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My Child Doesn’t Believe in God. Now What?

my child doesn't believe in God

From time to time, we receive questions from the Connected Families community about what to do when your child doesn’t believe in God, has walked away from God, or may even call themselves an atheist or an agnostic. This is such a big question, and there aren’t any easy answers or guarantees in the Bible. For many reading this, you might feel that raising kids who love and follow God is your most important job as a parent. When your child tells you they don’t believe in God, it throws that parenting goal into limbo.

How should we respond to our children who don’t believe in God or doubt our Christian faith?

A first impulse in responding to people who “insist there is no God” is to work immediately to convince them otherwise. I mean, look around, right? It takes a lot of faith to believe everything came from nothing.

But people denying God’s existence is considerably different than your kids denying that God exists. It’s much harder to hear your own child call themselves an atheist. When your child walks away from God, it can create sleepless nights, desperate pleas, and crying out to God. It also tends to lead to anxious lobbying for your point of view.

The truth is, there is probably very little new you can say that your kids haven’t already heard.

Aside from the conventional wisdom about this (which we fully embrace) to pray, to speak truth, and to love your children, here are some less common ideas that have been shown to have a powerful influence with kids over time.

1. Remember, your child’s belief in God is NOT your job. Managing your anxiety about it is.

When one of our kids first announced firm doubt about Jesus, it hurt. I wondered what I’d done wrong. It was scary. I projected a challenging future. In short, the image I had for this child’s future was at risk.

And that was my problem. It was my shame. It was my anxiety. It was my image for my child’s future. My initial response was about me!

Yes, my child’s eternity is also to be considered, but my child’s eternity is not my job. Sadly, my responses during that time hurt our relationship and did nothing to demonstrate God’s unconditional love towards anyone struggling with their faith.

If you respond to your kids’ unbelief out of your anxiety, it adds undue pressure. It places a burden on them to either pretend to believe to take care of your emotions, or to actively resist you. Either way, it tends to deepen their unbelief.

I suggest spending lots of time in Philippians 4 rehearsing, even memorizing the verses about joy, peace, and contentment in all circumstances. This prepares you for the next thought.

2. Show the love of Jesus to your unbelieving child!

It has been said that the “biggest cause of atheism in our world today is Christians who accept Jesus with their lips but deny him with their lifestyle.” This may be most evident within the context of parent-child relationships. For your logic to ever be heard and received by your child, your love must flow from Jesus through you purposefully and with great perseverance.

How have you connected well with your child in the past? What statements of affection really land on your child’s heart? What are your “intersections of joy” that bring delight and connection to both of you? How could you increase those fun times you share to communicate your genuinely unconditional love for your child?

Empathy is often a parent’s most powerful portal to influence.

3. Empathize with your child’s doubts and struggles.

Empathy is often a parent’s most powerful portal to influence, especially when your child is walking away from God. Even if you have never abandoned your faith, almost everyone has had questions and doubts along the way. (You may even be questioning your faith as you read this.) Being authentic about your faith journey lowers any perceived barriers between you and your child. It can open the door to candid conversations and curious questions when kids may otherwise be accustomed to sermonizing or lectures.

4. Ask truly curious questions about faith, atheism, and other new beliefs/unbeliefs your child is professing.

Develop a sense of curiosity about their current view of faith. Ask questions, but don’t be critical. Romans 2:4b says, “…God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” God’s kindness – not God’s lecture.

Some questions to consider asking your child:

  • What brought you to say you don’t believe in God? Can you tell me more about that?
  • What did you discover that you’re struggling with? Did something happen recently to cause you to feel this way?
  • What is your idea of the “perfect” religion?

You may find that you and your child have much in common regarding the answers. Give your energy to validating their answers and asking more questions, not to “setting them straight.”

5. Keep the posture of an ally, not an adversary.

I believe in you,” “I love you no matter what you believe,” or “I’m for you” are messages every human longs to experience. Research has shown that when parents give their kids room to spiritually “experiment,” those kids are far more inclined to embrace their parents’ faith someday than those kids whose parents are forceful about religious beliefs and behavior. So keep working to embody the biblical command, “be anxious in nothing…” (see Philippians 4:6,7)

6. Invite them to share their perception of you.

If you have an older child, ask them, “On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is my love seems conditional, and 10 is my love is unconditional, even though we disagree about some things, what number would you give me?” At the end of the day, what you do matters as much as what your kids’ perception of that is.

Be prepared for an unexpected answer. Be prepared to keep your defenses down. If you can, ask this question in a manner that conveys you are genuinely interested in your child’s answer. Then, try to carry on a light conversation even in the face of disagreement. By doing this, you will grow your child’s respect for both you and your faith. This may also make your faith more attractive to them as you stand secure in your identity in Christ and don’t need to be defensive about any feedback they give you.

