By Tom M. Roberts
Many Christians know the ache of David’s heart when he wept for his rebellious son, saying: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33). David went aside by himself and wept bitter tears.
Many Christians know the bitterness of such tears — the helplessness that David must have felt — the burden of regret and sorrow. One of the most terrible feelings known to Christians is that which is felt when a beloved son or daughter turns their back on Christ and becomes unfaithful. There are no words adequate to describe the broken hearts.
This series of “letters” will describe some of the feelings that parents have when children reject God. No one family is described; rather a composite family drawn from many experiences is projected. It is hoped that parents will use these articles to open the door of young people’s hearts to the tender love of Christ and remind them of their parents’ love. They are also an appeal to our young people who have forgotten the most important lesson they will ever learn, “Love God and keep his commandments.”
We urge you to use these letters to reach out to your wayward children as gentle reminders that the only true happiness is found in service to God. It is our prayer that even one might be restored as was the prodigal son in Luke 15: “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
The First Letter
Unto Us a Child Is Born
My dear child,
I don’t know if you will ever see this or read it, but there is such a burden on my heart that I must attempt to put it into words.
Some time has passed since you have worshiped faithfully and you no longer seem to care about God and his will. The Lord’s church does not seem to be important to you, and with the passing months your interest in spiritual matters seems to grow ever more cold. As we think on these things, your mother and I are filled with a sense of sorrow that is more than we can express. You are the most precious thing in this life to us and we know we are losing you to Satan. Will you take the time to read this letter that is written with a love that forces us to speak, even when hope is weak?
How can we tell you how we felt when you were born? It seems ridiculous now to think of you as ever being so tiny and helpless when you have grown so tall and are making your own way in the world as an adult. Yet, there you were, just born and we held you with such love and tenderness, for you seemed so fragile. At that time we could never imagine the years would pass so quickly. All those old folks’ stories about time going so fast are really true. It seems like yesterday to us that you were sent to us from heaven.
There was such a mixture of emotions when we first saw you! You were a person, yet an extension of ourselves. We were awed when we realized that you were sent into our keeping from God to shape and mold and we had such good intentions. Believe me, you were really loved and tenderly cared for. We wanted to be such good parents!
Somewhere between that blessed event and today some terrible mistakes were made. I suppose there is enough guilt to pass around to everyone: ourselves, you, society, the schools, the church. But I can only speak for myself when I say that I feel a terrible burden of failure when I see you turn your back on God. I am responsible for what I did!
And for what I failed to do? Does it help at all to say that everything I did had good intentions behind it? All along the way I assumed that you would know this and overlook my mistakes because I loved you and wanted you to be the very best that you could be. Most important of all, I assumed that you would want to be a Christian. And this is our biggest failure of all.
I remember teaching you to sing “Jesus Loves Me” at home. You really enjoyed singing when you were young. You toddled off to Bible classes and brought us the work sheets when you learned to print “Jesus loves me” by yourself. Do you remember any of this? What are your earliest recollections of life? We tried so hard to plant a love of God along with visits to the zoo and playing in the water and working in the yard. Do you remember your first prayers at the dinner table? Do you remember playing with the children of other Christians and the enjoyable visits we had with our good friends in the church? These were good times and we truly were happy as we watched you grow. These memories seem so bittersweet now that things have changed so much. It is true that we cannot go back to these times, but just the memory of them means so much to us. I wish I could know how much of these things you remember. I wish I could know if such memories mean the same to you or if you have shelved them away somewhere.
Since I cannot say all that I want to say now, I will write you again. As I close this letter, I want to ask a favor of you. Will you search your memory to see how much God was a part of your early life? Wasn’t he more than just “going to church,” or “getting your Bible study lesson”? Didn’t you truly love God when you were young? We thought you did and we were so proud of you. In those years you were all that we hoped you would be. We thanked God for you and for the pleasure you brought to us. It is our prayer that you may recall those early memories of the love you had for God and think about it until you hear again from,
Your Loving Dad
Our Child Is Reborn
My dear child,
Memories and emotions are such powerful forces. When I wrote to you the last time, I mentioned a part of my memories of your childhood. I don’t know how that affected you, but it had a tremendous effect on me. Just speaking of these things intensifies my desire to see you restored to the fellowship of God. You were so happy then and I wish for you this same happiness once more.
