Question: Our daughter professed faith in Christ as a child, but now she’s having doubts about whether God even exists. The doubts have caused major upheaval in her life, and in our life as a family. What can we do?
Answer: The situation you describe is common with teenagers. It is all too easy to lay the blame entirely on cultural influences (which of course there are many), or our education system, or, most unfairly, on our teenagers themselves. The situation is also not new. Adolescence is designed to be a time of great questioning and reaching out of one’s family of origin for meaning and independence. The psychological term for this is “adolescent differentiation.”
It was once thought that teenage emotional and mental inconsistencies were the result of raging hormones, but the most recent medical research has found a more likely link between typical teenage behavior and brain development. Consider this: the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 26.
You say “the doubts have caused major upheaval in her life.” I would ask you to consider whether the doubts in her life are caused by the upheaval related to her developing brain, and her search for personal meaning. Of course, her search would be less futile if she put her faith in God to guide her. I firmly believe if she is truly a Christian she will return to her faith. God does not discard his own.
So, by now you are probably wondering what you’re supposed to do with this information. Here are some really bad examples to avoid. Parents often think they can push harder and harder, making absolute concrete statements like, “If you don’t go to church you are moving out!” In some cases, the kid moves out, and the pain they feel from family rejection drives them into an extended period of sin. An equally unsuccessful strategy is to have no strategy at all, to ignore the problem, and miss out on building a relationship with your child.
After God adopts us into his family, he builds a relationship with his children. He is present with us through every mistake and in every victory he empowers. He continues loving us when we seem unlovable. I encourage you to work on the relationship with your daughter, to listen to her concerns, and to steer her gently in love by getting to know her better and entering into her journey.
As distressing as her doubts may be, modeling a Christ-like relationship with her will give her a loving example to embrace as her own. Continue to pray for guidance, while striving not to take the temperature of the situation too often. She has time to grow, and God has time to show her he exists.
Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services.