7. Pray for your child when they doubt or stop believing in God.

Pray. I add this to assure you, even though it is common advice, not to minimize the power of prayer. Let it shape both you and your child in ways that bring God’s grace and truth to life. Some will even add some sort of fasting to their prayer time.

  • Pray for your own “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
  • Pray for awareness of God’s everyday “new mercies.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
  • Pray that God will reveal His love daily through you and that God’s Spirit will work in your child to make His presence known.

Ultimately, your children’s faith is about God’s redemptive work, not about anyone convincing or controlling them.

Remember: doubt isn’t the enemy here, even with little kids

For some of you, this struggle with your child’s doubts may begin during the teen years. But we also know through questions from parents that it’s not uncommon for younger kids to have big doubts and questions. If you’re wondering how to apply these principles to younger children, here’s one story from a mom in the Connected Families community regarding her 4 ½-year-old son, Jasper:

One day, Jasper asked me, “Mama, how do I know God is in REAL LIFE?”

We talked a bit about faith and the difference between Bible stories and fiction stories that we read before bed. I also told him I have days when I’m unsure and I question or doubt, but I see little ways that God always draws me back to Him.

Finally, he asked me, “But is it okay if I don’t believe in God yet because I can’t feel his hugs?”
I told him it was okay and that God wasn’t afraid or mad about his uncertainty. And then he went to bed, and that was the end of the conversation.

(Note: This child has big feelings about lots of things and can simultaneously hold both BIG doubts and BIG beliefs. Just two days before, even though he was heaving over the toilet with a stomach bug, unable even to stand, he was spontaneously thanking God. Who does that?!)

This mom recognized the gift of deep thinking in her children

I was praying more about this when I went to bed. I knew his twin brother, who is less likely to put everything into words, had also expressed the same struggle with believing. And all I could think about was – they are so much like me! And I am so much like the apostle Thomas in the Bible.

With that thought came some insight into how to have a helpful conversation with them the next night before bed.

You see, God made my boys (and me) with unusually inquisitive, analytical minds. God has also given them (and me) strong intuition and a keen ability to detect pretense or insincerity. It’s a helpful trait that can sometimes be challenging.

People still tease me for things I would say as a child. (For example, “Just because I’m a little kid doesn’t mean I’ll believe you.”) Though I don’t say things like this now, that’s still me. I still feel that way, and I don’t believe easily.

And… so far, my twin boys have shown the same tendency.

But that’s how God made us! I want them to understand that this is good, a gift from God, and a calling to think and communicate truth to others. And… it always makes faith a little scarier and more challenging. Their “child-like” faith doesn’t look like other children’s child-like faith.

Retelling the story of Thomas in the Bible

Rereading the story of Thomas in the Bible seemed a good place to start the next night. Jasper had said he needed a hug to believe, and Thomas said he needed to touch Jesus’ wounds. Both needed physical reassurance.

However, I did not want to tell this story as I had heard it in children’s church. Though the church often spurns Thomas for his doubt, Jesus didn’t. Jesus drew closer to Thomas, creating one of the most intimate moments in the Bible. Not only did Jesus show himself to Thomas, but he allowed Thomas to touch His literal wounds, an intense act of intimacy and trust.

This was a privilege that Jesus gave to Thomas, even though Thomas did nothing to earn it. And neither was Thomas chastised for his struggle to believe. In fact, what resulted from that encounter was Thomas being the first person to announce Jesus as being God when he said, “My Lord and my God!”

What I want my boys to understand is that, in my experience, speaking our doubts outright (not locking them away in shame) nearly always enables a closer, more intimate encounter with Jesus.

“God’s not afraid of their doubt, and neither am I”

The last thing I would want is for them to stop telling me their doubts or to become afraid of the lingering questions in their mind. That’s what I did as a child, and I’m determined not to pass that on. I want them to understand God’s not afraid of their doubt, and neither am I. We can talk about any faith question and be alright as a family.

So that’s what we chatted about. And we agreed, yes, it is a blessing to believe without seeing, but Jesus draws near to us even in our doubts and our struggles with uncertainty.

They both continue to come to me daily with a litany of thoughts and questions on God and faith. And, considering their age, I’m amazed by the conversations we have. They still doubt, and so do I. But God is using even this to draw us together and (I believe) toward Jesus.

When a child seems to walk away from their faith in God, it can be hard stuff for parents. But it’s hard stuff that is familiar to our heavenly Parent. Tapping into both the mother and father heart of God for all of us is the most important thing we can do to love our kids with God’s love. This will keep their hearts open to God’s relentless pursuit and redemption for them.

Less arguing. More wisdom.

That’s what you get with the Power of Questions online course.



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Jim Jackson
Jim Jackson
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