All our kids enjoyed children’s ministry, youth groups, Sunday school, Bible camps, family camp, youth concerts and events, and missions throughout their childhood. You name it, we did it. As a family we had great times, and I have wonderful memories of those experiences together. We were also living on a Bible college campus, so our kids were around students from all over the world who also loved Jesus. These were great influences.
In our home, we talked about the Bible often. Our faith was central to our lives, and it was important to us that we taught our kids to love Jesus. One of the main things I wanted my kids to always have with them was the reminder to guard their hearts. This became a frequent back-and forth in our home: I’d say, ‘Remember to…’ and the kids would finish with a cheerful ‘…guard your heart!’
That’s kind of ironic now.
Eventually, four children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) joined our home. They became like our own children. At one point, I was caring for eight children under the age of 8. My hands were full.
Then my husband became ill with cancer. It was awful. As months passed, the cancer took over. He was very sick. When he died, it broke our hearts. Our hearts are still broken. Our church community stepped up and mourned with us. They loved us. Individuals from the different churches came forward and offered gifts of love, food, their own grief, and time for us to heal. Wonderful men and women from the church ministered to my children, supporting them, acting as positive male figures in their lives, and even making personal sacrifices for our family. I was unable to function for a while. I fell down, and I feel I lost a personal connection with my children during that time. It’s my biggest regret in life.
After my husband died, the years slipped by. Our children kept going to church, participating with youth groups and camps and other things. Together, we clung to our faith. By the time one of my daughters was in high school, she was a regular volunteer at Awana. I secretly wanted her home those nights just for more time together, but she felt called to serve in her role. And I believed it was good for her. My kids all stayed active with church and it was a really positive experience—with a few exceptions. I remember one night I decided to stay to see what the youth group was like.
I was surprised that they spent just 10 minutes reading the Bible, and then set it aside and played Hide-and-Seek in the dark for the remainder of the time. A couple other instances linger in the back of my mind. One year for VBS, they offered prizes for the kids who could get the most friends to come. The prizes were amusement park tickets and a brand-new bike. I remember being appalled when the kids came bursting through the door fighting to get to the phone first. One grabbed the phone and whacked the other over the head with it to call a friend first for a better chance at the prize. At the time I thought, This is what they’re learning from vacation Bible school? The other thing that bothered me was an ill-conceived youth-group mud-wrestling contest between boys and girls.
My kids graduated school and left home. It was at that point that everything changed. In their early adulthood, each of my kids has significantly and decisively turned his or her back on our faith. They’ve gone on to live separate lives, away from me and away from our church family. All five say they want nothing to do with Jesus or church. They’ve told me not to teach their children about Jesus or Scripture. When I’ve asked why, they tell me these two things:
“That’s not what I believe anymore.”
“People in the church are hypocrites.”
I’m stunned. We didn’t force-feed religion, but it was an anchoring force in our lives. And when our family was at its lowest point, it was loving, kind people from the church who held us up. It was these beautiful people in the church who were Jesus to my children. I don’t know how my children have come to say and think these things. It hurts my heart. My greatest hope is that someday, somehow, they will return to Jesus. I hope they will, but all I can do is hope and pray.