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Running the Race When Your Parents Aren’t Saved

June 26, 2019

If you go to a cross country meet, you’ll see parents at different points on the trail, cheering their kids on towards the finish line. I never ran cross country, but my sisters tell me it’s an important part of a runner’s mental game. Without support at those mile markers, runners can begin to feel weak, discouraged, and defeated. 

I imagine this is sort of what it feels like to be a Christian with unbelieving parents. You’re running the race God has put before you with endurance, but every once in a while you take your eyes off of Jesus to look for your mom and dad cheering you on in the stands, and they’re not there.  

It must be difficult running this race of faith without the support of your parents and frightening to think that you may not see them at the finish line. 

I don’t know your exact pain, but I have experienced weak knees in my own race towards Heaven. I’ve also experienced the goodness of a friend jogging up beside me and helping me through some of my toughest laps.

I hope that I can be that friend for you today by offering you a few sips of cold water as you run your race without the spiritual support of your earthly parents. 

God Loves You 

God loves you, dear one. He loves you so much that he sent his own son to die for you so that you might spend eternity with him (John 3:16). Your parents’ love may fall short at times, but his never will.

The love of God is not manipulative or conditional, shallow or unpredictable. It’s lavish and free, constant and deep, and it’s yours through Christ (1 John 4:10, Ephesians 3:18).

You are both a beneficiary and a steward of God’s love. 1 John 4:9 says that “we love because he first loved us.” When your unbelieving parents are hard to love, remember this verse.

God does not call you to muster up love for them from within yourself but to draw from the well of his love instead. 

Called to Honor 

In our culture, we’re accustomed to people earning honor. To make the honor roll, you have to get good grades. To earn a promotion, you have to do good work.

But in God’s kingdom, honor isn’t tied to achievement. God calls us to honor everyone, and he specifically commands us to honor our parents, not because they’re deserving or godly, but because honoring them brings honor to God (Ephesians 6:2).

To honor our parents means to give them weight in our hearts and lives. What does honoring unbelieving parents look like?  

In many ways, it probably looks similar to honoring believing parents: making room for them in the midst of busy schedules, asking for their advice when it’s appropriate, serving them, or caring for them in their old age. 

Pray for Your Parents 

Another way to honor unbelieving parents is to pray for them. The Bible says that the “prayers of a righteous person have power” (James 5:16). What better way to wield that power than to pray for your parents’ salvation? 

Children (typically) know their parents pretty well. Use that to your advantage as you pray. Be bold and specific with your prayers, relying on God’s word to help you focus on his will rather than your own. 

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. (1 John 5:14

Share the Gospel 

As you pray for your parents, ask God for opportunities to share the gospel with them as well. This can be a daunting task for grown children, so ask God for wisdom to know when to speak and for the courage to follow through when you feel the Spirit’s prompting. 

Be eager to share the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection should the opportunity arise. In the meantime, shower your parents with the love of Christ and pray without ceasing for their salvation. 

Release Unrealistic Expectations 

I once heard a Christian radio host say that we can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers. That stuck with me.

It’s unfair to expect unregenerate people to think, talk, and act like people who have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, isn’t it? In fact, it’s an impossible task without Christ’s intervention.

Release your parents (and yourself!) from the yolk of unrealistic expectations. Instead, ask God to help you see them as he sees them—as sinners in need of a savior (Ephesians 2:1-3). 

Cling to Christ 

Jesus told us that following him comes at a cost—sometimes it means leaving the comfort of family for the sake of the gospel. If this describes your situation, be encouraged. Jesus also said:  

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30

He has given you a new family in his church and eternal life with him. Christ is no consolation prize, friend. He is the prize. Cling to him. 

Eyes on the Prize 

Christian Olympic Gold Medalist Eric Liddell once said, “Each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run…and this race ends when God gives out the medals.”1 

The good news for your parents is that the race hasn’t ended yet. There’s still time for them to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15). There’s still hope for a comeback! 

As you run your own race, do not give up hope. Look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).  

Listen for the great cloud of witnesses cheering you on (Hebrews 12:1). Then run with endurance—praying that one day soon your mom and dad will place their trust in Christ, sprint toward the finish line, and stand on the podium next to you as “God gives out the medals.”

Photo Credit: Unsplash


1 Eric Liddell, quoted from Kinne, Fathers of Influence, 67.  

The Author
Chelsea Stanley

Chelsea Stanley is a wife to Daniel, stay-at-home mom of three boys, and a daughter redeemed by the blood of Christ. She shares God’s heart for women and loves helping them apply the truth of the gospel to all of daughterhood so that they can live as redeemed daughters of both God and man. She and her family attend Crossway Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin. You can connect with her at her blog, Daughter Redeemed.

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