Advice for Parents with Children Who Have Left the Church

student-female-girl-featured-w740x493My child has left the Church, what should I do? Why does it seem like my prayers are not answered?

Those two questions are heavy in the hearts of many faithful Catholics.

Fr. Thomas Grafsgaard, pastor of St. Wenceslas of Dickenson, North Dakota, made these questions the topic of his two talks at the Women’s Simple Lenten retreat for the Bismarck Diocese.

“It’s a common theme in families that children have left the church,” he said. “Parents are worried that their kids are not going to church and their grandkids are not getting baptized.” Although the situations differ, from family to family, he said, the concern and worry is the same.

Too many, according to him, have not grasped the significance of the Eucharist—Jesus’s body and blood, soul and divinity. As a result, he said we hear the complaint. “I don’t get anything out of Mass.” Fr. Tom poses this question in response, “What did you expect to get out of it?”

He pointed out that when John and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the two other Mary’s stood at the foot of the cross, they were not there to get anything out of it. The apostles did not follow Jesus to get something out of it either. “Only Judas was looking to for what he could get out of it,” Fr. Tom said.

Fr. Tom made seven suggestions for parents whose children have rejected the faith.

  1. Keep praying. Just as St. Monica never stopped praying and having faith in her son Augustine’s conversion, so too must we persevere.
  2. Back off. “Don’t beat them over the head with a Bible or whip them with a rosary,” Fr. Tom said. “If the person is not in a position to receive the message, ease off the gasoline.”
  3. Make daily sacrifices. “There are countless windows of opportunities to offer up hidden sacrifices for conversions,” said Fr. Tom. Examples he gave included leaving cream out of your coffee, turning off the television and using the time to volunteer.
  4. Learn more about your faith. You will be in a better position to explain and defend the faith when you know it more fully. “You are not expected to know all the answers but you can say, ‘I don’t know but I‘ll find out.’”
  5. Live your faith with joy. “I’ve never heard anyone say they’ve returned to the Church because their mother harassed them,” he said. “Pope Francis was not chosen by Time Magazine as Man of the Year because he solved all the world’s problems,” Fr. Tom noted. “People are attracted to him for his joy. They want that joy the world cannot give.”
  6. Love and freedom go hand in hand. Just as God did not stop Eve from listening to the devil and eating the apple, Fr. Tom explained that we cannot make our children’s decisions for them. He said to pray, “Lord, my children and my grandchildren are yours. I’m going to bed now. I trust you have a plan for them.”
  7. Pray and trust that God can reach them on their journey. There are many roads that can lead to God. Never doubt that God can meet them on theirs.

Persevere in Prayer

During the second part of his talk, Fr. Tom acknowledged that after years of praying for conversions or for other crosses to be lifted, we are tempted to become frustrated or even lose faith. Directing his comments to his female audience, he pointed out that men tend to be problem solvers while women, as nurturers, often spend more time worrying. He took a moment to consider the female viewpoint in terms of our worries and prayers.

Quoting St. John Paul II’s encyclical on the Dignity of Women, he said, “The dignity of women is to love beyond measure,” which leads us to worry about our loved ones.  He explained that Eve, the first woman, represented the pinnacle of creation having been created after Adam. “The devil went to the woman,” he said. “If he can get to the women, he can get to humanity. As the mother goes, so goes the family.”

Fr. Tom then brought up contraception as one way the devil gets to women, convincing them to discard their God-given gift of sexuality for what is being pushed as a societal right. “But in reality, it is a war on women that began with Eve,” he said.  This was not a change of subject, but rather a demonstration of how crucial it is that we stay faithful to Catholic teachings and thus, Our Lord.

Getting back to the question of why God seems absent during our prayers, he pointed out that Mary, the Blessed Mother is the new Eve. “God conquered the world through the obedience of a woman.”  And if we look to her example, we come to understand suffering better. “Just as Jesus accepted “Thy will, not my will,” so too did Mary, he explained. “While her son was crucified, Mary did not run and hide like Eve did. She stood there and trusted that God knew what he was doing.”   Likewise, he said, when our son or daughter goes astray, we pray to God but then must trust that God loves them more than we do. His plan is better than ours. “What he has to say to us is more important than what we have to say to him,” Fr. Tom explained. “It will be handled by his own design and we must never forget that we are never alone. God is working for our best interest, even in our darkest hours.”

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  1. It was a very good eye opener for me as I am also experiencing the said predicament. Thanks.