Indulge me just a little more and see if you can remember when you were baptized. Since religion is no more an important part of your life, I am interested if you recall the sincerity with which you expressed a desire to me to obey your Lord by being baptized. I remember talking with you since you were a little young, I thought. You reminded me that people were taught to be baptized when they knew they were sinners and that you knew you had done things that were wrong and believed that you were lost. You said that you wanted to go to heaven when you died and knew baptism to be right. Your mother and I realized that this had to be your decision and were proud of you. We have the date marked down somewhere. It is printed indelibly in our minds. But can you remember your feelings then? Surely you must have loved God and had faith in him at that moment in your life. You were not pressured into being baptized; it had never been a matter of force. You came seeking to do God’s will and seemed to do it gladly. I am wondering what importance you put on this event now. It was a great event for us then, and it remains so to this day. For us, it meant that you were a part of the kingdom of Christ, a member of his church. Your sins were washed away and as much as anything, it seemed that you were taking the initiative in living right. No one pushed you into baptism; it was something you wanted to do. Do you have any regrets about it now? If you had it to do over again, would you be so eager to be right with God?
Can you imagine how your mother and I felt when you served us the Lord’s supper the first time as you “waited on the table”? You seemed so small up in front of the congregation with the grown men and you were nervous. You were afraid you would drop the plates, remember? But I knew you could do it and you did. You were dressed so neatly in your suit and were so sincere in doing everything right that I wanted to burst with happiness. Even as a young teenager, you were everything that we wanted you to be. Sure, we had discipline problems with you . . . you were a boy, weren’t you? We had some disappointments along the way, but the total of your life was good and decent and right. We never missed worship services. We never missed gospel meetings. You even led singing in some of the training classes and in the assembly a number of times. You led prayers and led the prayer at the table at home. Did we ever tell you how proud we were? Maybe this was the beginning of some major mistakes. We assumed you knew how we felt and how proud we were. If we failed in this, please accept our apology. We just knew that you understood how we felt. But maybe we took this too much for granted.
I feel also that I was too busy with work during this time and didn’t spend enough time with you in everyday things. We were together in the evenings and on weekends as we worshiped together, but maybe I should have gone fishing with you more or showed you how to use tools . . . just anything to keep a close relationship. Because it was somewhere along these early teenage years that you must have begun to develop an interest outside the home and church that has made such a change in your values. I have spent many hours looking back, trying to analyze just where I could have used more wisdom, could have spent more time with you. It bothered me when you began to have friends outside the church more and more, but I thought this would be a passing thing. You had always done what was right before and I believed you would keep on doing what was right. But, if I can put my finger on a period in your life when you began to change, it is right here. Your interest turned away form home and the church as you began to make friends in the world.
When I write to you again, I would like to talk to you about the beginning of troubles at home with you. I do not bring these up to stir old animosities but to analyze, to search, to seek for answers. I still see in you the possibility of right living. I still hope for you a heavenly home. So please bear with me as I speak of things that are painful to both of us. Sometimes a bitter dose of medicine can bring about a wonderful healing. If opening my heart to you, however painful it may be, can help bring you closer to God, it is well worth it.
May God grant you life and health both here and hereafter.
Our Child Is Dead
As I closed my last letter to you, I mentioned that we would discuss some things that were painful to us. I speak especially of myself. Writing to you like this does open some memories that were better buried. Up until now I have mentioned the pride that I felt in you, the joy you brought your mother and me and the anticipation that you would continue to do the same as you grew older. I don’t know how you feel about some of the things I will mention but as I put them into words, I wonder at how life changed for us.
