Free Range Children

One of the biggest concern people express about leaving a religious system is what it will do to their children? Will they lose their friends? How will they adapt to a less-structured environment? And how will we teach them about God if they don't go to Sunday school? To help him answer those questions Wayne went to someone who has been on both sides of that issue, his daughter Julie (pictured at left with her children). She was sixteen when Wayne and Sara found themselves outside of the fellowship they'd been part of for fifteen years. Through a four-year transition she discovered how dependent she had been on human systems and how much more freely and simply God wanted to engage her and now her growing family. She, and a letter Wayne reads from a listener, provide an honest look as to the challenges and opportunities of living outside the box of organized religion.

Podcast Links:
Julie's blog
Contact Julie
A great parenting book: Loving Our Kids on Purpose
Podcasts About Loving Our Kids on Purpose: Part 1Part 2
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  1. I loved the blog. It was beautiful. I cried when I listened. I have so many regrets about my religious life. I wish I had provided more fun for my children. Life was so serious. I am just now learning to love those He brings into my life. Jesus clearly told me to leave so I had no doubt about leaving.
    My daughter had left home. She was brought up in the meetings. She still believes but has never sought a meeting. She made sure she married a believer.
    My son is ten years younger than my daughter. He was 7 when I left the Sunday meetings. He was happy to stay home with his father who had left the meetings when he was a baby. We lost all our friends but a new family arrived next door at that time so it didn’t matter to my son. I had many conversations with Jesus about my son and He told me to trust Him. So far he appears to be following his earthly father which is probably not unusual.

  2. Julie, thank you so much for sharing your story here. You and your story provided such reassurance to me.

    Our daughter has been struggling a bit with the loss of the structure since we’ve left the IC. She is 15 and although she misses getting together with her “friends”, she doesn’t miss the constant stream of meetings and gatherings. We have never discouraged her from going to any functions, but I believe she is slowly beginning to see the joy in freedom and to trust her Papa’s love fully. She too, is a very busy, driven and loving girl and I think she has come to LOVE that she now has more “down time” where I often find her in her room, alone, listening to some beautiful music and spending time with her Papa instead of with a peer group. I can see that she needs that alone time to “recharge” her spirit. Literally, she had been so busy with school, cheerleading, basketball, track, golf and then add youth group activities on top – there wasn’t much left for any relationship time between either her and Papa or her and us – her family. I think she has suffered quite a bit from peer pressure from her friends that are still in the youth group – “where have you been” “You need to come back” along with their judging and disapproving looks. That part has broken her heart. Our previous youth minister even made a comment to the other youth about how “disappointed” he was with her lack of attendance. She heard about it from the other kids, and it truly broke her heart and ours as well. I quickly sent a message to him that we were trusting God to guide her heart and of course he apologized profusely. He was very kind and complimentary of her, because it is obvious to anyone who meets her that Papa does guide her. He even asked me if I could come and talk with some parents about “how we instilled that in her” – which makes me laugh now thinking about you talking about writing a book about it – there is NO FORMULA to this… I have four kids, and every one of them is so different! Papa has showed me that what “works” with one doesn’t always work with the other. Therefore like you said, trusting Papa to do what He sees fit, and just every day pointing the kids toward Him. Pretty simple stuff! That is the unbelievable beauty in it all!

    Julie, like you, she has been visiting other churches and their youth groups and always enjoys her time there which is great also. But I know that she struggles, mainly because of the “peer pressure” to be at every event. I so wish that youth groups could function without the peer pressure of convincing someone that you had to be there every time something takes place! It is overwhelming to her and she needs that alone time to function.

    My boys, they haven’t missed the constant meetings – at all. In fact they surprise me every day with their insight and the things that Papa is showing them. Our now almost 18 year old son is pushing his boundaries a bit in typical 18 year old male fashion, but I can see clearly that Papa is pursuing him through it all and some of the lessons Papa has taught him are better than any sermon I’ve heard could teach.

    I guess that’s the point really, who better to teach your kids about Papa’s heart and love than Papa himself!?

    Julie, thank you so much for sharing your heart. There are times when the disapproval of others and the comments (even well meaning ones) can make me doubt the direction we are taking with the kids. Julie, you can’t even know how much you’ve helped. And thank you Wayne for reading my letter back to me. It came at a perfect time – my own words coming back as a beautiful reminder from Papa that He is guiding, moving, molding,and working in it all.

    Love to you all, beautiful family…
    Leah (from Texas!)

  3. Great to hear from you, Leah. Glad we were able to get most of your letter in. All of this stuff is a work in progress. Maybe that’s what the system offers people that seems so comforting, you don’t have to think about these things because we have programs that will fix them for you. With those you always find out way too late that they don’t work as advertised. And perhaps that’s why we need to encourage each other daily, because it is easy to get our eyes on earthly things and miss the greater work he’s doing. Love your journey! It will continue to sort out well for you and your children.

