Few things are sadder than seeing the light of God’s Spirit go out in the eyes of your child. The moment it happens is easy to miss. There are natural rhythms of wandering and return in the lives of most Christian kids. And during troubled teens years, it is hard to tell the difference between a mood swing and the extinguishing of faith.
In some kids the light never goes out. My mother was this way. She couldn’t remember a time she wasn’t a Christian. She had vague memories of giving her heart to Jesus when she was four, but told me, “I already felt like a Christian and loved Jesus.” It sometimes bothered her that she had no dramatic story of when she got saved, but I think her story delightful. The light of Jesus shone brightly in her eyes even on her death bed, hooked to a feeding tube, barely able to speak because of a stroke. Her eyes said everything. They said, “Jesus!”
But I think my mom’s story unusual. Too many parents have had that moment when they looked across the room at their son or daughter and noticed the light was gone. Their eyes are dead. Joy and hope have fled. They may not be a monster of any kind, but like a zombie—they are still your child, but not the same—not who God created them to be and not the child you knew. Sometimes you see fear and bondage—the sadness of a chained animal.
I am not going to speculate as to what the light going out means theologically regarding a kid’s salvation. I just know it is heart-breaking.
What snuffed out the light? For each Christian kid, it can be different. Often it is simply their surrender to sin or their decision to embrace the values of the world instead of God. It usually isn’t a sin that smothers the light; it is steady rain (or reign) of darkness that comes sin by sin.
Sometimes a kid is wounded by someone in the church, or deeply disappointed by God in some way. The resulting bitterness can violently put out the light of God. To get back at God, their parents, or the church, they run as far from God as they can. Their eyes are not filled with the emptiness of those who have feasted on sin. In their eyes you can see flashes of anger and resentment toward God—their imagined enemy.
What can help turn the lights back on? Sometimes captives in Babylon need to remember the milk and honey of the promised land. God can bring to their memory the joy of being clean before God. The Holy Spirit, as we pray for our kids, can make them aware of the weight of sin and the burden of sin’s consequences. God can reveal to them that one from whom they are running and rebelling is the only One who can heal, restore, and save them eternally.
As parents and grandparents, the most important thing we can do is be steadfast in our declaration that God is good. We must be the real deal. Our life should say that God can be trusted. Any shred of hypocrisy in us, will be used to fuel the wandering child’s rebellion. This doesn’t mean being perfect; it just means being humble and honest about our own failings. We must model the long art of turning and returning to God.
I also believe every good childhood memory we create is part of the honey of the promised land that reminds the wandering of God’s love and goodness. It was remembering the goodness of life with His father that made the prodigal son reject his misery and head home. Here too there is no burden to give Christian kids perfect childhoods. Israel, for all her faults and failings, was still the home about which the exiles in Babylon sang with longing.
It is also true that God can powerfully use the birth of a child to turn the light back on in the hearts of our kids. When our sons or daughters look into the sparkling eyes of their baby, they often want to see the light of God in their baby’s eyes. At that moment, a parent may decide they need the light of Jesus turned back on. It is not just a newborn that is helpless—it is the parents who desperately need God’s help to raise the child.
Even when kids grow into young adults, their parents often carry in their heart a picture of their child when his or her eyes still shone with the light of Jesus When parents remember the beauty of God’s light in their child’s eyes, they fall on their knees and cry out to God—the only one who knows how to rekindle the flame of faith.
There are few joys sharper or more glorious than seeing the light of Jesus come back into the eyes of your children. I know some parents who have not seen it this side of the grave, but many pour out their heart in prayer hoping to see the light in their eyes before they die. There are few things that draw us closer to the heart of the Father than prayers for our kids to come home to God—the perfect Father who through Jesus has made a way. In these prayers my heart and God’s heart beat as one.