On the Journey
By Rick Hamlin

My Secret Prayer for My Sons

I quietly ache that my two fabulous, bright, funny, inquisitive, thoughtful, imaginative twenty-something sons aren’t really part of any faith community. I can tell myself that they’ll wander back into a church when they get married and have kids. They’re just kids themselves, exploring life. Most of their pals aren’t in faith communities.

Then I remember how in our twenties, Carol and I wandered into a church and made it a crucial part of our lives, the same place we’re still worshipping all these years later. We’re still singing in the same choir, sometimes reading music that has our markings from so long ago. Yes, I can hear myself say, “What a pair of squares you were.” (Correction: I was the square, Carol wasn’t.)

What I can’t imagine is how we would have gotten through the turmoil of loss, heartache, disappointment and illness without showing up week after week. I don’t know what I would have done without all the prayers, the songs, the sermons, the friends. Quite frankly I’m not sure we would still be married all these years later if we hadn’t had the habit of church. We certainly wouldn’t be as happy.

Of course, the kids are OK. They don’t have any negative baggage about church, at least not that they admit to. They grew up in a place that loved them and taught them that they are loved. Any crisis comes up, they know where to look. They even had me for a Sunday school teacher so they know some Bible, and they have a lifetime of dinner graces behind them.

I pray I’m not being narrow-minded. I ask God to keep his fine eye on my two seekers. May they find what Providence means them to find. It still makes me sad, I’m embarrassed to admit. It seems to show a lack of faith on my part. You do what you can as a parent and leave the rest up to God.

It’s one of those prayers that I hold very quietly inside. I pray for the community they’ll know someday.

Rick Hamlin is the executive editor of Guideposts magazine and the author of 10 Prayers You Can't Live Without. To learn more about the book and explore your own prayer journey, watch this video.

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Your Comments (43)

I have 6 children and 10 grandchildren and I pray for all of them often and their spouses,too. Some of them are regular church goers and some are not and my heart also aches for them. They are all good kids and I love them dearly but am sad that some do not have a faith community or church family to help them thru those difficult times in their lives. We must continue to lift them up in prayer and trust that God will answer in His time and way.

Hi Rick,
I'll be praying 4 your sons too. I understand that we want the whole world to accept Christ as Savior and save us from our sins so we can join Him in heaven someday and most certainly desire that for our families too. Organized church can turn off young people because it is kind of like the laws and stuff from the Pharisees in the olden days to them and maybe boring. But when they need Him, they will call out to Him because that's what you taught them and He will hear and help them. Have faith that your sons will soon involve themselves in the path the Lord has for them. And the commentor who said you were fabricating a non existing problem obviously believes that the only thing that matters is our comfort on earth. She/he is sadly mistaken, and she/he needs our prayers. God Bless! Carol

Hi Rick, you triggered a lot of responses with this one. My story is a little different. I met my husband when he was 35 years old (unmarried). Even though he is a very nice guy he had been away from church since he had been in his teens. My condition of continuing a relationship with him was that he attends church with me every Sunday, that it was very important to me. He did. We have been married 23 years and he has never failed. He even attends church by himself when I cannot go myself. There is always hope. God works in mysterious ways. It is never too late.

Rick, thank you for your honesty. I'm a preacher's kid and
a strong Christian but I went through a period where I didn't attend church. I think it was an overload when I was raised. Maybe your son's are believers and not for organized churches. But, I believe as Christian parents, we should all pray for our children and grandchildren!
For the one who wrote and quoted from Daily Word, which is New Age teaching, Christians do not believe that everyone is a Christian. Those of us who are Christians, want that for our families because we believe that we will meet in heaven some day!

I encourage you to work on letting go of judgment and desire to control your sons, who seem to be doing just fine. They will surely find their own paths in their own time, paths worthy of respect even if they don't look just like yours. I read the following in today's Daily Word email, and thought it was spot-on:

"As I behold the Christ in people with whom I live and work, I behold, appreciate and praise their innate goodness. I recognize that we all are following the divine light within to the best of our ability, no matter what the appearance.
As I persist in beholding the Christ presence in every person, I am free from the limitation of human judgment. I am free from criticism and condemnation. I am free from thoughts and attitudes that keep me from loving, understanding and helping other persons.
I do not judge where someone is in their spiritual development. My recognition of the Christ in another calls forth the Christ perfection in us all."

