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Allison Althoff
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Natalie Lederhouse
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November 29, 2011

When a Loved One Leaves the Faith

What do we do when those closest to us walk away from Jesus?

Though her husband’s not a believer, a mother finds joy in passing on her Christian faith to her son who asks to be baptized and is enthusiastic about his faith.

But somewhere along the journey from boy to man, he loses his faith. His mother watches and prays as her son gives in to a life of lust, preferring sexual exploits over the “rules” of Christianity.

As time passes, his mother continues to pray desperately as she watches her son become attracted to an alternative spirituality and then join a cult-like religious group.

Eventually, her son rejects this belief-system and becomes a skeptic, eschewing religion for philosophy. She continues to wait and pray.

Then somehow, despite this young man’s determined resistance, God breaks through. At the age of 32, Augustine returns—wholeheartedly—to the faith of his childhood. His mother Monica’s years of agonized prayer and heartache have come to a surprisingly joyful end.

Augustine of Hippo, also called St. Augustine, went on to become one of the greatest and most influential Christian leaders of all time. His spiritual and scriptural insights, recorded in works like The Confessions and The City of God continue to challenge and inspire believers today.

But Monica didn’t know things would turn out this way. If we step back in time, into her shoes, we can only imagine what it was like for her to watch her adolescent son starkly abandon his faith and continue to reject it throughout his first decade of adulthood. She’d done her best to raise him in the faith, yet he still chose to turn his back on Jesus. There was little she could do . . . except pray. And as Augustine records in The Confessions, pray she did. He credited her persistent prayers for God’s powerful work in his life to protect him during his years away and to draw him back to the truth.

Like Monica, you may be living in the pain of watching a loved one walk away from Christianity: perhaps a child or your husband or a dear friend. Try as you might to convince them otherwise, ultimately the choice is theirs—and they’ve chosen to leave.

So what do you do? How do you deal with the emotions of hurt and betrayal? The fear for their spiritual well-being? The concern you feel for their lifestyle choices? How can you respond—and trust God—through the painful process of loving someone who’s turned away from Jesus?

Monica eventually experienced a “happy ending.” We know this is not always the case, and she certainly didn’t know how things would turn out with her son. Yet her example of years and years of persistent prayer, even when her son seemed only to be going further away from God, can be a compelling example to us. As you consider how you can best respond to your loved one who has left Christianity, may you (like Monica) “always pray and never give up” (Luke 18:1).

Related Tags: faith, hope, prayer, rejection


Great encouragement, Kelli! We tend to want resolution NOW when someone we love has walked away from faith or resists the Holy Spirit. Monica's faithfulness in bringing her prayer before God for decades is a great inspiration. Thanks for telling this story.

Thank you so much for this encouragement. I, too, have a son who left the faith at age 15 and is living a life on the edge. At 27, he prefers Eastern philosophy and spiritual myths to the Christ he was dedicated to from childhood. We have fervently prayed for him for many years and choose to believe that God has his hand on him. In fact, God gave me a vision two years ago that told me my worry is the same as my son's unbelief. God told me to trust Him and let go of my fear and be reminded that that He loves my son more than I do and is taking care of him.
Thank you for another reminder of God's power.

What a blessing to read the story of Augustine this morning, and to hear Marion's message from God. My son left the faith during his college years after being a youth leader in our church throughout middle and high school. He is now 33 and living a very good quality life, helping others, etc according to his Christian upbringing; however he insists he is no longer a Christian. I pray daily for him to return to Christ and will never give up. Thank you for this encouragement.

This heartbreaking story keeps on revisiting our homes and families ... and sadly, this sorry is as old as time itself. Thank God that He is not done yet in the lives of those we love - or our own lives.

I was the son who dutifully went to church with my family until I was 16 and then left all together. Having been given a hunger for spiritual truth I found myself looking to every avenue but "The Church". Thankfully my Dad is a pray warrior who never ceased praying for my salvation and God heard his prayers. Over the years God would try to break thru my hardened heart, but I was too prideful to recognize my folly. In 1986 at the age of 25 God surrounded my life with a group of young Christians who showed me the way through a life style that was far different from the one I was living. A year later I fell on my knees before my Savior. My testimony is two fold; it shows that perseverant prayer is answered, and that the way we live our lives does make a difference in the lives we contact. Stay strong. Continuously pray for those who do not know our Lord. Live your life as an emissary of Christ, for that is what all believers have been called to.

With all due respect to Monica, she needs to learn -- maybe she did learn -- some respect for a person's individual conscience, and that, consequently, trying to pass on one's religious faith is quite different from programming a computer. Unlike computers, people can choose. Furthermore, when a person attains a certain age and level of maturity, people ** WILL ** choose. Others may find that choice painful and may vehemently disagree. But if the choice is made by a mature adult, then the other mature adult -- the friend, the parent, etc. -- should reciprocate that maturity with respect.

The alternative -- I speak from experience here -- is alienation. I was raised a very conservative, even fundamentalist, Baptist, but as a young adult, I converted to the Catholic faith. My mother never accepted that choice and for the rest of her life tried to "un-convert" me so I would return to the fundamentalist-Baptist tradition. (My father, though never anti-religious, was always "a-religious".) The result was that my mother and I ended up permanently alienated and estranged, and had no relationship at all. I did not even attend her funeral. Whatever love there was in me for her was replaced, first by anger, then by pity. But relationship? No. None.

If her son had not re-converted, Monica might have ended up repeating my mother's pattern. This is a cautionary tale for PARENTS to act like the adults they ostensibly are.


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