Responding to a Child's Spiritual Apathy

May 18, 2023

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In this episode, our host Elizabeth Urbanowicz grapples with the challenging question of how to engage a child who is increasingly disinterested in the things of God. How can we cultivate our child's affection toward God? Don't miss this episode on how to respond to a hard-hearted child.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast, where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "My soon to be 13 year old is not interested in Bible reading or discussions all of a sudden. He was homeschooled and now is attending a Christian school. How do I handle this?" Such a great question and a really important one when we think about children that God has placed in our care not really showing an appetite for the things of God.

We're going to dive down deep into this question today, but before we do, I would ask as always, if you found this content beneficial that you would consider liking and subscribing to make sure that you don't miss any future episodes and also ask that you would consider writing a review and sharing this content with those in your sphere of influence. We really want to get this content out to as many people as possible so that as many children as we can are equipped to carefully evaluate the ideas that they encounter.

Now, when we think through this question of a child suddenly not being interested in reading scripture, in prayer, in discussing the things of God, what we're talking about is an issue of the heart. Now, so much of what we do here at Foundation Worldview is really talk about faith of the head, and we do this not because faith of the head is most important, but simply because it's the area that's most frequently neglected, that loving God with our all involves loving him with our heart, with our affections and the things that we desire. It involves loving him with our hands, the actions that we do, and it also involves loving him with our head, the way that we think and the thoughts that we're dwelling on. Where if we're talking about a child not wanting to read scripture, this is an issue most likely of the heart and not, necessarily, of the head.

And so it's really important for us to remember that we can work to cultivate the affections of these children that God has placed in our care along with their attitudes and their actions. And we do this really through the routines that we establish in our homes or in our churches or in our schools, you know, just the daily routines that we're having them go through, the things that we incorporate like Bible reading and prayer. It's also things that we do through cultivating relationships with them that we can't expect them to be vulnerable with us if we're not having an open and honest relationship with them. But something that we have to recognize is that we cannot ultimately change our children's hearts. We can work to cultivate these affections, but we cannot soften our children's hearts or change them. That is solely a work of the Holy Spirit.

So we need to recognize that. Now, before we talk about what things we can do, I just want to talk through, okay that there are two extremes in Christian parenting that we want to avoid. You know, with recognizing that we can't change our kids' hearts. There's two extremes that people tend to go to and one extreme is just the "let go and let God" that like, you know what? Ultimately these children are God's children. We can't do anything to change them, so we're just going to trust God with all of this. Which should we trust God with everything? Absolutely. We need to. We are called to believe what God has said. We are called to trust him. But trust isn't just some sitting in the chair and saying, "okay, I believe, I believe, I believe, I believe". It's an active walking forward in that belief that scripture is very clear all throughout from Genesis to Revelation that there are things that we need to do.

So we can't just have this laissez-faire, "let go and let God, these children ultimately belong to God. And there's nothing really we can do". That we need to be actively working towards. These are the things that God has revealed in his word, the things that we are supposed to do, and we need to make sure that we are guiding our children in this direction, that we can't just have this "let go and let God" attitude. Where the other extreme is just this fighting for control, that this is how my children are going to be. Nothing is going to stop them. I'm going to make sure that I'm monitoring every single thing in their lives so that they turn out to love Jesus. Where, we know that, God actually values free will at least some measure of it because God gave Adam and Eve a choice.

God could have chosen to control them, he could have chosen to create them like a robot where all of their actions were predetermined, but God actually gave them a legitimate choice that they can make. And we need to have that same attitude with our children that we can't ultimately control their attitudes and their actions. We can guide them, we can shape them, we can correct them, but we ultimately do not have control there. So we need to recognize, okay, we're doing all these things to try to help cultivate attitudes and actions and affections that are going to be towards the things of God, but ultimately we have to leave this in God's hands. So we want to avoid both extremes, the "let go and let God" and the "I'm going to control every single thing in my child's life" and recognize there are things that we can do, things that we should do, and ultimately we need to trust God with the results.