  4. I appreciated this podcast as it mirrors a similar path our family has chosen to take. Only one parishioner chose to stay in our lives as a friend once we left so that was a bit surprising. Thanks again for sharing…it was so encouraging for me to hear from other folks in this journey.

  5. Thank you Wayne, I’m loving this journey too. It’s been amazing! Papa’s love has been pulling me all along and it’s overwhelming and beautiful. You’re right, the system offers a checklist that gives folks a sense of security – even if it’s false security. Thank you so much for your courage, honesty and willingness to share… Your work has been a HUGE encouragement to me. I’m so thankful for all of it and I too believe things will sort out well for us, Papa is holding us – what could be better?! Blessings!

  6. I was so glad to hear this podcast. I began to stop going to meetings about six years ago when my kiddos were 7, 4 and newborn. It was a slow process…stepped down from ministry, husband stopped attending, I tried going solo, house church, family church, just Bible Study, … the downward trend was all motivated by fatigue. My perfectionist, over-achieving self could NOT pull it off anymore. I have to admit that my own expectations were far worse than any that any one else put on me. Through it all, I had this quiet voice saying to just let all those expectations go and that Abba would carry me. It gave me peace. I am totally comfortable and grateful for the journey God has taken me on releasing me into freedom. BUT all along, I wasn’t sure about my kids. I was terrified. God didn’t ever tell me that their journey would be okay. But He did remind me often, “Control is an illusion.” and that just as He’d steer my journey, He’d steer theirs. My job was just to love them in my own flawed way. The other scariest part for me when I left meetings was that now (I thought) they would be looking at me and their dad alone for truth. I was somehow under the illusion that if they were in Sunday school, I would escape that whole role-modeling and teaching piece. Well, this was such messed up thinking in so many ways. For one thing, I really think that the role-modeling and wisdom, I impart now is probably better than before. Anyone can teach their kids to go to a meeting. Now they have to see how I really do this relationship thing with God in real, everyday life, apart from the vice of a meeting. But that really, isn’t the point. The point is it isn’t completely up to me to draw them to God. God can do that! Sure, I seize opportunities to share my journey, but their journey is between them and Abba. In addition, there still are lots of other people teaching them truth. I really can relate to what you all shared about other adults loving on your kids. I hadn’t thought about it before. My kids have tons of adults who absolutely adore them and spend time with them. If we were busy running off to meetings there is no way this would be happening. Thank you for the reminder of this gift! Now that my oldest is thirteen, it is such a gift to have other adults that he will listen to… One neighbor is teaching him to drive, another is helping him with a school project, my husband’s buddy talks to him about having a good attitude in sports, grandpa talks to him about the poor in Africa, and I talk to him about the conflict in Syria. It is awesome to see a whole network that God has built up around him. I am still a slow learner and a slow one to trust. I still worry, but slowly I am getting better. Each time I move out of the way (or maybe just pay attention), I am awed by all that our loving God does with my kids. Their lives are so, so, so rich relationally and I feel like I have had very little to do with it. I will end with a little story to keep it real… I was mortified a few months ago when my youngest (now six) asked who the first people were. She didn’t know about Adam and Eve! “Oh, good Lord! I am the absolute worst Christian mother on the planet! If we went to a Sunday morning meeting, my daughter would at least know about Adam and Eve” After a week or two of berating myself internally and downloading about 85 Christian books that I’d teach over the summer to get my little one up to speed, it dawned on me. Maybe you aren’t a horrible mother. Maybe now is just the time for you to answer that question. And so guess what? I did. Then, I let go of all that guilt and shame, and I am waiting for the next question.

  7. Thank you so much Julie! This is where I am and am encouraged by your story. I’m just in the beginning phases of this, trying to wade through the hurt and realization that certain relationships are over, but with new ones on the horizon. I feel like I’m at such a crucial intersection in my life as a mother and wife, rediscovering my place outside of the institution. So thank you for your story and honesty.

  8. Such a wonderful podcast! I especially needed Wayne’s reminder to trust Jesus in my children’s lives. When our children were born we had them in church from the start and as they grew we were involved in all the Nursery, Sunday School,Vacation Bible school, and board positions that were expected. Through God leading my husband on a journey of freedom we eventually were freed from the traditional religious expectations and when our kids were about 9 and 10 we stepped out of the church system. Surprisingly, although we did not attend “church” my husband was hired by three church camps over the next 7 years where each time our family lived at the camps. But church camps have a religious structure all of their own!!!! In 2009 we left ( or as in Waynes case were cast away) from the religious church camp system. So at ages 16 and 17 our kids no longer had the religious rules and expectations, or peer pressure to influence them. Despite living in a relgious environment, Father had been able to show thru the things our family had seen Him do, how a living, loving relational journey with Him could be outside of the religious structures of church and camp. But without the black and white religious dos and don’ts my kids were surrounded by for years,my kids struggled. Our son (16) could speak of his struggle and we could see him grow in his own journey closer to Father. He Learned to ask Father for direction and had/ has a growing trust in Him. We saw him grow in wisdom. Our daughter struggled, crying out to us, wanting to be given black and white answers. Continually we tried to redirect her to Father. She was 17 at the time and still continues at age 21 to seek answers in the wrong places. I often think that if we had just stayed in the false system of church security we wouldn’t be in some of the situations we are facing with her. But I have to remember, in those systems her heart never learned to personally trust Father and never would if her reliance on the religious dos and don’ts and performance was the only place she was functioning from. Do I want her to look “good” from the outside and miss a real growing relationship with Father? Never!! I would rather she be on the difficult journey of learning to recognize and live in His love than live in the false security of performance and earned love. The false performance system can lead us to believe we’ve arrived , that we’re doing OK and yet we still have no idea who Father is. No book can encompass the ways God uses to meet each of His children as an individual creation. As parents, we wouldn’t write instructions that require so much time and allow us to face so many difficulties.God allows us to encounter these things so that we come to the end of us and recognize that believing we have control IS an illusion. Until we each can acknowledge He is in ultimate control, he desires the best for us and invites us to walk with him, we will never walk in freedom. Thanks to Julie for sharing and to all who haved shared.

    • Cheryl you said, “Do I want her to look “good” from the outside and miss a real growing relationship with Father? Never!! I would rather she be on the difficult journey of learning to recognize and live in His love than live in the false security of performance and earned love. The false performance system can lead us to believe we’ve arrived , that we’re doing OK and yet we still have no idea who Father is. ”

      I LOVE that perspective! I know it’s shallow, but I really struggle with wanting my kids to look “good”. It’s so great to hear from Julie and ALL you moms and to know that I am not alone on this journey! Sometimes, I feel like I am flying solo with many of these things. Thanks, ladies.

  9. Kimberly you certainly “get it” when you recognize that it is not completely up to you to draw your children to God and that He is more than able to handle it. He so desires a relationship with them .So even though you feel like you are flying solo just remember you are not the pilot! 🙂 I think with my own religious background, living/working/volunteering at “churchy” systems made me very concerned about how my kids looked and measured up to those external values. It caused my love to be very conditional although at the time I wouldn’t have thought it so. Thankfully as Papa drew me closer in relationship to Him, the external measures I used faded. It left a void in my own life and in my kids lives. My son ( now 20 ) struggled some with not knowing how he was doing based on the measures I had used previously but he grew to trust in listening to his heart and learned to listen on his own to Papa. Unfortunately my daughter at 21 is still struggling, listening to many voices… Her own, the world, old religious measures, occassionally to her parents and to Papa. Our 2 children grew up in the same household but are on their own journey. It is a difficult journey for our daughter and for us as her parents. I know that Papa is piloting us thru this to help us to understand His love more fully. Yet even now I struggle with some shame and guilt about how my daughter’s life can possibly be heading in a “godly” direction because it is very far from all those religious measures. I have to remember Papa knows where she has to fly to end up knowing Him. It’s not my job but His to win her to His love. I need to trust Him with her no matter where her journey takes her and that is how Papa is growing me in this. Keep trusting in those Papa moments ,like with your daughter and Adam and Eve. His timing is perfect.

  10. Thanks, Cheryl, for the encouragement. You are so right…the more I draw closer to Abba, the external measures do fade. Without even trying, I care less about how we all measure up and more about our relationships. Ironically, I get most self conscious about how “good” my kids are when we are around “church” people, and it’s worry about the silliest things (i.e. my son listens to secular music-Gasp!) I would never, ever worry about that on most days, but I slip right back into playing by the old rules. Ah well, I’ll keep following my pilot, Abba, and I look forward to continued freedom from my own nonsense in those situations. Thanks again. It’s nice flying with you 🙂

    And Hope, I’ll check out that podcast. Thanks! I listened to the “Loving Our KIds on Purpose” that Julie mentioned and is linked above….soooo good!

  11. Julie thank you for stepping out. I so wish our fee range kids could meet yours. Much love to you. And thank you Wayne so much for doing this podcast for me and i am sure so many others. Keeping it simple is where my heart is at and this spoke volumes.

  12. This was amazing to hear so encouraging and reassuring for us opening our home to
    Many kinds of people and sharing life with them whilst bringing 5 kids. Please do some more podcast where we hear from parents and families as its a lonely walk for many who have come out of unstructured church and just living in the community sharing there faith. We all need encourage and support as there’s not much out there!

  13. The Love story in the midst of a war continues to remove the veil … become like a child …

  14. Laura. I’m in the UK at the moment myself. Will be back in London this weekend if you’ve a mind to come join us.

  15. I don’t feel I need anyone to teach my children about God but I do think they need other Christian friends and eventually a spouse. How do you go about providing this outside of a formal church or youth group type environment?

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