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Myron Bruce leads nearly 1,100 voices in worship during the opening night of Affirming the Faith, an annual seminar hosted by the North MacArthur Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. Participants from across the U.S. joined visitors from countries including Australia at the seminar, which had as its theme “Reaching Higher: The Sermon on the Mount.”
Photo by Erik Tryggestad

When our children fall away, do we wear our sackcloth on the inside?

Christians pack the pews for a faith-affirming experience.

OKLAHOMA CITY — If my children don’t live up to their raising, I can identify with God, the one person who’s had more ‘failure’ at raising children than anyone.”

I was taken aback when I heard Dale Hartman say that at Affirming the Faith, an annual seminar hosted by the North MacArthur Church of Christ, where Hartman serves as a minister.

Erik Tryggestad

Erik Tryggestad | Insight

Moments earlier, nearly 1,100 of us had gathered in the church’s auditorium to sing soul-stirring hymns, from “Our God, He is Alive” to Chris Tomlin’s “All to Us.” (“Let the glory of Your name be the passion of the church …”)

The worship was a taste of heaven, and the preaching was powerful. But the late-night class that Hartman introduced was something more.

As many of the participants left for the evening or stayed in the auditorium for more singing, about 50 of us gathered for “Finding Hope When Faith Fails,” moderated by my friend Jeremie Beller, a minister for the Wilshire Church of Christ.

“What happens when our children walk away from the faith and leave the church?” Beller asked.

One participant was Ralph Gilmore, a longtime preacher for Churches of Christ. He and his wife, Joyce, are the parents of four daughters, one of whom battled alcohol addiction for seven long years — two of those years incarcerated. The distinguished professor of philosophy and Bible at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., talked about the nights he spent searching the parking lots of bars in nearby Jackson, looking for his daughter’s car.

“I knew every place where anyone could drink at 3 in the morning,” he said. “I thought if I could just drag her back into church she’d be OK.”

Ralph Gilmore

Ralph Gilmore

During one confrontation, Gilmore became so angry that he punched a hole through the drywall in his house. His wife hung a picture over the hole — an illustration of 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind … it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” They never stopped loving their daughter.

“I can’t tell this story,” Gilmore said at one point, overcome with emotion. Then he said, softly, “She just got her 20-year pin for sobriety.”

We all cheered.

We talked about how the words of Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”) can leave parents feeling absolutely beat up.

Gilmore quoted from another Bible verse, Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” Sometimes, that’s just not the case, he said.

(After 18 years with The Christian Chronicle, all I can say is, “Amen!”)

“The proverbs are generally true,” he said, “but they’re not universally true. They’re not intended to be.”

Gilmore suggested that those of us struggling with these issues  find “the right people” to talk to — people with similar experiences, people who have been there.

For me, the most powerful illustration came from a participant in the class who cited the terrible, heart-wrenching story of King Jehoram from 2 Kings 6.

“The king, as wicked as he was … ripped his clothes and you know what was underneath? Sackcloth. He was carrying his sackcloth underneath so that nobody could see.”

In the midst of famine and the siege of Samaria, Jehoram heard a dispute between two women that involved eating their babies.

“The king, as wicked as he was, he ripped his clothes and you know what was underneath? Sackcloth.” the participant said. “He was carrying his sackcloth underneath so that nobody could see.”

When we grieve in secret, nothing changes. We’ve got to stop wearing our sackcloth underneath and reach out to people who can grieve with us, pray with us and help us heal.

For me, that lesson was as faith-affirming as any sermon and every hymn. “Let the saving love of Christ be the measure of our lives

“We believe You’re all to us.”

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact erik@christianchronicle.org.

Filed under: Insight Opinion Top Stories

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