So in this particular situation where there's a child who is not interested at all, anymore, in scripture reading or in the things of God, the first thing that I would encourage you to do is to pray. Pray for your child, pray that God would soften his heart because that's something that you cannot do. You cannot soften his heart. So pray that the Holy Spirit would be at work in him, would be softening his heart towards the things of God. Pray scripture over him. Pray that as it says in Psalm 34, that he would taste and see that the Lord is good. That he would actually experience who God is. And by experience, I don't mean having some subjective emotional experience, you know, that that can be part of tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, but that he would really desire the things of God, that he would see the truth of scripture and that he would see how much God loves him through the sacrifice of God's son, Jesus.

So pray for his heart to be softened, pray that he would taste and see that the Lord is good. Pray that God would use the difficulties, the pain and the suffering in his life to draw him towards Jesus and not away from Him. This is something we have to be really careful in our parenting. Now, as I'm saying this, those of you who have followed Foundation Worldview for a while, you know that I do not have any biological children of my own. So I know that as I'm saying this, I do not physically understand how difficult this is, but even though I personally don't understand this, I still firmly believe that this is the truth, that we need to be so careful that we are not paving the road for our children and smoothing out every single difficulty. That when I spent a decade in the classroom at a Christian school, I just saw so many parents of students that God had placed in my care.

They were just trying to smooth out every single problem for them. And I was constantly trying to remind the parents, you know, we want to be careful and we want to make sure that we're having, you know, healthy development for our children, but we can't get rid of all of their problems because suffering -scripture is clear - suffering is frequently what God uses to reveal Himself to us. And part of being a Christian is sharing in the fellowship of Christ's suffering. So we have to be careful not to smooth the road out for our children, and we need to be intentional at praying that God would use the suffering and the difficulties in their life to point them to Jesus. And we can model this in our own lives in the way that we handle suffering, that yes, there's grieving and there's loss and there's sadness, and there's tears, and there's a trust in the Lord and a sweetness that Psalm 34 says that God is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

So pray that God would use these experiences in your child's life to draw him to Jesus. Pray also that God would let him feel the weight of his sin, that your son's conscience would not be seared, but that he would really feel the weight of his sin and recognize his need for a savior. This is something else that's really important that we make sure that we do with our kids as we're just teaching them to walk through life, as we're teaching them how to develop relationships with others, with their siblings, with us. That we model for them and walk them through the process of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I see so many parents just force their children to say sorry to one another. "Okay, tell your brother you're sorry." "Sorry." And then the other child says, "fine." And clearly, the one child is not sorry and the other child is not fine.

But what we have to do is we have to show our children how to repent of their sin. That they actually have to specifically name what they have done, not just, "I'm sorry", but "when I hit you before that was wrong. I was not treating you kindly. I was not treating you like an image bearer of God. I'm sorry, will you forgive me?" And then the other child doesn't just say "it's fine" because it's not fine. Sin is never fine. There's nothing fine ever about sin. But that child then will say, "yes, I will forgive you". And that forgiveness means you're not going to be bringing up that sin again. You're not going to be shoving it in the other person's face. So we want to pray that our children would feel the weight of their sin, and part of them even feeling that is us helping them understand the process of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

And then one final thing that I would encourage you to pray for your son, in this case and for all of us, for our children, is that they would learn to delight in the Lord. Just as I said before, that they would taste and see that the Lord is good. That they would learn to delight in Him. That they would truly learn that nothing satisfies like Him. And again, many times this involves that we allow our children to suffer, not that we're purposely pushing them into situations of suffering that's not biblical, but that as God brings difficulties into their life, we're not just smoothing the road over, that we're allowing them to experience that suffering. Because a lot of times that suffering is what God uses to refine us. Many times there are sin patterns in our life, that the only way that we're going to get rid of them is as the Lord allows us to suffer, and He refines those things out of our lives.