I don't understand how you can possibly "ache" and be "sad" when you have two "fabulous, bright, funny, inquisitive, thoughtful, imaginative" kids! They seem to be alive and in good health in a first-world country, are apparently not addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling, do not abuse kids or animals, and are not estranged from you.

Imagine how much brighter your life would be if you woke up each morning and rejoiced in your good fortune, instead of manufacturing nonexistent problems!

I also have adult children (ages 30, 28, 26) who are not actively involved in a local church. I pray that they will soon find a spiritual home.

My son lives with his father who is now divorced again!!! They do not attend a church. I have suggested that they find a church home but to no avail. I get the usual answer from my ex and it is only to placate me! Whenever my son comes to spend holidays with me he attends church regularly and still has many friends there.
Like you I pray and leave the rest to God.

How wonderful to know that I along with everyone else that has commented has been touched by this article. Rick, for you to share such an intimate truth with complete strangers is a very brave thing to do; and I thank you for that. Sometimes we question ourselves how we could have done things better or wonder what we did to turn our children in a certain direction. It is not always what we do or how we raise our children but outside influences we have no control over. We can love and pray for our children to grow closer to God and have that personal relationship........and just not lose hope. I now will pray for all of you and yours.......how odd that we have felt alone in our struggle while other parents are going through the same situation. May God Bless each one of you!!!! Thank you again Rick for sharing your heart with us.

Thankyou all for sharing. It's consoling to know there are others who share the same worry. I have 3 children 2 girls and a boy. They were all baptized and raised up going to church and praying. My eldest daughter has totally gone away from the faith and has an atheist boyfriend. She has recently given back to me every religious article she had - bible , rosary, etc. My husband and I are married 27 years but he has constantly been cheating on me so perhaps that's one of the reasons she has gone away. At the moment he has admitted an addiction and has asked for prayer ministry. My other two children do believe and go to church and pray a bit with me but don't really know Jesus as their Savior. My prayer is that they will come to really know Jesus and the my eldest daughter will not have to be dealing with some horrible thing to get her back. I have to trust Jesus and hope in Him.

This topic really hit home to me. I raised three sons, mostly as a single parent. We went to church and they were all very involved when they were young. Two of my sons and their wives are very involved with their church, as are their children. My youngest son, who is now 40 and never married, is what I would describe as an agnostic. He had a difficult childhood and was sexually abused as a child. His father basically abandoned him when he was a teenager. He is so angry about all the things that happened to him when he was a child and teen. Anger seems to be his way to cope with everything in his life. It hurts me to see anger as his coping mechanism, when if he would only let God into his life, he could be healed from all his pain. I pray for him, which is all I know to do. His theory is IF there was indeed a God, none of these things would have happened to him. My prayer is that his heart will soften and allow God

Rick, This is so helpful to many of us who have a son/sons who are wandering and are not a member of a faith community currently. Many have the Christian upbringing (like mine) but they are not attending church. They do know where to reach when there is difficulties. Thanks for writing this because it is so true for so many. I have one son, the youngest, who is wandering but he will find his way some day. The Bible promises. The older thinks about God frequently, relies on His help daily, but does not attend church. Again thanks for writing this.

I enjoyed reading the dilema with your sons. I too have that with my son. My daughter has always had a strong faith while my son is a skeptic. I like you hope and pray that God will show our sons the way. Boys are tough to crack, but I believe God can open their hearts.

It states in the Bible that we should train up a child in the way they should go and when they are older they will not depart from it. This is true for many. Sometimes it takes a crisis to make them look to God again, but He is always there looking out for them. I have a daughter who has wandered away from God and she is somewhat distant with me now but I know that will change. She just needs to find a Christian boyfriend to help her back to the Lord.

God still answers prayer. He has promised inHis Word to teach and train our children and children's children. My husband and I came from large families and have seen our parents prayers answered for their children since they have gone on to be with the Lord, even. Our children all are in church, but some of our grandchildren are struggling. We have to stand on the promises of God. We do desire for our children to have a more committed walk with God. Yes, we do need to pray for one another. His word is truth and righteousness. Thanks for all the testimonies and prayer request.

