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How to Respond to Unsaved Parents

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I was very fortunate, because my family took me to church from the time I was born in 1946. They were not saved at the time, but my mother became saved in the 1950s. One by one all my siblings, and my father, became saved. So, I had no real problem. But, I know many older children and young adults can have great problems, when they are saved and their parents are not.

Matters are made worse when the parents are of high intellect, or truly atheistic, or have a dislike for religion in general. Some parents may even laugh in scorn, or try to undermine their sons’ or daughters’ faith. And many parents think Christianity is some kind of curse, a lie that shackles their children to harmful propaganda, preventing them from living a full life..

The lone Christian will feel bereft of friendship and understanding in their own family, and this creates a hidden source of anxiety within the saved person’s heart. What should they do? How should they respond? Obviously, I can only make general comments, because each family situation is different.

The Anchor

Scripture must always be our first source. It must also be obeyed, no matter what kind of situation we find ourselves in. Whilst I can certainly sympathise with those whose parents are not happy with their child’s faith, I must also point out that God expects us all to follow His word, no matter what. Our feelings are as nothing compared to the need to obey the Lord.

In the Old Testament, we find that sons and daughters obeyed their parents, even when they were quite grown up themselves. This is because obedience to parents is a prime command. Indeed, it is one of the Ten Commandments:

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”

To ‘honour’ means to be honourable. It includes the idea of bearing-up under adversity. However, it mainly means to show honour towards our parents and to act honourably towards them. Today, children of all ages rarely show honour towards anybody or anything, even their parents. To show honour means to treat them with great respect and to obey their wishes, so long as they are consistent with godliness.

What a person may NOT do with parents is: shout at them; argue hotly; go against or ignore their normal wishes, including when going out with a girl or boyfriend; be verbally or physically aggressive; steal from them; talk to them as if they were unworthy; become angry with their beliefs; generally show disrespect in any way.

No child should ever raise his or her voice to their parents. It does not matter what the age of the child is – they should be respectful at all times. This also includes not saying, doing, or being, anything that will bring shame upon their name. Children of any age are subject to their parents’ demands.

Parental Reactions to Your Faith

What if parents want you to say, believe, or do something against God or His word? That is when you may respectfully reject what they say. But, you must explain why. Even if you have to part ways on matters of faith, you must still display respect.

What if they scorn you? Well, ‘sticks and stones’… in effect, you must not be so sensitive. It may be hard, but if you respond with anxiety or tears, they may even pursue you, possibly unintentionally. You must stand firm and be strong in your mind and heart. Yet, show respect at all times. (Of course, this paper is concerned with how your parents respond to your faith, not with any other issue). Remember, too, that disdain shown by parents may arise because they do not see a difference in your life, or they see a bad reaction to what they say. This reinforces their idea that you are not genuine.

Very often, parents will simply not understand your faith or your reasons for attending church. They will not understand why you have faith, or why you believe as you do. They may think they are protecting you from a vague but strong delusion. They may be afraid of something they think is rather frightening. It could be they cannot understand why their child has suddenly been ‘brainwashed’.

They might even be testing you by seeing how far they can push you away from your faith… if they can make you act or speak against what you claim to be true, then they have proved their point – that your faith is not faith after all, but simply a passing phase. But, also, some will be scornful or even nasty, because they fear something far more deep-seated: that what you claim may actually be real. And, if it is real, it means their own lives are deluded and you have found something they do not have.

Do Not Hide Away

Whatever reaction they show you – you must be prepared with answers. You MUST display love and respect, and MUST be firm. Remember that until a person is saved, they cannot possibly understand what you are talking about. Therefore, let your everyday life be a shining billboard, with every aspect of Christian virtue on display, always calm, sure, and filled with compassion and love for the lost.

Your aim should not be to hide away, or to shrink from sarcasm or plain disregard. It is to show the love of Christ in your heart, mind and outward things. When others see this as a constant, they will begin to see your new-found faith in a different light. Perhaps your parents will never come to understand fully, but you must continue. You must also take courage in both hands and witness to your mother and father, not with ‘Bible-thumping’ but with simple, calm, assured faith.

I suggest you do it firstly through your actions and words. Do it through smiles of love and hugs of care, no matter what they might say or do. Let them watch you grow as a believer, and see that what you claim is actual and continuing. After all, they expect you are only experiencing a temporary aberration! If they see you being the same, day in, day out, they will start to accept your faith and realise you mean it.

