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Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

What to do When your Older Child Breaks your Heart

  • Paul Dean

    Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.

  • 2010 Jun 29
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It's hard for parents of young children to imagine the heartbreak that one of those children could cause them fifteen or twenty years down the road. The Bible does say "train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). But, a proverb is something that's generally true; it's not the same thing as an explicit promise from God; it's a wise saying. The good news is that most children who're trained won't depart from the faith. But, that doesn't mean there won't be some heartbreak along the way. We're fallen creatures who need the grace of God working in us.

So what do you do if your older teenager or twenty-something child breaks your heart? What if she does turn up pregnant? What if he's thinking of marrying outside the faith? What if she's head over heels in love with some guy who's influencing her away from Christ? What if he wants little to do with you and you really don't know why?

1) Examine your own heart. Whether you think you've done anything wrong or not, the Bible is clear that we're all sinners and we must examine our own hearts before we can talk to anyone else about anything. That's why Jesus told us to get the log out of our own eye first; then we would be able to see how to take the speck out of someone else's eye (Matt. 7:1-5). If you're going to do eye surgery, you want to be able to see clearly. More than that, God wants us to see our sin as big and the sin of others as small; not the other way round. If you want to help your child and restore your relationship, you must do some soul-searching before you do anything else.

2) Confess your sins against your child to him. No one is perfect. It may be that our child has done something really wrong or hurtful. But, that doesn't mean we've done nothing wrong. Honoring God and demonstrating to your child that what you're about is not you and what you want, but the glory of God and your child's good, will go a long way toward bringing about reconciliation. Your child needs to know you're not merely trying to force your way; that it's not about your reputation or desire; that it's really about something bigger. If your child knows you're out for her good, it may take some time, but genuinely seeking forgiveness for what you've done will pave the way for a softening of her heart (Matt. 5:23-25).

3) Gently, lovingly, and intermittently give him truth. No one can be rescued without being confronted with the truth (Gal. 6:1). At the same time, if someone is drowning, it's one thing to run over him with the boat because you wanted to make sure you reached him quickly; it's another thing to pull up slowly and throw him a life-preserver. Look for those opportunities to speak the truth in love and then back off and pray. You don't want to brow-beat or wear her out with words. You don't want to be condescending either. You want to speak the right word at the right time so they are like apples of gold to your child (Prov. 25:11). Let the testimony of your life be your most persuasive weapon while the Spirit does what He alone can do in your child's heart.

4) Love him unconditionally. Your child needs to know that you love him no matter what. That doesn't mean you condone sin; we're not talking about a "live and let live" approach to parenting here. But we are saying that your love is not contingent on your child's performance or actions. He needs to know that while your heart is breaking over his sin, that your heart is still filled with love for him despite that sin. That's the heart of the father in Jesus' story about the prodigal son; despite the son's rebelliousness, the father had compassion on and love for his son (Lk. 15:20). Keep looking down the road to see if he's coming home. Let your child know your heart in that regard and that you will never cut him off.

5) Be patient and wait on the Lord. Don't force the issue; doing such may be part of the problem. Only God can change your child's heart. No amount of coercing, cajoling, or spitting out forceful words will soften a hard heart. Paul tells us to be wise toward those who are outside the faith (Col. 4:5). We must heed that command when dealing with those who are wayward in any sense. And don't try to manipulate in any way. You might achieve some kind of outward conformity to what you want but there will be no real heart change. You want God to work. So pray; take your burden to God and rest in Him (Phil. 4:4-9).

6) Remember, your goal is eternity; not immediate self-satisfaction. God causes all things to work for your good and your child's if he's in Christ (Rom. 8:28). It's through much tribulation we enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). We experience many trials and temptations but the Lord refines us through them (1 Pet. 1:7). You can trust the Lord to do what's right and what's best; trust His timing and way. That's another reason not to force the issue but to be patient. When David sinned with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, he was under conviction by the Spirit for a year and a half before God sent Nathan to bring the matter to a head and grant David the gift of repentance. God works over time; and here we have yet another reason to confront but then back off and pray.

7) Never forget that God can restore. Paul and Barnabas almost came to blows when Paul wouldn't allow John-Mark to come on a missionary journey because he had turned back on a previous one (Acts 15:37-39). But a few years later Paul wanted to see John-Mark because he was useful to him for ministry (2 Tim. 4:11). Their relationship was restored. God is still on the throne; He's still full of grace; He's still in the business of setting captives free and restoring sight to the blind (Lk. 4:18). God can indeed restore the years the locusts have stripped away (Joel 2:25).

It won't be easy; but these are the main things we should do if a child is in the far-away country (Lk. 15:13) so to speak. And remember, it's in the context of Jesus telling three stories about lost things, including the prodigal son, that He lets us know that there is joy in the presence of angels over one sinner who repents (Lk. 15:10). That's what God is about.

Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at http://www.trueworldview.com