So that's the first thing. Just pray. Pray all of these things and more over your son because only God can soften his heart. The second thing that I would encourage you to do, is to directly and lovingly confront him in this. So often we think that if we're being nice and if we're being kind, we're going to be very passive in our confrontation of sin. Well, I can tell you that passive aggression or passive confrontation or passive hints never work, because we're not communicating clearly with the other person. And actually being passive in our communication is actually very selfish because usually we're thinking, "oh, you know what? I don't really want to be super hurtful and I'm scared this person's going to get angry with me. So maybe if I just hint at this", that's never the loving thing to do. The loving thing to do is always to, gently and calmly, directly talk to that person about what's going on.

So don't just hint to your son like, "oh, it's really good when we read our Bible", or "that's the way that the Holy Spirit works in us directly". Go to your son and tell him, "Hey buddy, I'm a little bit worried about some of the things that I've seen in you recently. I've noticed that you've stopped reading your Bible at all. And whenever we have family devotions, you know, kind of look off into the living room or stare into space or roll your eyes. And the reason I'm worried is I just am not sure what's going on in your heart. It seems like your heart is hard towards the things of God". And to share that and then give him the opportunity to share and then ask him, "Have I understood you correctly or am I misunderstanding what's going on in your heart and your mind when we do Bible reading?"

And give him an opportunity to share? Now, the person who wrote this question mentioned that the son is 13. A lot of times 13 year olds are not really open and willing to share what's going on inside of them because so much is changing and they're not even sure what's going on inside of them. Just expect that this isn't going to be a one and done conversation. That you can express your concern and then your son or your daughter might not share what they're really thinking or feeling, but circle back to it. Not every day, not every moment of the day, in a very controlling and manipulative, manipulative way, but just circle back and talk through that. "What's going on right now in your heart? Talk to me about where you are in your relationship with Jesus. Why is it that you don't really want to read scripture right now?" and just have that open conversation.

But I think we can be really surprised when we are direct with others about what's going on, how much more we learn, and how much more receptive they are. This is a mistake that I made frequently my first few years of teaching is that I was not good at confronting my students in their sin. And I would frequently make, you know, passive comments or I would say something in front of the whole class, you know, like "we shouldn't be doing this", rather than just confronting the one student who had that issue. And what I found is when I was very passive, and it was when it was just kind of general, there really wasn't any change. But when I directly confronted these students that God had placed in my care and said, "Hey, I'm worried about you because of this", there wasn't always an immediate change. Sometimes I didn't even ever see change, but more often than not, I was able to start a conversation with a student and then continue it to really dive down deep into what was going on inside their heart.

Now, the final thing that I would encourage you is we can't change our kids' hearts and we can't change their attitudes. We can't make them do every single thing that we want them to do or that we hope they'll do in their lives. However, at the age of 13, your son is still living in your home and will be living there for at least another four or five years. And so it's really important that you continue with the patterns that you have established in your family with Bible reading, with prayer, with any of just these spiritual practices that you have implemented in your daily rhythm, that your son is still living under your roof, he's still eating your food, he's still under your authority. So while he may not be doing his own personal Bible reading, he's still going to be required to be involved in family Bible reading.

And if he has a bad attitude during that time, that is something that you can correct. Obviously, as we've mentioned, you can't change his heart, you can't force him to enjoy it, but you can require that he's not going to roll his eyes. That he's not going to sit there with his arms crossed. He's not going to slouch in his seat. You can require that he's going to sit up. You know, that he's going to have his arms at his side, and even if inwardly, he's rolling his eyes that he does not do that outwardly. Now, if you don't have any of these routines established in your home, I would really encourage you to do so. That it's really important that we have these times of Bible reading as a family and prayer as a family, that these are part of cultivating the appetites and affections of our children's hearts.

So just in summary, this is a heart issue. We really need to make sure that we are praying for our children because only God can soften their hearts. We need to make sure that we're directly confronting them, and we need to make sure that we're establishing rhythms and routines within our home to do everything that we can to help cultivate appetites and affections for the Lord.

Well, that's a wrap for this episode. But as always, as we leave this time together, my prayer for you is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children that He's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.

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