A curious phenomenon has plagued families for as long as there have been families. Go back as far as time will take you, and there it is in all its mystery and misery.
What is it? It’s that age-old problem of second-generation fallout. Happily, there are wonderful exceptions. But more often than not, it occurs. Each time it does, this fallout breaks the hearts of godly mums and dads.
The scenario goes something like this. A couple falls in love and desires to serve Christ with all their hearts. They get married. Their faith is tempered in the furnace of affliction and hammered out on the anvil of hardship. They press on in their spiritual growth by becoming involved in a local church, where they give generously and consistently and serve in various capacities. As several children come along, they begin to build character qualities into each one as they pray that God will get hold of their little lives and use them for His glory. So far so good.
Time passes. Childhood runs its course, leading to the teen years with all the inevitable adjustments and struggles. The family gets busier than ever, walking gingerly through the minefield of time demands, financial pressures, sports involvements, academic activities, and relational skirmishes. Nothing blows apart, thank goodness . . . and before the parents know it, their children are grown, out of secondary school or sixth form college, and pursuing any number of options: university, careers, travel, the military, marriage, or whatever.
Mum and Dad end up together and alone, again, breathing big sighs of relief (“We made it!”) and still stable and strong in their Christian walk.
But what about the now-grown children? Ah, there’s the rub. Somehow, between learning how to ride bicycles, memorising the multiplication tables, and perfecting their skills on the piano—and getting married or earning a degree or buying their own home—God got pushed way down their list of priorities. In fact, disciplines like prayer, church attendance, tithing, serving, and serious Bible study got lost in the shuffle. I repeat, there are certainly exceptions to this second-generation fallout, but that’s the tragedy—they are the exceptions.
Ever wonder why? Is this some kind of unique, twenty-first century, postmodern malady? You know better. Even a cursory reading of Scripture reveals the sobering truth: back in biblical times, parents’ hearts were broken by the fallout of children leaving their faith. A few examples come to mind.
• Adam and Eve surely wept over Cain’s murderous act.
• Isaac and Rebekah must have tossed and turned through sleepless nights over their twin boys’ contentions.
• Eli the priest was ashamed more than once because of his two immoral sons.
• David, who loved the Lord dearly, found himself at a loss to understand Absalom.
• Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, was a national scandal . . . an unwise and unruly leader.
The list continues to the present day. Some of you who read these words could add your name to those in biblical times. Truth be told, you have to admit that you could never leave your inheritance to your son(s) and daughter(s) due to their lifestyles, which stand in stark contrast to yours. It breaks your heart.
Parents and grandparents, let me be painfully and firmly honest with you as I offer three ways to help your kids keep their faith.
First, model personal responsibility. Ours is an era where passing the buck is an art form . . . where seeing oneself as an “innocent victim” is in vogue. Help your children face up to the hard facts . . . to tell the truth, regardless. Help them learn this by watching you do it.
Second, emphasise the “erosion principle.” Evil is not only getting progressively worse in our culture but also more cleverly disguised. Point that out. Explain how easy it is to get used to evil . . . to shrug it off, rather than identify it and confront it. If your youngster isn’t alert to evil, he or she will get sucked into it.
Third, take time. Take time not just to eat together or work together around the house or do homework together or go to sports activities together. Take time to sit and quietly talk together. Take time to play together, and don’t forget to relax and laugh together. It is amazing how an authentic relationship with your child can help prevent second-generation fallout. It helps your kids keep their faith.
Of course, even the best parenting is no guarantee that your children will walk with God. I have often been comforted by remembering that God has millions of wayward children. They make their own choices and sometimes those are devastating . . . just as we parents have made ours. We will all stand before God alone. And what if you have a son or daughter who has yet to respond? Never, never give up! And I mean never. Pray fervently every day. Then with anticipation, just watch God work. Why? Because we never know at what point the Lord may open their eyes.
Though second-generation fallout is both ancient and common today . . . it can be minimised and we parents will have grown spiritually through that process. New and healthy habits can be formed. So start today.