  2. I was one of those who fell away after leaving home…mom said she prayed for me every day, but I can tell you she did not push me! I realized when I was in my early 30’s the rsn for my discontent with life in general was there was no God in it and I am a devout PRACTICING Catholic today!! PRAYER REALLY DOES CHANGE THINGS!! I don’t know what I would do today without it as I am a brand new widow and lean on God every day…and He NEVER fails. I have grown to understand over many years that we don’t always understand what God is doing but,as my mom says(she’s almost 96) God loves us better than anyone and will do what is best for us…We just have to trust Him! and as hard as that seems sometime,I really believe that.My Catholic faith has saved me in so many ways! Going down life’s path Isn’t always easy but the burden is less knowing the comfort and counsel I seek is there if I just listen to it!Be open to HIS WORD…you will have such peace in doing so…

  3. two of my sisters sons have left the Church after getting married to women who are Protestants. She struggled very much when her second born chose to follow the faith of his wife, by the time her third born chose the same path, she gave them her blessings but I know it tortures her knowing the struggle she has gone thru raising them single handed. Her husband died in an accident when they were still small kids. She felt betrayed by the first one considering the first born married in the faith and still is devout. She definitely felt like either God was not listening to her prayers or there was something she did wrong on their upbringing. She definitely fits the above questions. I’ve been agonising with her wondering which answers to give her but could only pray with and for her asking her never to lose hope in Christ and that God would guide them back one day. I have saved this article to send to her for she ain’t internet savvy. It answers a lot of her questions.

  4. Thank you so much. This is a wonderful ministry you have for the Church and the world. Prayers for you.

  5. I found this comforting in terms of the comments on the power of prayer. However, you lost me on the issue of contraception. The Church and its position on contraception will continue to lose young people and no matter what anyone says, this is NOT the burning all important issue that humanity needs to hear. Jesus’ message is about love, comfort, forgiveness, and following a life of good actions towards our fellow human beings. THAT is what attracts young people to this Pope. The remaining issues of birth control, abortion, gay marriage should be addressed between the soul and God!

    1. Patty,

      Yes, Jesus’ message is about love. What the Church understands and the world does not is that contraception is not loving, it is opposed to love. None of the “issues” you raise are teachings that can be changed… Truth cannot change to fit the times. Jesus left us His Church to make sure that we are not swept away with the times.

      My goodness, it seems you want to the Church to stop speaking out on abortion. Abortion is the murder of an innocent life. Those who reject this are wrong and the Church cannot remain silent in the face of such error. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.” If the Church stopped speaking against these sins, the truth would recede farther into the recesses of our young peoples’ minds… out of sight, out of thought.

      I am grateful for the Church’s fidelity to the Truth.

      Deacon Mike

    2. Patty, what you are saying lacks understanding: “The Church and its position on contraception will continue to lose young people and no matter what anyone says, this is NOT the burning all important issue that humanity needs to hear. ” The Catholic Church is the ONLY Christian church that did NOT change positions on contraception. That alone–consistent teaching–is testimony to the truth. A church that changes it’s mind on what sin is, can not have the truth that the gates of hell will not prevail against.

      But let’s take this further. Does it matter that a husband and wife accept the gift of sex in union with the will of God? And what is the will of God? Is it his will that sex would become purely recreational, that men an women would surgically alter his creation to become sterile, or take pills that harm a woman’s health and change who she is, that STD’s become rampant because so many are having sex with multiple partners? Half the girls/women who show up for abortions used contraception. When it fails, neither partner planned on becoming parents so many will opt out of parenting and instead end the life of the child their actions created. Contraception is at the CORE of abortion AND same-sex supposed marriages.

      Since society has already accepted sterile sex and removed it from marriage, having two men or two women join together in a sterile union is seen as a non issue by many these days. If you teach against abortion and same-sex coupling, then you can’t ignore the issue also not in union with God’s plan for humanity that comes before it.

  6. Great article. I can’t seem to find the source for the quote, “The devil went to the woman,” he said. “If he can get to the women, he can get to humanity. As the mother goes, so goes the family.” Was this your summary of what’s in the document Mulieris Dignitatem or JPIIs words? Thank you.

    1. That was the point that Fr. Tom made based on the sequence of events in the Garden of Eden. The devil started with Eve–the woman. He was merely stating a fact then extrapolating on it to emphasize the influence women have, just as Eve did.

  7. A few of my nieces and nephews (and some of my former Sunday school students, now adults) have given up on their faith. I can’t believe I feel so hurt and saddened by this. A few of them have become easy-chair Taoists, Buddhists and such (no real study, they just say these are in line with their beliefs). I feel like it’s utter nonsense. How can I maintain a peace about this matter? I just want to genuinely feel joy instead of disappointment.

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