By Megan E. Vance
I never thought my tears would stop. One sad day long ago, my family circle fragmented. My teenage daughter left our home and eventually estranged herself from the entire family.
Perhaps your family has been broken too? I could spend pages telling you my long, unhappy story, but detailing my grief cannot help me or anyone else as much as finding God’s help on this most difficult journey of having an estranged child.
For many years I moped, stewed, and plotted to try and find a way to fix my situation. I asked God, “Why?” a million times. No answer has come, but I add the important word, yet. At a writers’ conference I recently attended, I talked with an energetic 86-year-old woman. She prayed for 60 years for her estranged brother and didn’t receive God’s answer until his death. Sixty years? But her prayers paid off, and she did receive an answer. Now that’s encouragement.
This same woman, in an unexpected way, helped me to redirect my focus in my longstanding trial. You see, I wrote an article for the conference about my own prodigal. The elderly woman critiqued my story and wrote on my paper, “Writers have a heavy responsibility to readers. Life is full of sorrow—could I urge you to use your God-given ability to uplift? What a blessing you can be!”
Those simple, yet profound words gave me a new way of looking at my bad situation. A new light about this entire circumstance has dawned on me. The woman helped me see that instead of wallowing in self-pity, I need to share from my own experience to encourage others to keep faith if their children are in similar situations as mine. Here are some scriptural principles that have helped me:
When our children no longer profess the faith they once had or were raised with, we, their parents, can believe the best for them, that God will one day bring them to repentance. Paul said that God is the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not” (Romans 4:17). God saw us before our salvation and yet he gave us life. We can believe that our child will also have life in his name.
Forgive yourself for the mistakes you made as a parent. You can’t forgive anyone else if you don’t forgive yourself. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). If God forgets them, we should too.
Forgive your child.
Forgive your child whether they ask for it or not. This is for your sake as well as theirs. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14, 15). You will be free from the burden of unforgiveness.
Make steps toward peace.
Make reasonable attempts to bring about reconciliation. Paul exhorted us: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19). Even when your efforts aren’t met with a positive response, keep trying.
Give God your anxieties.
Turning all our anxieties about the situation over to the Lord is our key to having peace. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6, 7). Ask God to build a wall of protection around your child (Hosea 2:6, 7) and to surround them with people of faith.
Never give up on loving your child and believing the best for them, just as the Father never gives up on us. “Love never fails. . . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”
(1 Corinthians 13:8, 13).
Remember your child at birthdays and holidays, but don’t expect anything in return. Sometimes you may want to just send a card and let them know they’re in your thoughts. You don’t know how God might use these small attempts at reconciliation. Paul told the Corinthian believers, “So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well” (2 Corinthians 12:15).
Go on with your life, in spite of your gaping loss, for it is a loss. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6: 33), trusting him in all things. In Hebrews 13:5, Jesus promised to never leave or forsake us. He will even make up for our losses in life. “‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life’” (Luke 18:29, 30).
If you prioritize your time on earth, getting to know God, you will love him. God is light and there is no darkness in him (1 John 1:5). He makes the best promise to all who love him: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Most importantly, thank God for your trial. In Isaiah 61:3, we learn that God gives us beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Thankfulness for all things is not optional: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). When we give God thanks in spite of our sorrow, somehow our pain becomes bearable.
In Luke 18, we read about a tenacious widow. She kept annoying the unjust judge until he gave her what she wanted. Jesus told this story to remind us to always pray and not give up. After many years of praying for my estranged adult child, sometimes my soul feels like collapsing and giving up. But I don’t. Prayer is one way to be a part of my estranged child’s life, even if she doesn’t know it. If I pray in faith, I can affect her life for the good, for God wants us to communicate with him and make our requests for others through prayer. Furthermore, God is not like the unjust judge, but hears our hearts’ cries from the very beginning.
I used to pray for our reconciliation, mainly for the sake of relieving my own intense heartbreak. Now I ask primarily that my daughter would not miss out on any blessing God has for her, whether or not we reconcile, for that is God’s heart for her: “Praise be to the God and Father . . . who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).
I hope you realize that you are far from being alone in the struggle with an estranged child. Many others share our grief. As with all sufferings of life, we must believe God’s promise that one day soon our tears and sorrows will be wiped away forever. But for now, we must not give up. Let us continue our journey, walking by faith and not by sight, and one day that faith will be rewarded.
Megan E. Vance is a freelance writer and the author of Sure Mercies: Hope for the Suffering.