"Quietly Ache".....Such a poignant way to express your concern for your sons. I have three sons and I so understand where you're
coming from. My fervent prayer every night is that they will come to know my Saviour as their own....
Thank you for writing this article. Lets me know I am not alone and that means so much to me!

This brought a tear to my eyes as we also have a son that has not committed to a church community and I pray for him, his wife and children that they will feel the touch of God and search for a place to worship soon. Thank you for sharing this as it helps to know that others are praying for their children also.

I too pray that my son Sean ,40 yrs. old, his wife (& 2 children) will come back to the church and raise the children as they were raised--to believe, go to church, pray, love one another. It is difficult to see them turn their backs but I know I must "let go & let God"

Well said. So often I try to take matters into my own hands, especially when it concerns my children, whom I love more than my own life. I too must learn to "Let go and let God" Thank you for reminding me....

It is not narrow minded at all. I also have two sons and a daughter all detached from faith and I openly pray for it as well as my church family. Share it with your church and let them help you to pray and share their prayers for their children. We all have someone that we pray that we are planting seeds in their life. I see changes in both of my boys and open communication, which leads me to believe they are processing the information. All I ask is that the planted seeds grow in their time of need as it did in mine. Raised in a church, I somehow left my everyday contact with my faith. I prayed but not as HEARTFELT as I do now. All God asks us to do is witness, the rest he does for us.
I was suffering from a mental and emotional breakdown that made it impossible for me to leave my home for any length of time; after the sudden death of my sister. I had so much pain and loss that I had never asked God to take away from me, until one day I looked up in my living room and saw my mother's bible on my entertainment center. To this day I cannot say how it got there; I had not seen it in many years. I opened it and the first thing I saw was a verse that she wrote on the inside page:
"Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6.

There was a second one after it:
For in Him we live and move, and have our being; For we are also his offspring." Acts 17:28

That day changed my life. I found the faith I had been missing for so many years and somehow found my way out of the house and into a church I had driven by for 10 years on my way to work. I found a wonderful church family there and renewed faith and my life has changed so joyfully that I was even able to travel to Florida to see long lost friends and family. I do not believe in coincidences, I believe in the might Spirit of Jesus in all of us.I will be praying for your sons and so will my church.
I hope this helps.
AnnMarie Cunniff

My prayer for my son and his family is that soon, he will
feel the precious conviction of the Holy Spirit. I have spent many days weeping before the Lord on their behalf. I know my need to let go - I pray this day that I put my whole trust in God's able hands. JESUS - I PLACE MY WHOLE TRUST IN YOU FOR MY SON AND HIS FAMILY. SHOW HIM THE ONLY WAY IS THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.

Thank you everyone for sharing your testimonies about your children who have strayed way from church. I know our hearts ache for them to come back and serve our glorious Lord and find the aboundant life he promised. As I am getting older It may not happen untill I am home with God. But even so I believe they will come back and I will rejoice with the angels in heaven.

Thanks for your sharing and your honesty. I can see that you have touched many parents' hearts as you have mine. I see, too, that I need to pray more for the children of others as well as my own. God bless you and all of us parents with the same heart cry.

Absolute Truth and the prayer of many faithful parents today. GOD HAS IT!!! Our job is to do the praying and God will do the work. As we pray God creates the means, or method, by how HE will answer. These are not enjoyable times, but necessary ones. God must prepare our hearts and the hearts of others to complete HIS plan. God aims at the heart not the head. Give God time and HE will bring it to pass.

I hear the cry of a Father's heart and I to have the cry of a Mother's heart for a child who has yet to find the True Path. Jesus Christ. I look back on my life and I am sure my parents prayed for me and my journey took me into my 30's before the light came on. I am so thankful it came on! Now I must trust that the Good Lord has a path for my son and the Light will come on at just the right time for him also. God is a Good God. Amen!

My prayer is the same for three out of our four kids....one son already has a strong faith and acts on it. I, too, don't know how we would have got through some of life's trials and valley experiences without our church family, and direction from God through our pastor. We seem to need it more now, as grandparents and growing older. God is faithful, we are to never cease praying for our children. I do know that me "backing off" of my kids about their lack of faith or church life works. My children know how important having faith in God is. Being a twenty and thirty something nowadays is so different than when we were at that stage of life. Now it's time to let God open the doors for them in his own way, to bring them to him with an unfailing faith. In the meantime, I believe that children raised with a faith life will develop their own in God's timing. God promises us that. God has shown me that my basic parenting is over, now it's time to back off of them, enjoy them for who they are, love them, be there always when they need us, and never, ever cease praying for them every single day. I am seeing the fruits of those prayers and it's a joy beyond words.

