Your son or daughter is now an adult, living comfortably in a decent home with a strong, healthy marriage and a couple of great kids. You should feel a sense of accomplishment, but there's something missing from your child's life — a commitment to God.
"You want the best for your adult children, but you also know you can't tell them how to live," explains Dr. Alan Nelson, psychiatrist and family therapist. "You cannot make that decision for them."
Psychiatrist Lee Bishop says rejection of faith sometimes stems from childhood trauma, such as physical abuse by a significant "Christian." However, many influences affect the spiritual direction of a child, including friends and society.
"The faith of childhood, although genuine, is a simpler faith," he explains. "If they don't have the resources externally and internally, as they mature they will find [their childhood faith] is inadequate for the storms of life [and reject it]."
Nelson cautions over-50 parents not to push the faith issue. "The child needs to know when he sees you that he won't get a lecture or concerned look," he says. "Try to maintain an honest relationship in other areas without pushing that one. And, still pray for intervention."
Also, it's not a good idea to assist God by asking a sibling to get involved. "The parent can tell other siblings about the situation and ask for prayer," Nelson says. "But adult children don't want to be manipulated. [Asking siblings to get involved] may build the wall higher."
There are a few steps you can take that still respect the faith boundary, Bishop notes. "A parent can talk about their own struggles with the faith," he offers. "It allows them to be in more of an adult-to-adult relationship."
Share a book that's helped you, Bishop adds, but offer it in a discreet manner, not at a family function where attention may be focused on the son or daughter. And give it without pressuring the child to read it today. Say something like, "This book helped me and when you get a chance, I thought you might like it too." Writing a letter is also a good way to share your feelings in a manner that's safe.
Inviting the adult child to a Sunday service, Bible class or special church event is a possibility, too, Bishop says. "There are fathers who've used a Promise Keepers event as a way to develop dialogue with an adult son," he explains.
Don't spend a lot of time beating yourself up over parenting mistakes you've made. Acknowledge those errors to yourself, to God and to your children. Also, don't let yourself become embittered against God because you feel He has failed.
"The heavenly father hates to see any of his children leave their relationship with Him," Nelson says. "He'll use the Holy Spirit, an angel, a sermon, a life accident, a song, some other human being, but in the final result, you'll be able to look back and say God left no stone unturned to reach that person."