Help! My Adult Child Won’t Listen to My Directions
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. (Proverbs 1:8–9)
Directions have existed since creation. Why? Because contrary to what modern culture attempts to assert, everything has a unique design and purpose and can only truly function if it does what it’s designed to do. When God created sea creatures, he established directions: fill the sea and reproduce. Fish must function in this design, or they would fail to exist. If all the fish relocated to trees or stopped laying eggs, guess what? There would be no fish! God’s design, purpose, and direction for sexuality, too, has existed since creation. Sex matters to God, so it understandably matters to parents who fear the Lord. But what do you do with God’s directions for sex when, on your daughter’s 18th birthday, she leaves home to live with her boyfriend? Or when your married son, the father of three of your grandchildren, feels compelled that his only hope for happiness is to begin hormone treatment to transition and become a female?
Life Comes with Directions
Just as fish need directions, so too do children, parents, and all people to live godly lives (2 Tim. 3:16). Parents, even if your adult child is rejecting biblical direction, that direction is still good and necessary. Compromising your conviction to biblical truth is not the answer; the goal must be to learn to steward biblical teaching as if it is a champion’s graceful garland and pendant. A trophy’s value is rooted in the fact that it must be earned. To receive the trophy, an athlete must meet an unwavering standard; otherwise, the prize would mean nothing. Let the same be said of your teaching. Don’t compromise the truth. Don’t waver for the sake of presenting teaching your child will accept; to do so is to strip its value. Instead, pray that God would bring victory in your child’s heart, that he or she would come and receive your direction as only a Spirit-changed and empowered champion can: one who is willing to run to achieve the goal and, in doing so, reap the reward.
There’s Still Hope When Your Child Ignores Direction
We all know the stereotypical story where the dad on the road trip refuses to use the map or ask for directions. Normally, those stories end with him getting so lost he finally caves in and pulls out the map or asks a local for help. Now apply this story to your wayward child. The profoundly hopeful lesson parents need to cling to is that getting lost can be a great way to realize you need directions! It could be that your child’s very lost-ness is what the Lord will use to show him how much he needs help.
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. (2 Corinthians 7:9)
Praise God for this verse! Parents, I cannot imagine what it’s like to watch the child you conceived and raised dig their own grave of sin. But I can, with confidence, urge you to look to the light even from that dark place. Joy and sorrow can co-exist. You can endure by clinging to the fact that as deep, ongoing, or lasting as sin may be, the hope of repentance is still possible. The darker the night, the more clearly light shines.
Don’t Become the Missing Directions
My mom is the definition of frugal, and I say that with the greatest admiration. Her ability to use Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist to make every Christmas better than the last is astounding to me. However, one occasional problem with a pre-owned gift is the missing directions. We can figure out how to use most every directionless gift, but there’s always that one we can’t figure out that forces us to resort to YouTube tutorials.
The profoundly hopeful lesson parents need to cling to is that getting lost can be a great way to realize you need directions.
The reality is that everyone, at one point or another, is looking for directions to life. Like my family at Christmas, everyone who cannot find direction from one source goes to another. Sometimes we look to ourselves, and at other times we look to peers, politics, bosses, or our favorite social influencers. Parents, if you allow bitterness, resentment, or anger to drive you to remove yourselves from your sexually struggling child’s life, your child will still spend the rest of her life searching for direction—she just won’t come to you for it.
But what if you’re already the one your child won’t come to? There are many things that could be said, but find hope in Paul’s vision of discipleship:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor. 3:6–9)
Remember that God is, ultimately, the one who pursues your child, and you are not his only means of that pursuit. Trust in the glorious truth that God saves a people—a body—a church. God’s pursuit of your child is not bound to a specific bubble of influence. God is using the full interwoven tapestry of his chosen people, spread throughout the world, as a part of his outreach to the lost, including your lost child.
Is It Easy to Get Direction from You?
Maybe you know a guy like my dad—he likes to be the one to get the mail out of the mailbox. I guess he finds joy in the habit of it. As a family, we try to respect that, but the problem with this habit is where the mail ends up. The family calls it “dad’s basket.” It should just be called a mess. For any chance of easily receiving a letter without having to wrestle through “dad’s basket,” you must greet him at the door to look through the mail before it lands in the dreaded basket.
God is using the full interwoven tapestry of his chosen people, spread throughout the world, as a part of his outreach to the lost, including your lost child.
Parents, where does your child have to go to find direction from you? Will they have to wrestle through a mess, or will they know that all they need to do is greet you at the door to receive what they need with love and joy?
[B]ut in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
As parents who love the Lord, your adult children are blessed to have your influence in their lives. Continue loving them. Pray for patience to entrust them to the Lord in their wandering, even as you prepare to offer godly direction with gentleness and respect. Remember where your hope rests—in this uncertainty, there is certainty that your Savior, who shared in your suffering, promises to sustain you into shared glory forever with him. Therefore, there is always a place for hope in your struggling heart.