Tough letting even God take over our children's welfare, isn't it? As you say, the letting go, observation stage, of our lives is rewarding enough, just to know that they are in His keeping and under an umbrella of our prayers. The Father will bless them.

Thank you all for sharing. Sometimes it feels like we're the only ones that struggle with a child that has fallen away from the Church. Our oldest (20 yrs old) still believes in God, but questions Jesus, which breaks my heart. He was raised going to Church, was baptized, received Holy Communion, Reconciliation, and Confirmed. Also, several years of Religion Classes. Our youngest (16) received the same and is still serving as an Alter Server and goes every Sunday with us. I always ask myself where I went wrong with our oldest. We have many debates about Religion and I keep hoping and praying that his core will resurface someday. He does go to Church on Christmas and Easter and some special family occasions, so I hang on to those moments. It really saddens me how others are trying to push God out of every aspect of our lives these days - no wonder the children are falling away. We have to keep praying - God Bless you all.

As a mother bringing up three sons,I understand the importance of silent prayers for salvation and grounding in Christ. These are prayers which I utter for all my sons- the two who attend church regularly and the one who believes in God but has many critical questions about Christ because he expects to be able to explain God and His ways logically.I see this as a responsibility and a privilege. Like Rick, I say many silent prayers, but I also ask friends to help me when I need support, in whatever way, for my children.

Your sons are blessed, Rick to have you as a father in a world where there are so many delinquent fathers.Continue to pray for their welfare, protection and growth in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Thank you to Rick and all the commentors here. Your comment have blessed me this day. My youngest is the one who struggles most with faith, and for a long time he insisted there is no God. I pray for him to have good companions to remind him of what is important in this life: love of God and others. I pray for his safety and that the Holy Spirit will touch his heart and bring him back to the fold. I am blessed to have three of my five very strong in faith. He is close to two of them, so I know these two bless his struggle to determine what faith is. He is also quite intelligent and wants to understand God and Jesus from that aspect only. I know it is the Holy Spirit who testifies to us of Christ and his Father. So until he recognizes the Spirit whispering to him, he will search. Thank you all.

Be confident that your prayers will be answered in due time. In my youth, I was the weekly seeker in a family of weak faith. College broke that habit and nearly broke me. About a year after being married and going to church every Sunday, I simply decided to skip a Sunday, then another, and another. My wife followed my lead for a year or so, but then went back to church alone every Sunday for the next 15 years. I believe it was her prayers and example of faith that helped lead me back. I had several of life's trials while I was away, and I walked the dark path of anger, depression, and hopelessness. Today, it is hard for me to believe I've only been back to church for a little over two years and now I am actively involved in a number of ministries in the church and the community. Whenever I start to doubt the power of prayer, I think of my lost years and the Kansas song, "Carry on Our Wayward Son". "Amazing Grace" also hits close to home, being lost and found. But I know that God loves me and has a plan for my life when I think back to my lowest point. I was moments away from ending my life, when I got a strange thought that I should have music to die to. I turned on the radio, heard Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance", cried a lot, and knew that that song was a gift of grace sent to save me. It was my first step back, and I know I still have a long way to go, but I am confident God will be with me. I hope your family's turning point is not as painful or dramatic, but please know that God hears every prayer and will answer. I will pray for you and your family. One last thing: Don't doubt your own faith. You showed great faith in God, and this community, by putting your doubts and fears in print. You have been affirmed that you are not the only parent struggling with a child's lax faith life, and now you have heard from one of those lost children. Just maybe He is using this witness right now to show His Glory and Power through my story in answer to your prayer. Peace.
-Your friend in Christ, Alan
"Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." --Philippians 4:6-7

It'S OK, Sometimes we have to let others make their journey themselves. And remember, no matter how well intentioned we are, we cannot force things to happen.
When He wants to guide them, God will Himself guide them to the path of religion.

