When Your Family Doesn't Believe

What do you do when those you love most don't share your faith?

As a teenager, I discovered a dusty, gold book in my family’s collection called The Good News Bible. My mom only told me that it used to be hers, but never explained further. Today, I cannot imagine a younger version of my mother sitting down to read the Bible or closing her eyes and folding her hands in prayer. I often wonder if she used to talk to God and what made her give up on Him. I wonder if she ever knew Jesus and if, at some time in her life, she cried out for Him.  My mom still has The Good News Bible on her library shelf, but it just sits there (next to The God Delusion), alone and forgotten.

After my parents divorced, my mom remarried an atheist. During that time, I converted to Christianity, and the distance between my family and me grew. I continued asking God why my family appeared fine without Him. If Jesus was the Truth and the Way, why weren’t they seeking Him? But I began to realize that the transformation began with me. As my faith increased, my heart grew to hold a greater love for others, and my family began to notice those changes. When I chose to live for Christ, rather than myself, His purpose became bigger than my own.

All the good questions about faith come from my siblings, and I know these are conversations Christ has handed to me on a silver platter, as if to say, “Here’s your chance. Make me proud.”

My brother asked me one time, “Are you a real Christian kind of Christian?” I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I asked for clarification.

“I mean, do you read the Bible a lot and believe in Jesus and all that stuff?” he asked.

I fumbled around for the best answer to that question without coming across as close-minded or arrogant. “Yes, I read the Bible. I attend church on Sundays. And I pray to Jesus. I know He listens because He’s answered my prayers,” I said.

“What kinds of things do you pray for?” my sister asked.

“I pray for people, for dad to be safe, for mom to be happy, and for you guys,” I said.

She asked what I prayed for them, and I told her I prayed that they would do well in school and make new friends, but in actuality, I pray to be a better role model for them. I pray that they’ll continue asking about my faith. I pray that the desire for knowledge and friendship will lead them into more discussions about Jesus. I pray that with the absence of our biological father, they will rely on the strength of our Heavenly Father. Even if they don’t know Him or don’t recognize His blessings in their lives, I know He works in mysterious ways.  And one day, they’ll see something or meet someone who will stir questions deep within their hearts, and they’ll begin to wonder if He’s real. I know His love for them flows unconditionally, and He unwaveringly pursues them each and every day.

My mom is my best friend and knows the best and worst sides of me, but I struggle with introducing my faith to her. I step cautiously around religion, worried about offending her. In every conversation, I pray for God to whisper the right words. I’m afraid of my mom’s impression of me. I never intentionally seek her approval, but her opinion has always weighed more than any other’s. I find myself rewording sentences so as not to come across as a Bible-thumping, fundamentalist Christian, and at the same time, I refrain from pointing out every positive experience and saying, “See, that’s God right there.” I don’t want her to think I have an agenda or that I’m out to save a couple more lives for Jesus. That’s not what I’m about, and that was never His intention. 

Salvation is one of the most important concepts of Christianity that continues to puzzle me. Conflicting views on the permanence of salvation are found in the Bible and in different religious denominations, which leaves me confused. Is my mom saved, or must she start over and repent because she lost her faith? As for my siblings, I don’t know what the future holds for their salvation. It’s too difficult for me to imagine my younger brother and sister enduring an eternity without God, so I show them love and attempt to bring Jesus into their lives on earth. Is that enough though? If any of my family members died tomorrow, will I have done all I could? Or will I feel guilty for having not done more?

I want to tell my mom that in all these years of suffering, God has never left her side. No matter what she was told in the past, He forgives. I want to promise her that God is gentle and kind, and He loves her. I have never outright said, “Mom, I want you to know that Jesus loves you more than anything,” because I’m afraid of my words failing.

This spiritual chasm between us hasn’t brought about an inordinate amount of tension between us. There is only unspoken conflict, a silent wall we’ve built around ourselves. My belief and my mom’s lack of belief remain separate, which tears me apart. I have never kept anything from my mother, yet she remains unaware of my spiritual journey, and I remain clueless about her separation from God. The lines of communication are open when it comes to my love life, my college courses and my career outlook, but we will never discuss spiritual matters. I long to have a heart-to-heart with the one person I knew before I even knew God. But how do I share everything with my mom without sharing Jesus? I can’t. And maybe that’s the point.

For every unclear, unfamiliar and unknown situation I face with my family, I remain hopeful about God’s promises and confident that He will move in time. Lamentations 3:25–26 promises, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (TNIV). My family hasn’t witnessed the hours of tears I’ve cried for them, and they haven’t heard the hours of prayers I’ve spoken for them. But I don’t think those hours have been wasted. I know God hears me. The Bible says, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22). I visualize these plans He sets before me—dozens of moments, hundreds of conversations and thousands of opportunities for me to witness and spread His message. As a Christian, I am called to love Jesus, to love others and to live a Christ-centered life, but how do I share the most important facet of my life with the most important people in my life, when the two are incompatible? The answer is to simply love.

This article originally appeared in Radiant magazine.

 

22 Comments

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Mary commented…

Thanks for this. Eerily the same situation for me - with my dad and brother, only there's no communication with my dad more than the current weather or trivial topics that interest only him. My dad and brother won't even speak to each other. I confess I have given up and stopped praying for them after 25 years with no changes, but your story (and the Holy Spirit?) has brought me to tears once again. I will work on keeping them in prayer again.

Abby

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Abby commented…

I was blessed to have grown up in a Christian home, but I really struggled with this issue with my best friend Ellie, who is like a sister to me. Her parents went to church as children, but Ellie had never been exposed to any religion at all. As I went through high school, I had experiences that helped me to grow in my faith, and my relationship with Christ came to be the most important thing in my life. Gradually, I realized that Ellie and I had never really had a real conversation about faith. This had never really bother ed me before, but it began to feel incredibly important that I tell Ellie what I believe.
The summer before my senior year, I began to pray that I would have the opportunity to share my beliefs with my best friend. I didn't want to force anything on her, but I knew that I needed to do it. I prayed about it, telling God that I was scared and I didn't know when or where or what to say. I didn't want to be pushy. The year began to pass and I felt even more of a push of importance. It became my most fervent prayer that I could tell Ellie what I believed, without changing our relationship.
Finally, around February of that year, Ellie and I were sitting in my house by ourselves, just chatting and talking as usual. And the conversation turned to a retreat I was going on, and she asked me some questions, and then suddenly I was telling her about my faith, and she was asking questions and listening. And it was the most natural thing in the world. As I spoke, I prayed again that Christ would speak through me and say what she needed to hear. And it was one of the best conversations I've ever had. Afterward, she told me she was really glad we could talk.
Ellie is still my best friend, even though we go to different universities. She hasn't become a Christian, that I know of, and that's okay. God gave me the opportunity to lay the foundation for what I pray will become her faith.
We don't have to be these amazing "converters" or well spoken or smooth. We don't have to have all the answers. We just have to pray that God will give us the strength to carry out his perfect plan.

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Brooke commented…

Thank you for this article. Thank you.

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Barbara commented…

Thanks so much for this post. It's very encouraging to know there are others on the same boat.

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Aimee commented…

Like so many of the comments posted here, I find so much solace in what you've written, as if you penned your article from my very own heart. I believe that it is God that does the saving, and I don't understand why he chooses some and not others. I think the more I talk about God and share God, they don't see it as love, but rather annoyance. I must put this in God's hands alone.

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