Remaining Steadfast When a Child Rebels
A CHRISTIAN woman whom we will call Joy tried to raise her son to love Jehovah God. When he reached his late teens, though, the son rebelled and left home. “It was the deepest hurt I had ever experienced,” Joy says. “I felt betrayed, brokenhearted, and frustrated. I was overwhelmed by negative thoughts.”
Perhaps you too have tried to raise your children to love and serve God—only to see one or more of them turn their back on him. How can you cope with such bitter disappointment? What will help you to remain steadfast in your service to Jehovah?
When Jehovah’s Sons Rebelled
A first step is to appreciate that Jehovah knows exactly how you feel. At Isaiah 49:15, we read: “Can a wife forget her suckling so that she should not pity the son of her belly? Even these women can forget, yet I myself shall not forget you.” Yes, Jehovah experiences feelings common to fathers and mothers. Imagine, then, the pleasure he must have felt when all his angelic sons were praising and serving him. While answering the patriarch Job “out of the windstorm,” Jehovah recalled happy times with his united spirit family, saying: “Where did you happen to be when I founded the earth? . . . When the morning stars joyfully cried out together, and all the sons of God began shouting in applause?”—Job 38:1, 4, 7.
In time, the true God saw a perfect angelic son rebel against him and become Satan, meaning “Resister.” Jehovah also watched his first human son, Adam, and his perfect wife, Eve, join in the rebellion. (Genesis 3:1-6; Revelation 12:9) Later, other angelic sons “forsook their own proper dwelling place” and rebelled against God.—Jude 6.
The Scriptures do not tell us how Jehovah felt when some of his perfect sons followed the course of rebellion. However, the Bible explicitly states: “Jehovah saw that the badness of man was abundant in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time. And Jehovah felt regrets that he had made men in the earth, and he felt hurt at his heart.” (Genesis 6:5, 6) The rebellion of Jehovah’s chosen people, Israel, also made him feel “hurt” and “pained.”—Psalm 78:40, 41.
There can be no doubt that Jehovah has empathy for parents who suffer pain and hurt resulting from the behavior of rebellious children. In his Word, the Bible, he has given sound advice and encouragement to help such parents cope with their situation. God exhorts them to throw their anxiety upon him, to humble themselves, and to take their stand against Satan the Devil. Let us see how following this counsel can help you to remain steadfast when your child rebels.
Throw Your Anxiety Upon Jehovah
Jehovah knows that few things cause parents more anxiety than feeling that their children are in danger of harming themselves or of being harmed by others. The apostle Peter identifies one way to cope with this and other concerns. He writes: “Throw all your anxiety upon [Jehovah], because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Why is this invitation and reassurance particularly relevant to the parents of a rebellious child?
While your child was young, you were vigilant in protecting him from dangers, and he likely responded to your loving direction. As he grew older, however, your influence over him may have diminished, but your keen desire to protect him from harm did not decrease. In fact, it probably increased.
As a result, when your child rebels and suffers spiritual, emotional, or physical harm, you may feel that you are to blame. Joy, mentioned earlier, felt this way. She says: “Each day, tormented by a sense of failure, I kept replaying past events in my mind.” Especially at such times does Jehovah want you to “throw all your anxiety upon him.” If you do so, he will help you. “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself,” said the psalmist, “and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” (Psalm 55:22) Joy experienced such comfort. She explains: “I spoke to Jehovah intimately about everything going on inside of me. My feelings just spilled out, and it was the greatest relief.”
As an imperfect parent, you may have made mistakes while raising your child. But why should you focus on these? Jehovah evidently does not, for the inspired psalmist sang: “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) Even if you had been a flawless parent, your child might still have rebelled. So share your feelings with Jehovah in prayer, and he will help you to cope. However, if you yourself are to remain steadfast in serving Jehovah and are to avoid becoming a victim of Satan, you must do more.
“Humble yourselves . . . under the mighty hand of God,” wrote Peter, “that he may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6) Why is humility needed when your child rebels? In addition to causing you feelings of guilt and pain, having a rebellious child may cause you some embarrassment. You may be concerned that your child’s actions have ruined your family’s reputation, especially if he had to be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation. Feelings of self-reproach and humiliation may combine to discourage you from attending Christian meetings.
