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.