How Do I Deal With a Straying, Rebellious Son?

My husband and I have been married nearly 24 years.  We have three beautiful boys, ages 21, 19 and 13.  Our oldest is mentally and physically handicapped and a real jewel.  The 13 year old is a real sweetie.

Our problem is our 19 year old.  He graduated from high school last June and is playing junior hockey this year and hopefully next year.  It is a dream he has had and he tried out and made a local team.  He then later asked for a release and signed with a team 2 hours away.  He is living with a host family.  Andrew is such a delightful young man with much talent and potential.  He plans to attend college if no athletic scholarships come his way.

We have raised our children in church.  It is a very large part of their lives.  All have made professions of faith.  This son, however, seems to be very distant from the Lord. He is extremely talented and could be used in the church greatly.  He seems to have no interest.  I believe he may have been hurt in the church and turned off.   At any rate, he has exhibited some very disrespectful behavior towards my husband and myself.  He can say some very harsh things that are hurtful.  Things like, “I don’t have to answer to you” (to his father) or “mom, quit nagging me” in a shouting voice are just a couple of the attitudes displayed.  These are very disturbing to us.  He had a couple of rough days when he came home for Christmas and then was just as sweet as he could be and very helpful.

I don’t know if I am overreacting but he needs to know we are tired of his disrespectful ways.  My husband and I have considered pulling all financial support so “he does not have to answer to us” any more, but as a mother I hurt so deeply in my heart when I think of this.  He is in the process of getting a job and helping with expenses.  He has 3 promising prospects.  We still need to make him understand that disrespecting us will not bring blessings.  When we have spoken to him in the past about this he takes it in and then seems to forget it.


I can relate very closely with your struggles.  The biggest challenge that we have experienced over the past five years has been with one of our sons.  We found ourselves in an intense spiritual battle for him.  His behavior went way beyond disrespect.  Please be encouraged, we have seen God work in some great ways this summer.  I hope that I can help you by relaying the things that I learned from this experience.

1. Keep focused on the majesty, goodness, love and hope of Jesus Christ. Whenever I found myself concentrating on the disappointments or frustrations or helplessness, tenseness would be displayed in my countenance, not just when I was dealing with my son, but in all areas of life.  It would affect my relationship with my husband, my other sons and my ministry.  I found that it was critically important that my son and others witness the peace, hope, joy and stability that only Christ can provide.  These are fruit of the spirit that cannot be faked.  I had to continually read about, study and embrace the character of God.  When God revealed himself to me, I had to respond to the specific attribute that he was revealing.  Some great books that are full of scripture for this are Desiring God by John Piper and Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. Joy and kindness are like magnets to someone who is searching, so please don’t loose your joy.  “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” 

2. I know that you are praying for your son.  I always pray scripture over my sons because there is so much more power in the Word of God than in my limited mind.  The general passages that I  pray are Paul’s prayers for other people.  I just add my sons’ names and change the words to fit their exact situation.  My favorites are , , , and .  As I prayed and studied the Word, God gave me some very specific promises directly for my son.  I would pray those scriptures also.  When I found myself falling into despair, I would read those promises out loud and trust almighty God to fulfill them.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will direct you to specific promises for your son as you dig into his Word.

3. He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.  The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

God knows all things.  I praised him for that and I praised him as the one that reveals.  I asked him to reveal anything in my sons life that we needed to know.  Many times kids are defensive because there is something going on in their lives that they are struggling with.  God in his own way and timing revealed some incidents from our son’s past that he was in bondage to.  We helped him faced those things, but the struggle continued until he later surrendered his will to the Lord.

4. If we were aware of a sin in our son’s life, most of the time we prayed and confronted him about it because the truth will set you free.  We were very careful to express lots of love so that hopefully he would not feel condemned.  We always stressed that our desire was not to limit his life but to help him to soar.

  And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

  But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

It is important that you speak the truth when your son is disrespectful.  Ask him if you have offended him in any way.   Make sure that you are loving and firm, but not condemning or nagging

5. We did reach a point since our son was not in school, where we did not support him financially.   We never forced him to leave our home.  He moved out on his own.  As long as he lived in our home, we required respectful behavior.  You must pray about this because your situation may be different because of the hockey.  He does need to learn to be financially responsible and accountable.

6. I highly recommend the book, Age of Opportunity by Tripp. It is the best book I have ever read about parenting teens.  Most of the relationship principles still apply even as your child grows beyond the teen years.  Sam read this book before I did.  I could tell a difference in the way he dealt with our boys immediately.  A friend of ours bought the book from us, then came back and bought 20 copies.  She said everybody she knew needed to read this book.

Those are the main things that come to my mind.  I hope they are helpful.  Our son’s behavior was more alarming that what you described.  We prayed believing that God would work.  We always let him know that we wanted what was best for him, but we were committed to the Word of God.  This summer, my son injured himself and ended up having 2 back surgeries.  We encouraged him and cared for him.  After the second surgery, he realized he needed to seek the Lord and depend on Him.  He had always attended a College and Career Bible Study that we have in our home every Wed night. After his surgery, the group studied the book,  The Grace Awakening by Swindoll.  The book examines the book of Philippians.  This study had a dramatic affect on our son’s life.  He is a different person now, although we still have some concerns.  If he stays focused on the character of God, he stays on the right path.  One of the promises that the Lord had given me in the middle of those intense struggles was that he would come back to “life” like the son of the Shunamite woman, but he too, would “wax warm and sneeze seven times.”  In other words, this work of God would come in stages—seven sneezes.  I remind myself that God is working, but that the sneezes are not over.


Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. (ESV)


15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (ESV)


3:1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)


And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (ESV)


And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (ESV)


22 he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him. (ESV)


29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (ESV)


32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (ESV)


15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (ESV)

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