I grew up in the paradox of an abusive Christian home. It’s a surprise, then, that my siblings and I each clung to Jesus in our own ways. We were desperate for stability and truth.
When I became a mother, I reinvented the parenting wheel. I prayed for inspiration, for wisdom, for the ability to nurture, and then I prayed for God to fill in the gaps. Many times I asked, “What would a good mother do?” And I did it, as best I could.
My husband and I raised our little boys, praying for them every day, reading Bible stories, proclaiming blessings over them every night. We told them that Jesus loves, loves, loves them and that He is full of mercy and grace.
As adults, two of them have turned away from Jesus—a full half of my children. There is no anger or rebellion. They are kind and gentle to me, but they have lost interest in the faith of their youth.
They are good family men, even more kind and more mature than many Christian men I have known. I am not deluded into thinking that attending church transforms people. My boys met plenty of hypocrites at church and plenty of strange, broken, offensive people.
When my sons were small, I spent time with other mothers of my generation who were especially invested in their children’s lives. As children, we had been set loose in a seemingly safer world and parented from a distance. Every generation thinks they can do a better job than their parents did. More than once I heard my friends—good, loving parents—declare their determination to “raise a godly generation,” something our world so badly needed. I sat on the fringe of this battle, reluctant to be so confident in my power. But it sure sounded good.
My sons watched as I named and fought the demons of my youth, as I confronted the abuse I had endured. Profoundly affected by recovery culture, I was convinced that if I did not “pass it back,” I would be fated to “pass it along.” I had to confront my abuse and my abusers to avoid the inevitability of inflicting my unprocessed pain on my children. I was brave. The love and nurture I imperfectly provided my children came from the hand of God Himself.
They also watched as I endured PTSD triggers, sometimes so crippling that I stayed in my bedroom, unable to function. I wish I had been stronger.
Now they are adults and have made their own choices, at least for now. I am surprised to find myself not grieved by the ones who have chosen to abandon faith. The very last thing I want is for my sons to accept a faith that makes no sense to them just because it makes sense to me.
Here’s the curious thing about me: I’m not broken-hearted about their choices. I don’t (anymore) dissect my mothering and blame myself for their decisions to turn away from the God I cling to. I did, at first. Now I pray for them to know the grace and kindness of God. My own faith has grown enough to understand that the heart of God is much bigger than my own.
They will never know, can never fathom, how much I love them. My love is nothing, though, just a drop, compared to the affection God has for them.
When Eugene Peterson died, his son exposed what he called his father’s “secret.” He said this, “…you steal into my room at night and whisper softly to my sleeping head. It’s the same message over and over, ‘God loves you. He’s on your side. He’s coming for you. He’s relentless.’”
A parent’s job, I think, is to love, discipline, and instruct a child, not to form him. Not to make him into one’s image.
It’s a relief to take the burden of my children’s beliefs and choices off myself and give them to the One who knows their hearts and loves them much more than I do.
One thing I know: God is good, and His timing is perfect.
I prayed that my sons would not endure the deep trauma I endured as a child. Yet, I’ve realized that this very trauma is what drove my siblings and me to chase after God. We were desperate to touch the hem of His garment and be healed.
Life is hard, and pain is universal. All my prayers will not protect my sons from meeting the suffering this world distributes. This pain will crack their hearts and leave enough space for the love of God to seep through. I don’t know how they will respond.
I used to know the hearts of my children better than anyone on earth. Now I don’t. But this story is not about me, my failings, my successes, my desires. It is about the heart of God.
I don’t know if my sons will learn to love the God who loves them. But this I know: He is good, His timing is perfect, and He is relentless.
Marcia Thomas lives in a suburb of Chicago with her husband of 38 years. She has raised four handsome, self-actualizing sons. She has found healing in exploring her story in the presence of others and treasures the opportunities she has to be that presence for others. She is surprised and pleased to find that the glad work of healing does not have a retirement age.
THIS. Is what it’s all about. Bless you oh supremely spiritually mature beast of a woman! I would adore hearing more.
Thank you. I grew up in a disfunctional alcoholic family and always told my kids I wanted to pass down less disfunction than what I received. I also wanted to pass on the faith I had received as a young adult. It’s heartbreaking watching them wrestle with their own baggage and baggage they picked back up. And also walk away from the faith I so desperately wanted them to receive. But like you, I’ve come to realize it’s their journey and that God is good and loves them passionately. I will trust Him for their lives and continue to love the best I can.
Oh Wise and gifted Marcia,
Your words breathe life and offer hope to this weary mama’s heart!
Thank you for sharing your heart that has learned the secret of letting go.
The pain we want to shield our kids from is the very doorway to Gods infinite love…
Thank you 💗
Prescious daughter of God, You have spoken truth into a very weary….and hopeful mama of adult children, who have refused church and community for their false selves. My gracious hope is the only thing Jesus has given me. He loves them beyond me as you spoke. Thank you for sharing, essentially, a mother heart for God to swoop in and lovingly hold our babies. Bless you and your wisdom. Thank you. Teresa
Thank you Marcia! ❤️
Thank you for your heart. This is a journey I am currently in. My breaking point is their eternal destiny. But, it doesn’t make me have to trust Him less with these children he has both blessed and wounded my heart with. I have sensed God nudging me with the through that I am experiencing a piece of his heart, as I long after these I love so much.
I lived in Chicago a little while ago. I wish I could have known you and ‘sat at your knee’ but I also trust (or at least SEEK to trust) my Abba’s heart and timing there too. Maybe someday.
Hugs from another sojourner
I have so many friends who need to hear these wise words….WE are NOT in control and God loves our children much more than we can imagine…Train up a child…Thank you so much for your wise and inspiring words!
Marcia, I am so thankful for you kind, wise words today. I also am glad there is no expiration date on the work of healing. Many blessings to you! Christine
A believer in Christ’s unmistakable miracles, I like to think of Jesus as having occasionally enjoyed a belly-shaking laugh over a good, albeit clean, joke with his disciples, rather than always being the stoically serious type of savior.
I find even greater hope in a creator who has a great sense of humor rather than foremost a fire-and-brimstone bad temper.
I sometimes wonder how many potential Christians have felt repelled from the faith altogether due to the vocal angry-God-condemnation brand of the religion, perhaps which resembles the God of the Quran and Torah.
Biblical interpretations aside, perhaps God didn’t require the immense bodily suffering by God’s own incarnation in place of that sustained by a sinful humankind as justice/payment for all sin.
Might God have become pacifistically turn-the-other-cheek incarnate, performed numerous unmistakable miracles before experiencing a brutal death, followed by his resurrection—all to prove there really was hope for all?
Perhaps Jesus didn’t die FOR humans as payment for our sins (the greatest mostly resulting from unchecked testosterone rushes), but rather his vicious murder occurred BECAUSE of humans’ seriously flawed nature; and due to his not behaving in accordance to corrupted human conduct, particularly he was nowhere near to being the blood-thirsty vengeful behemoth so many wanted or needed—and so many Christians still do to this day—their savior to be and therefore believed he’d have to be?
(Frank Sterle Jr.)