I am blessed to read this today,as I only took my two sons to church a few times and to my shame I was not living a good Christian example. I pray for opportunities with each of them to witness the love and forgiveness of our Savior Jesus Christ. I also pray for other witness's to enter their lives and most of all for God and His Holy Spirit to reveal Himself, The thought of our names were written in the book of Life gives me a peace... God's Plans are perfect.

I have four that I pray for. All were raised in church, but have no interest in it. I will prayer that all of yours find the Lord along with mine. I think with time they will change. Sometimes when they are older they do. I pray that God will keep them all safe until then and lead them to him.
I pray for God to send someone who can get through to them. I
am afraid of what it might take, but have to trust the Lord to use whatever means it takes.

This is a very common problem - especially as one of my sons is very into goth culture and anti-Christian. Perhaps due to being forced to go to Church with us when a child. I hang on to the fact that he gave his life to Jesus at age 5 and Jesus never forgets, and never lets you go. It does not help me when well-meaning Christians tell me that he will go to hell if he dies - I prefer to think that God knows his heart and that Jesus will not let one of his children go without a fight!

Thank you so much for sharing. I am the mother of 4 sons who were all raised in the church. I have often prayed for the right words to speak to them and their wives about their "lukewarm" faith. It is a comfort to know that others share these same worries about their children.

I am a pastor with three children - one daughter who is strong in the Lord and two sons (both twenty something). I call them angels with dirty faces. My wife and I love them, but like many children, they are not in the church scene. They know God, and are good boys, but are away from the Lord at this time in their life. So we pray and ask God to continue to lead in their life as only He can. We love on them like our heavenly Father loves on us. And we wait for the day when they will see and experience what my wonderful wife and I have experienced for a long time - the daily knowledge and love of God in their life and the community of believers called the Church.
Praying with you all. Tom M

This is all so relevant to so many of us today, and how our heart ache that one or more of our children are no longer active in the church. One of our Son's who is married with children isn't active anymore, although brought up in the Faith. They say they are 'spiritual' what ever that means, and they do talk and read stories of Jesus to their children. However a coal on it's own usually grows cold and this troubles us.
I guess it's as much a test of our own faith, that we place out trust in God who is much greater than any of us, and you knows us so well, and loves us to death!
May he gather us all in his arms and keep us all forever His, this is my prayer.
Thank you so much for sharing Rick

Thank you for sharing this. I have two sons, one who has been married to a wonderful girl for 11 years. I think their wedding and a couple funerals have been the extent of their church experience since they were married. My other son, at age 24, seems to have no spiritual life either. Both were raised with church every Sunday (as was my son's wife), including on vacation, and prayers a part of daily living. I pray every day that all three will find their ways back to God through positive means. (I always put that caveat as part of my prayer, the selfish part of me that doesn't want them to have to be dealing with some horrible-ness to turn to back to God.) It helps to hear from someone such as yourself, who has the same concerns.

Trust in the Lord that you've raised your children, as you promised, at the time of their baptism and that the Holy Spirit has the power to draw them back to their Savior.

I longed for a faith community as a child and went out on my own search when my parents did not consider it a priority. So my wife and I have tried to show our growing children the importance of faith-based support; church, prayers, thankfulness. We also pray that God might lead our kids to other Christians and activities in which He would have them participate...to be open to His guidance. We love them and want the best for them...and we also want them to know they are never alone.

Thanks for sharing your story. I have three sons and all were raised in church. The oldest was born five months before I came to know the Lord and so grew up during my initial "on fire" time. He is 32 now and strong man of God with a godly wife and 3 beautiful kids they are both raising in the faith. My son is the worship leader at his church. My younger two sons were born during a backslid, desert time in my faith journey. Though still raised in church, it was a weaker time in my own life and influence over them. They are in their 20's now and are very "good" boys. I love them and am proud of them. But they haven't really yet experienced that knowing God up close yet. My middle son is quiet intellectual and is trying to understand God through reasoning instead of faith. My youngest son was turned away when a well-meaning young pastor's daughter criticized our church and he drifted away from it after that. He went on to fall in love with a very mixed up girl and has had some dark times in his life. All of this grieves me, but I try to remember they belong to God and He cares more about them than I ever could. I have to trust in that. Thanks again for sharing. It's good to know I'm not alone in my worries!

I pray the same prayer you pray for my three very adult children...I know the day will come when they listen to God's voice.