In dealing with such a situation, you need to exercise practical wisdom. Proverbs 18:1 warns: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” By attending Christian meetings regularly despite your grief, you will be able to tap into a vital source of instruction and encouragement. “Initially, I just did not want to face anybody,” admits Joy. “But I reminded myself of the importance of my spiritual routine. Besides, if I had stayed at home, I would have brooded over my problems. The meetings helped me to focus on upbuilding spiritual things. I am so grateful that I did not isolate myself and miss out on the loving support of my brothers and sisters.”—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
Remember, too, that each individual in a family must “carry his own load” of Christian responsibility. (Galatians 6:5) Jehovah expects parents to love and discipline their children. He also expects children to obey and honor their parents. If parents do their best to bring up their children in “the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah,” the parents themselves will have a good reputation with God. (Ephesians 6:1-4) If a child rebels against loving parental discipline, it is the child’s reputation that will be damaged. “Even by his practices a boy makes himself recognized as to whether his activity is pure and upright,” says Proverbs 20:11. Satan’s rebellion has certainly not damaged Jehovah’s reputation among those who are acquainted with the facts.
Take Your Stand Against the Devil
“Keep your senses, be watchful,” Peter warns. “Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Peter 5:8) Like a lion, the Devil often targets the young and inexperienced. In ancient times, lions roamed Israel and were a threat to domestic animals. If a young lamb strayed from the flock, it would become easy prey. A ewe might instinctively risk her own life to protect her lamb. However, even a full-grown sheep would be no match for a lion. Therefore, courageous shepherds were needed to protect the flock.—1 Samuel 17:34, 35.
To protect his figurative sheep from the “roaring lion,” Jehovah has arranged for spiritual shepherds to care for the flock under “the chief shepherd,” Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 5:4) Peter gives such appointed men this exhortation: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly.” (1 Peter 5:1, 2) With your cooperation as parents, these shepherds may be able to help a youth to correct his course spiritually.
When Christian shepherds need to counsel your rebellious child, you may feel an urge to protect him from the discipline. However, pursuing such a course would be a serious error. Peter states: “Take your stand against [the Devil]”—not against the spiritual shepherds.—1 Peter 5:9.
When Discipline Is Severe
If your child is unrepentant and is a baptized Christian, he may receive the strongest form of discipline—being disfellowshipped from the congregation. The extent of contact that you will then have with him depends on his age and other circumstances.
If the child is a minor and is living at home, you will naturally continue to take care of his physical needs. He also requires moral training and discipline, and you have the responsibility to provide these. (Proverbs 1:8-18; 6:20-22; 29:17) You may want to conduct a Bible study with him, involving his direct participation. You can draw his attention to various scriptures and to the publications provided by “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45) You can also take the child with you to Christian meetings and have him sit with you. All of this can be done in hopes that he will take Scriptural counsel to heart.
The situation is different if the disfellowshipped one is not a minor and is living away from home. The apostle Paul admonished Christians in ancient Corinth: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” (1 Corinthians 5:11) While caring for necessary family matters may require some contact with the disfellowshipped person, a Christian parent should strive to avoid needless association.
When an erring child is disciplined by Christian shepherds, it would be unwise if you were to reject or minimize their Bible-based action. Siding with your rebellious child would not be providing any real protection from the Devil. Actually, you would be endangering your own spiritual health. On the other hand, by supporting the efforts of the shepherds, you will remain “solid in the faith” and will provide the best help for your child.—1 Peter 5:9.
Jehovah Will Sustain You
If your child should rebel, remember that you are not alone. Other Christian parents have had similar experiences. Regardless of the trials we undergo, Jehovah can sustain us.—Psalm 68:19.
Rely on Jehovah in prayer. Regularly associate with the Christian congregation. Support the discipline of appointed shepherds. By doing so, you will be able to remain steadfast. And your good example may help your child to respond to the loving invitation from Jehovah to return to him.—Malachi 3:6, 7.
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