As you know, my father is not a Christian. As far back as I can know, none of my people on my father’s side were Christians. So when I learned the truth and determined to live right, I hoped to establish a new order of things from myself into the future with this family. Being right with God is so good! It explains so many things in this world and lifts our eyes to life everlasting. It is such a joy to be a Christian that it destroys me to know you don’t have this conviction. If I fail to pass along this faith in Christ to you and to your sons and daughters after you, I will have failed miserably in the most important thing in this life Can you imagine the intensity of this feeling in me? Can you realize how it saddens me to see you unconcerned about eternal life? Do you understand how much I feel a failure if you do not see the beauty of Christ and his truth?
When I first learned that you drank beer, I cried. Oh, you denied it but we both knew you were lying. You had been slipping around for some time and smoking. And you had friends that you would not bring home with you. I’m sure that it was because you knew they would not fit into your lifestyle and would be uncomfortable. Remember the discussions we had about how late you could stay out at night? Even now I cringe when I think of the bitter words that have been exchanged between us. I felt that you had rebelled against our values and you felt that we were being too strict. We still stand somewhere at odds on this issue.
I find a great deal of resentment in me against modern music and the role it has played in alienating the youth in this country from good morals. I feel that this one thing, immoral and rebellion-instilling music, became the encouragement you needed to overcome the values you were taught as a child. In the lyrics of the music, as well as the all-pervading beat of the unrestricted license it preaches, you found an ally that did not restrict, did not hold back. In fact, it actually encouraged you to “do your own thing,” to “let yourself go.”
It was during this time that you almost did not finish school and did so only because we forced you to go. It was during this time that I became aware of the fact that you expressed resentment against “going to church.” It was during this time that I became aware of the fact that you resented me and any restrictions placed on your actions: what you did, where you went, and who you were with. Long hair became a symbol of your frustration and identified you with the crowd. Drugs became a constant fear to parents around the country. I don’t know to this day how much they figured in your alienation from us and I don’t care to know. That all of this formed a pattern of rejection of God is evident. Of course, some children went too far and were killed. Some ruined their minds. We are thankful that such was never true with you. But these things, all added together, created a life-style so different from that in which you were raised that it still makes me dizzy to think about it. How could such have happened? What could I have done differently to help you avoid being caught in this ungodly environment? How much of it do you see in its true light even now?
The Bible teaches that there is a way that is right and cannot be wrong. This way is the way of truth and holiness. Look around you at the marriages that are ruined by divorce, lives that are destroyed by alcohol and drugs, hopes that are destroyed by sin, and souls that are turned away from God. Is this the way you have been taught? Is this the way you have been brought up? Isn’t there a better life than that which you see about you in the world and among the friends you have chosen?
You have told us that people in the church have insulted you and that some of them are hypocrites and that some of them are a little abnormal about the world we live in. I won’t argue that point. I have known some of this in my life too. I have been insulted, have known hypocrites, and have seen some abnormal people — even a little weird, maybe. But I find these at the supermarket (and I have been insulted there), and I find these everywhere I shop. But I have also learned that there are good people in the church. Honest, God-fearing, loving, hard-working people who love one another unselfishly. I know a bunch of Christians who make mistakes. I am one of them. But look at the alternative. What if everyone drank, smoked pot, had no morals, and did only what brought them physical pleasure? What kind of world would this be?
I’ve been true to my word. I’ve talked of things that are painful. But in doing so, I wanted to try to picture two lifestyles. Both of them are filled with error. The difference between the man in the world and the man in the church is that we who are trying to be Christians are trying to learn from our mistakes, to get forgiveness for them, and to do better in the future. One lifestyle has pleasure in this world as its only goal. The lifestyle of the Christian has heaven as its goal. This is not to say that Christians have no pleasure here, but that our pleasure brings no regrets and no hang-overs.
One final word before closing this letter. No hypocrite in the church is going to keep me away from Jesus. After all, he wasn’t a hypocrite and he is the one I serve. And the one I hope you will start to serve again.
With all my love,