When the acorn rolls away from the tree

I was at an appointment this morning with a doctor who is always conversational and tries to keep the visits light and fun. Today’s conversation veered in the direction of faith and religion, after I told her I’d been busy working on a book about trees in the Bible.

She spoke first of her son, a pre-teen who has announced he doesn’t believe in “all this God business.” Maybe he’s just going through a rebellious stage and trying to hit his parents where it will hurt most, but she’s worried that he may end up like two of her brothers who grew up going to church but now, as adults, don’t have faith.

She went on then to speak of her daughter, away at college, and her struggle with how hard to push her daughter about finding a church at college. She decided that she’d mention it once and then try hard not to nag or ask again, wanting her daughter to make her own choice about finding a faith community as an adult. She and her husband were delighted to discover recently that their daughter is attending mass at college. It’s a 9 p.m. service on Sunday nights (brilliant, I say!). No excuses about wanting to sleep in or being out of town for the weekend.

Next my doctor spoke of her mother, who is distressed about her two grown sons who don’t attend church. My doctor’s wise response? “Mom, you aren’t judged in heaven by whether someone else has faith.”

As hard as that may be to accept, there’s only so much we can do to plant seeds and share our faith with another person. We simply cannot force another person to believe. But it can be heartbreaking or frustrating or saddening or maddening to see someone – especially someone dear to us and maybe most especially a child – living a life without faith.

So I left my doctor’s office thinking of that well-worn cliche about acorns (or apples, depending on where you’re from) not falling far from the tree. But what about the acorns that fall from the tree and roll down the hill far out of reach?

I’m reminded of how many of my friends have children entering their freshmen year of college far away from home. One of my nephews started his first semester of college almost a month ago. He’s a five-hour drive from his parents.

The last to leave of these new freshmen I know is one of my closest friend’s daughters – leaving Saturday to fly all the way across the country to study at a fabulous university, where she’ll get the best possible education. She’s excited and nervous but definitely up to the challenge of something so daring.

All of these young adults make me think of acorns rolling away from the tree, heading out to an adventure in a new place where we hope they’ll take root and flourish. There are others – like my doctor’s son – who roll away from the tree for other reasons, not physically far, but spiritually far away from the way their parents raised them.

Once the training is done
I don’t have children of my own, but I do have children in my life whose spiritual future I care very much about. And so I’ve always found comfort in this verse:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

As comforting as the verse is, though, life doesn’t always make the statement true. I know those who ended up in prison, despite being reared by a family of faith. There are those who end up addicted to drugs or alcohol. And there are those who completely turn their back on faith.

So what do we do for those we love?

  1. Pray. Have a child away from home for the first time? Or one that seems determined to go down a lost path? Prayer is our best, first response. Lift up that person to God and ask Him to surround him/her with Christian friends and influences. Need ideas of what else to pray? A blogging friend of mine is in the middle of a 21-day prayer challenge for boys, and she’s got some great prayers for you to use.
  2. Encourage. Remind your children of your hope that they’ll choose church. As my doctor pointed out to her daughter, there are often campus-based churches that tailor their services specifically to college students. I still remember with fondness the services I attended in my university’s student union. How’d I get there? My mom made it clear that she hoped I’d go to church, and a close friend (the one whose daughter is heading across the country Saturday) invited me to go to the services with her.
  3. Exemplify. Some parents may find it easy to slip out of church themselves once the nest is empty. There’s no more youth group or Sunday School to drag your children to, but if you want your children to learn from your example, then live by an example worth following.
  4. Pray some more. I know, I know. Prayer is already on the list. But it’s so important to understand the faith of another person is between God and that person. You’ve trained your children in the way they should go. The rest is up to them. And God. And God always listens to your hopes and dreams for your children. So offer them up to Him, and let His capable hands handle the rest.

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