QUESTIN: What my husband and I are trying to understand is why a child, when raised in a family that attends church regularly, as an adult seemingly believes God and church are no longer important.
Our only child Russ (not his real name) was baptized, attended Sunday school, and went to church camps – both winter and summer. He always came home from those experiences happy and excited. Now he is married and has two young children. We live about two miles away from him and his family and have offered to take the children to Sunday school but he and his wife claim they do “family stuff” on weekends and don’t have time.
Shall we just give up?
~ God-loving Grandparents
Dear God-loving Grandparents,
I can appreciate your attempts to influence your son and daughter-in-law to attend church and also the offer to take the kids to Sunday school. Hard as it might be [to understand], attending church is something individuals must choose for themselves. Even though you know the positive effects church has had on your son, ultimately we can’t make anyone do what they’re not inspired to do. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t believe in God, just that they don’t choose to follow the religious practice of attending services.
A church community most definitely has its advantages for a young family. The benefits of attending services can not only strengthen one’s faith but also help build friendships and a sense of community. It sounds like the focus of your son and his family is on spending the time doing family activities. Those needs may change as his family gets older.
Instead of being concerned with church attendance perhaps the better questions to ask would be are they spiritually-minded people? How loving and compassionate are they towards each other and others? Do they have spiritual practices that fortify their sense of well being and community?
Church attendance is not synonymous with spiritual practice. We all know plenty of people who attend church regularly and then throw the Sunday message right out the window as they cut people off exiting the parking lot. Spirituality is an inside job. Just because they don’t attend church doesn’t mean he and his family aren’t living by the same faith principles he learned when he did attend. Give them some time to find their own way about how they want to connect with a spiritual community.
In the meantime, keep being the great grandparents that you always have been. Love has a way of inspiring people!
Re. Mary Morgan
Dear God-loving Grandparents,
I support your desire to help your grandchildren develop a relationship with God and I certainly don’t think you should give up! On the other hand, your efforts should respect the authority of the parents to raise their children according to their own convictions. Praying about the situation seems obviously important. Jesus says we “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
Another thing you might do is to engage your son in a conversation (or several conversations) about his spiritual journey. What kind of faith does he have in God today? What experiences has he had since he was raised in your home have impacted him? Why does he believe whatever he believes? I doubt there is another way for you to really understand why he is raising his children the way that he is.
Proverbs 20:5 is a great focus for you as you talk to him: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” That means asking questions, listening without judgment or condemnation, and helping him to feel comfortable about being really honest with you about what he feels.
Of course, I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with him, but I know many adult children find it difficult to communicate with their parents. You can really help him if you provide what he will perceive as a “safe” environment for conversation.
I will pray for you and this situation. Please contact me if you think I can help you in any other way.
Minister at Lifeway Church in Glendale
QUESTION: To start with, I’ll admit I was a jerk. Even though I was married with a beautiful wife and a son I adored, I continued living a bachelor’s life – partying every weekend and spending very little time with my family. A little over two years ago, my wife divorced me and, because of my behavior, has full custody of our son with supervised visitations for me. It’s true that you don’t realize what you have until you’ve lost it.
I decided to seriously clean up my act and for two years I’ve been sober and attend AA meetings regularly. My problem is I would like to get our family back together but my ex-wife told me she doesn’t trust me. I would think two years of being sober would help, but it isn’t working.
Is there anything I can do to get my family back?
~ Too Late Sorry
Dear Too Late Sorry,
First I want to congratulate you on your sobriety! This one accomplishment in your life is the foundation of the new life you have created. As you are working through the steps to maintain your new life, there are new realizations and perspectives you encounter. How you choose to respond to them determines how people will evaluate the success of your new life. You will need to accept these responses and respect those who give them.
Your ex-wife thinks and feels the way she does and there is nothing you can do to change how she sees past experiences with you. You may only have the knowledge that you became who you think she wanted you to be and that is all. Having shared this truthful perspective with you, only time will tell if she will ever be in a place to be a family again. Until then, you continue to be the best new person you can be and take solace in the knowledge that you have reached the new life you have created. Hope is a wonderful virtue to add to your new foundation.
Pastor Mark Yeager
Dear Too Late Sorry,
Congratulations on your recovery. That is truly a miracle. Most alcoholics don’t get sober and of those who maybe walk into a 12-step program only a handful of those actually achieve long term sobriety.
I have a little experience in this area having been sober for almost 15 years and your question is one that so many new folks who get sober ask. The misconception, of course, is that the alcoholic can get sober and the broken relationships, the broken lives – ours and those of our loved ones – should get put back together like the way things were before our drinking destroyed our lives and relationships, and we want that to happen right away. Maybe sometimes it works like that and people’s lives get restored, relationships are made whole again, and they waltz off into the sunset and everything is great.
More commonly we get sober, we get honest, we struggle, we learn to live a sober life, we grow in relationship with a higher power, we are afforded the opportunity to make restitution for harms done, we learn to give back, and we learn to live a life of service. Our reward is that we can look at ourselves in the morning and actually begin to like the person we see, and at night when we put our head on the pillow we can be grateful for another day sober.
I have only been able to live sober when working a 12-step program and my program of choice is Alcoholics Anonymous. There, because of the many people who have gone before you, you can meet people who can help you along your journey. Because the journey isn’t one of, “I’m all fixed – now can I come home?” It’s more like, “I’m working on myself, and really sorry for all I did that was hurtful and alienating. What can I do to be a better father?”
The only goal when we get sober is to stay sober, live in gratitude that we were afforded this opportunity of recovery and to be the best sober person we can be. The rest is out of our control. People, places, things, those are in God’s hands. Your being the best father, the best son, the best worker, the best sober person showing up to meetings, being of service, is what you have control over.
Good luck and may the light of God shine upon you always.
Postulate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church
Registered Drug and Alcohol Counselor