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4 Things You Can Do for Your Adult Children Who Don’t Believe in God

4 Things You Can Do for Your Adult Children Who Don’t Believe in God

Having adult children who do not have faith may be one of the hardest roads for a loving Christian parent to travel. Even if you have done everything right — you attended church when your kids were growing up, prayers were said every night at the dinner table, and you openly turned to God in both praise and supplication — sometimes those sweet little kids who so openly, trustingly believed in Christ grow into questioning, doubting, and even impatient adults who shut you down at the mere mention of God or His son.

You know your adult children were lovingly created by God, and eternally loved by Him; Jeremiah I:5 pinpoints the intimate nature of that holy love, stating, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

You are probably praying every day for your adult child’s salvation, too — the most important action you can take in all situations. So, why can’t your kids just get with the program, and believe?

There is good news in this challenging situation. The Lord gave us free will for a very important reason: He wants us to come to Him willingly. He does not want robots who love Him because our parents told us to.

Who hasn’t been moved by the depiction of Christ knocking on the closed door? Many have not opened that door until adulthood. But they have opened it, finally understanding that stanza of the beloved old hymn “Amazing Grace”: “How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.”

This can happen for your adult children! God will ultimately do the heavy lifting, but here are some ways you can help while respecting your adult children's’ autonomy — and even strengthening the parent-child bond in the process.

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Walk a Mile in Their Shoes — Respect the Challenges of Modern Life.

Today, simple pleasures enjoyed in the past often take a back seat to time spent on social media, longer hours at work, and constant pressure to fulfill many different roles. Young women are hit with constant images of how they are supposed to look and act, with those standards constantly changing. One moment they are supposed to be feminist icons, and the next, multi-tasking spouses and parents, posting picture-perfect versions of themselves and their families to Facebook. Young men are also presented with conflicting messages: they are to be sensitive, always-present partners, and also be confident bread-winners and “real men.”

Simply put, in days past there was more time to thoughtfully consider faith and its place in our lives. We were not tempted into increasingly random social media interactions back then, and daily life didn’t rely so much on technology. Today, a bevy of apps promise to deliver what we were able to find on our own: peace and focus.

Young adults are navigating a lot of pressures every day. Importantly, they may rarely discuss these pressures, as they take on a more mature role of shielding their parents from worry. If parents of adult children respect this reality, in a sense “walking a mile in their shoes,” it will lend focus to any talk about faith. Perhaps a parent can try beginning conversations with, “So tell me about how busy you are lately; how do you handle all that so well?” That is a lot more likely to open a deeper conversation than, “I am worried about your salvation — can we talk?” Empathy and understanding are important tools, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Bible offers some good direction here, in Colossians 3:21: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”

man reading bible and thinking

Make Sure Your Adult Child Has a Bible

This might sound very simple, but many young adults raised in the church do not have God’s Word handy. Perhaps when they moved out of the family home the Bible was left behind, a symbol of a more childish, more dependent past. Perhaps they gave their Bible away when culling through their book collection. Or perhaps it’s down in the basement gathering dust.

Whatever the case, a Bible is the most important book anyone can own. It contains all of life’s truths and offers a blueprint for how to live, too.

While your adult kids may not accept that, it doesn’t make it less true.

Additionally, how often does the light bulb of belief go on when in church, conveniently near a Bible? Many salvation stories occur outside of the church. Many occur at the brink of despair, when an individual has reached the end of their rope, trying to find their way alone. A Bible is a physical and metaphysical lifeline; it is both a book you can hold and a Spirit you can feel. If your adult child has a Bible or a Bible app, God’s Word is with them — and if that light bulb of faith does go off, they are ready to be willingly, joyously swallowed up in its brilliant light.

To my shame, years ago an acquaintance who is an atheist told me she didn’t have a copy of the Bible — and I did nothing about that. How easy it would have been to drop off one of my copies, or gift her with her own. But my own busy life took over, and that precious opportunity was lost.

Drop off a Bible to your adult kid, or send them one, if they’re far away. You can also recommend a good Bible app. Chances are, they will keep that Bible around, whether on their bookshelf or on their phone, because they love you.

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Be Ready to Listen to Doubts and Old Hurts

We like to think we know everything about our children's formative years, but we don’t. They have experienced some things that will be forever unknown to us. This may include things that have deeply hurt them when it comes to faith. Perhaps they prayed and prayed for something that never happened, and it dimmed a light deep inside of them. Perhaps a personal tragedy — the loss of a parent or loved one, a broken love relationship — hardened your child’s heart to God. Whatever the reason, a wounded child often grows into a doubting, rejecting adult. Sometimes only God can reach into a hurting heart.

When I was a non-believing teen of 19, my parents asked me to go to a young people’s Bible study at their church, and I grudgingly complied. During a game of Bible Trivia, I was asked a relatively simple question about the Bible, but I came up empty — not having ever really read the Bible, it would have been unusual if I did know the answer.

The other teens in the group snickered and whispered at my ignorance. They quietly mocked my inability to answer the question, and I left the group deciding that becoming a Christian was about the last thing I would ever do. My parents were understandably dismayed by the group’s reaction, and I never returned. And although at the time I made fun of those kids and their rudeness, I was, deep down, hurt by their mockery. And it stunted my faith growth for several years.

Perhaps your adult child has experienced something similar, or even more serious, by a Christian who claims to represent God. Humans are fallible, and will often let us down. If you listen carefully and empathically when your adult child expresses hurt or doubt, and do so without judgment or expectation, the warm feeling of being heard may open a door in your child’s heart — or at least a window.

older mother hugging adult child daughter

Be Yourself — You Are a Christian!

As a way to stay close to adult children, Christian parents may de-emphasize their faith, or not mention it at all. They seek open channels of communication with their kids and fear that too much “God talk” will chase them away. No parent likes to hear the sigh on the telephone or witness the subtle eye roll when the topic of faith is broached.

A dear friend of mine shared her method for talking with her non-believing adult child: “She knows I am a Christian, she was raised in the faith, and I love her and she is precious to me no matter where she is when it comes to belief. I believe the Lord will work in her life in His perfect time, and I never, ever hesitate to say, ‘I’m praying for you.’ That’s the best way I know to love her; to pray for her.”

I think back to my own teen years full of doubt. My parents would talk freely about their faith, and my mother, in particular, would leave short books on faith topics in my bedroom. I did not read them at the time (except for the inscriptions; her heartfelt notes to a beloved daughter), but now I treasure these well-worn books. I’m so glad she loved me enough to look past my doubts and give me these books.

There is an often-quoted Bible passage that speaks to raising children in faith for their lifelong benefit. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” There is a delightfully hidden nature to this verse; it addresses both childhood and old age but does not make a comment on the middle part of life. I believe God is carefully watching over our adult children during these busy middle years, and the fruits of our early faith instruction combined with our crucial daily prayers may indeed only be harvested in their later years.

Remember, in the vast spectrum of space and time, it doesn’t matter the date of your arrival to the Kingdom — only that you do finally reach that glorious destination.

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deirdre reilly author headshot bio photoDeirdre Reilly is a writer and editor, and her commentary has appeared on various websites including,, and others. Her new book, “The Pretend Christian: Traveling Beyond Denomination to the True Jesus,” details her own personal journey through doubt and fear into true belief. You can connect with Deirdre via, or follow her on Twitter at @deirdrewrites.