Something has happened. Your child, whether young or all grown up, has come to you, sat you down, and just took a deep breath. Externally, you’re composed, but internally, you’re panicking. And then they finally tell you.
They’re an atheist.
Naturally, you’re stunned. It’s like a punch to the gut. The basic core values and beliefs that you’ve held for so long have just been utterly rejected by one of the people you love the most in all the world.
So what do you do when your child tells you they no longer believe in God?
What Not to Do
If you’re reading this, your heart is probably pounding, you’re terrified of your child going to hell, and your emotions are likely a jumbled mess that you’re ready to act on right now. So it’s probably better to begin with advising you of what not to do right now.
Let’s take a look at what God doesn’t do with His children when they stray from Him. The Old Testament is, basically, one big cycle of apostasy—the abandonment of religious belief, followed by a period of suffering, followed by the regaining of faith. The Israelites failed time and again to adhere to God’s commands—despite those commands being for their own good.
But despite the failures of the Israelites—and their outright rejections—He never abandons them. He is their God, their Father, and their protector and guide. This never changes, not once.
If your child has rejected your faith, do not reject your child. Do not kick your child out of your home, especially if they are dependent on you. Christ told people to “sin no more,” but He did not reject people because they sinned. Do likewise.
So we’ve established that God doesn’t reject His children. But He punishes them, doesn’t He? Is it time to begin a lifelong grounding?
Not so fast.
God’s punishment—His wrath—is actually loving guidance. Examine your own emotions closely. If you punish your child, are you doing so out of anger and as an animal-like reaction to pain, or out of love, and a desire to guide? It can be difficult to tell the two apart.
Anger seeks vengeance for perceived wrongs. Love seeks correction for the betterment of the loved. Will a belt really correct a disbelief in God better than a conversation? Can abandonment restore faith? Are screams better than understanding and threats of damnation and hellfire better than the promise that God still loves them?
Remember—as a Christian, you are an ambassador for God. Your child will see His character in your every action, and if your actions aren’t coming from a place of love, they’ll push your child so far from God that he or she will never look back. This crucial moment may be the only chance you have to keep the door open.
What to Do
So now that we’ve curbed any potential disasters, let’s plan out how you can best handle your child’s revelation.
The very best thing you can do is also going to be the hardest.
That’s right—listen to your child. Let them speak. Allow them to tell you how they arrived at their atheistic conclusions. Don’t yet offer comment or criticism. Just listen.
Afterward? Give them a hug and reassure them that, while you don’t agree that their worldview is the correct one, you still love and cherish them, and you’d love to talk about their decision.
And just like that, you’ve saved your relationship with your child instead of destroying it. And by giving a good example of God’s character, you’ve also propped open the door for Him to come back into your child’s life.
Once you’ve opened communication channels with your child through listening, and have assuaged fears of abandonment and rage, the next step can begin.
It’s time to teach your child how to think rather than what to think.
You will never, ever change their mind by arguing from the Bible if they do not believe scripture to be inspired by God. After all, would you believe someone of a different faith if they attempted to convert you through their own holy book?
Instead, teach them how to read the Bible, rather than your interpretation of what the Bible means. Teach them how to find the truth for themselves—after all, all truth leads to God.
Do this by showing your child how to interpret each verse. Have them look for who is speaking, who is being spoken to, the historical context, and the context of the verse within the overall Bible. This will eliminate many of the perceived inconsistencies and cruelties that seem, on the surface, to mar the Bible—this is the source of many conversions to atheism.
Next, you’ll want to make sure that your own faith is strong, and that you’re living a life as free from hypocrisy as possible.
The sight of Christians treating others badly, rejecting members of their own family, and ignoring the edicts of their own holy text is another leading cause of atheism. Young people desperately want purpose. They want meaning. But they want these things to be authentic.
So when they see Christians behaving badly, it’s difficult to see Christianity as anything but ineffective. Unlived faith is meaningless.
So give them an example they can admire. Don’t just believe, act. Help people. Give to charity. Feed the hungry. Be kind to others. Be a beacon, a lighthouse for God, shining in a sea of cultural darkness and unkindness. That is how you win people over.
Finally, pray for your child. Sometimes, the only thing that can bring a person back to God is God, Himself. If He did it for Saul of Tarsus, He can do it for anyone. So pray, fervently and earnestly. God will listen. He will gently tug.
The Search for Truth
Remember—God gave us free will, and your child may exercise that will and continue to reject your faith.
But you know what? They’re still your child. You’re still responsible for them, for their upbringing, for loving and adoring and caring for them, no matter what their faith is. Avoid treating them differently than you did before—this includes being embarrassed of their choice.
This isn’t personal. Your child didn’t make the choice to become an atheist easily, nor did they do it to spite you. They’re simply searching for meaning and truth, just like you are, and this is the best way they can find to explain the way the world around them works. It makes sense to them.
But if you equip them with the tools to find the truth that lies beyond our world of empirical, verifiable matter, they’ll have a much better chance of finding their faith. It has to be their choice, though. No one ever came to God through coercion, although many have been driven from Him by it.
Love your child, speak with them, understand them, and equip them. That is the path, the open door, and way.