When they have seen you being constant, seek to speak to them of your salvation. Of course, they may have been very supportive from the start, in which case, speak sooner. The most important thing to do is: Pray to the Lord for the opportunity to speak to your parents, either one at a time or both at the same time. Then, wait until the Holy Spirit prompts you to speak.

Only when He has answered your plea, should you go ahead and speak. Then, speak! Do not push the issue and do not continually force your beliefs on them every time you see them. Do it once. If you need to speak again after that, do so after you have prayed for the opportunity and the Spirit has prompted you. Otherwise, you will fall prey to your own zeal, pride, or desire for them to be saved. It is Christ Who saves, not your persuasion!

Antagonism by Parents and Others

What if they do not listen and become antagonistic? You must be just as willing to show Christ, and not your own hurt or anger. I do not mean showing false love, but real love, to those who God says MUST have your respect and honour. Sadly, too many people today put emphasis on their own feelings and hurt. The emphasis must always be on God and what He wants of us.

The more opposition parents show, the greater must be your resolve to act wisely and with compassion. I know parents who have had to put up with a great number of issues with their children; they stand by them no matter how badly the children behave. But, how many children return the same attitude and love? Not that many!

Think of it is this way: God commands us to honour our parents. There are no alternative options to any of God’s commands. You obey or you do not. But if you do not, you sin.

Remember that your life is now in God’s hands, not your own. If you concentrate on how hurt you feel by your parent’s attitude or actions, or how cowed-down you feel, then you are thinking only of yourself and not of God. So, stay on track! Be sure to live a life of purity and holiness; know your scriptures; be determined to show compassion to those who are lost – including your parents; stay firm and completely trustworthy regarding Christian virtue and living.

Only when you have become a sound believer can you be strong enough to face opposition. It does not matter if you fear, or are anxious – what matters is God and His demands. When your life is Christocentric, you will at last be able to stand firm against all odds.

Really, the same applies to all relationships, whether personal, work, study or other. We cannot, as believers, rely on our feelings towards those we know. Nor can we rely on how hurt we are. We must rely ONLY on Christ. That is, when we rely on our feelings and desires, we are being selfish and inward, which is not how we should respond. Our response must be that of Christ, not our fickle and weak feelings.

Your Weakest Link

As in other areas of life, our weakest link is also our strongest. If we fail at that weak link, then our whole life can suffer. It is precisely at our weakest point that Christ can give us His strength. The ONLY reason we do not have His strength is if we either do not seek it, or when it is presented to us, we ignore it. Then, we continue in our feelings of inadequacy, sin and emotionalism. It is then that we run away from problems and relationships, claiming we are too hurt or emotional to deal with them! This is, though, just an excuse. It does not matter how badly we are treated or how badly we feel – God still requires us to respond in godly fashion.

Do not try to say it is impossible… Christians throughout the ages have been treated far worse, even to death. Yet, they have maintained a godly stance before their detractors. Even in our day ex-Muslims who have been saved, are taunted, hated and even killed by their own families for ‘heresy’. So, do not say you cannot face your family with honour!

It could be that you have bad memories of what relations or parents have said or done in the past. This is not an excuse, either. If you are grown enough to read and understand this article, then you are adult and mature enough to act as God commands. Bad memories are not a reason to act badly yourself. Nor are they a reason to live neurotically or to react wrongly.  

You have to deal with the memories, by handing them over to God and asking Him to remove them as influences in your mind. If you do not, it is proof that you only wish to retain them in your head as an excuse to hate, to reject, or to act improperly. It allows you to keep on avoiding parents or others and to keep the memories alive. This is not acceptable in the Christian life. You must be pure, holy and honourable – especially towards parents. There is no way out of it. Similarly, you must approach grandparents and other relatives with the same holiness. We are free to tell others what we believe and how we react. They must be told how they hurt or damage us. But, after that, we must respond as Believers, not as people without hope or God.

It is not always possible to maintain good relationships, if parents or others continually degrade you or do not listen. Even so, you must act honourably. We are talking about Christian spirit and human emotions, both of which oppose each other. And, if old enough, we must remove ourselves from the bad atmosphere so as not to be subject to emotional wrongness. That is, if the situation is permanent. If it is only temporary, you must stop being emotional, take a deep breath, and ignore the taunts, or poor relationship. After all, people constantly watch the one who claims to be a Christian. If they cannot see godly strength and assurance in you, why should they listen to what you have to say?

© February 2010

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom