It was nearly impossible for Sean’s parents to get him to attend church service every Sunday—even though it was online. Since the Circuit Breaker began, he had been staying up late every Saturday night playing his computer games, and just couldn’t wake up in time the next day.

On the rare occasion he actually made it to the living room, his parents wondered if he heard anything. His eyes were closed half the time, or wandering to his phone. At church, his friends would have prodded him to pay attention, but at home, his parents had little success on the sofa.

And now that Sean was a teenager, his parents knew that they couldn’t force him to do what he refused to do. But they worried over his spiritual condition. Was he drifting away from God? Would he stop going to church when church reopened? Did he, they even wondered, even believe in Jesus any more?

Have you asked similar questions as a parent? Are you struggling with a teenage child who seems to be rebelling not just against you, but against the Christian faith?

Cara, a young woman who some may have once considered a rebel, is now working in a full-time Christian ministry. When she was a teenager, however, she walked out of church.

Tired of being nagged, judged, and criticised by her parents, church leaders, and Sunday School teachers, she shocked them one day by declaring that she didn’t want to believe in God any more, and would stop coming to church.

She was immediately branded a “rebel”, but Cara is quick to refute that.

“I was not a rebel,” she says. “I just wanted to be understood.”

‘I Just Didn’t Fit In’

It all started when Cara found herself unable to fit into the church community. Although she grew up in a Christian family and had gone to Sunday School every week since young, as she grew older, she felt that people in church did not approve of her “liberal” behaviour. “Why do you dress this way? Why do you listen to this kind of music?” they would ask.

Cara couldn’t understand why these issues mattered. “It was just my personality, it wasn’t a matter of my heart,” she says. “But to them, I was not a typical, ‘acceptable’ Christian.”

Over time, the constant looks of disapproval and probing questions gave Cara the impression that Christianity was all about rules, rituals, and religiosity.

She also believed that to pretend to be “good” in front of other people would be hypocritical. “Why pretend when you don’t believe?” she asks. “I wanted to be honest to myself, to be true. I was proud of who I was, even if my parents weren’t proud of me.”

This stand caused even more tension at home. Cara’s behaviour and lifestyle frustrated her parents, while she got even more resentful at not being accepted as she was. As far as she was concerned, they were not willing to listen to her point of view. She felt that they simply wanted her to conform, rather than understand why she behaved this way.

“The more they pushed me, the more I pushed back,” she says. “I wanted them to understand how I felt and help me figure out my struggles, but they would just say, “Get over it.’ I just wanted to be heard, to be understood.”

And so, she made the decision to walk away from the Christian faith. It was not because she deliberately wanted to defy her parents and hurt them, but because she did not feel accepted and loved for who she was.

Brought Back by the Assurance of Love

It was only some 10 years later, after Cara entered university, that she began to explore and question her own beliefs and prejudices about Christianity.

As she struggled with questions about the meaning of life and feelings of emptiness, things that she had learned as a child about God began to come back to her. The journey back to God took time, but eventually, she returned to Him.

Her testimony offers an interesting insight into how some teens may feel about their faith, and how parents can respond even as they seek to have their children do the right thing. As Cara’s example shows, many teenagers are looking to be accepted for who they are, and not who they should be. And even more importantly, they don’t want to be defined by their actions.

Cara stresses that a disobedient teen is not necessarily a “rebel” teen. And being labelled as one can hurt deeply. “To me, I was just being myself,” she says. “I wasn’t intentionally going against them for the sake of it. I was just trying to be real.”

At the same time, her journey back to God also demonstrates the power of longsuffering love—from God as well as parents (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7). While she was seeking answers, she appreciated her parents’ constant assurance that they loved her nevertheless.

“I knew that no matter what I did, I would always be welcomed back like the prodigal son in Luke 15,” she says. “It was very important to me. It assured me that they would be there for me when I needed help.”

Leslie Koh spent more than 15 years as a journalist in The Straits Times before moving to Our Daily Bread Ministries. He’s found moving from bad news to good news most rewarding, and still believes that nothing reaches out to people better than a good, compelling story. He likes eating (a lot), travelling, running, editing, and writing.