My daughter says she no longer believes in God

Dr. Cathleen McGreal

After graduation from college, my daughter told me she no longer believes in God. What can I say to her that will help her think more deeply about this decision?

Each of us has a unique relationship with God, the depths of which cannot be perceived by others. St. Teresa of Calcutta, for example, was known to the world for her smile of comfort and warmth as she served the poor with endless compassion. Yet her private letters reveal that she experienced the dark night of the soul: “In my heart there is no faith – no love - no trust - there is so much pain – the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted. – I want God with all the powers of my soul – and yet there between us – there is terrible separation…” It must have been painful for her confessor, Father Lawrence Picachy, to read those words, just as it was painful for you as your daughter spoke. Keep in mind that our loving God is immersed in our spiritual journeys.

Be an open listener. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to avoid becoming emotionally charged as your daughter explains her beliefs. Responding in a defensive way or with angry retorts cuts off communication about faith. Faith cannot be forced on others. Instead, encourage open dialogue which adds depth to your conversations. Try to understand the process that led her to declare her disbelief in God.

Drawing near to God. Does your daughter make loving life choices? Pope Francis, in his encyclical Lumen Fidei, writes that “Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by his help, for it is characteristic of the divine light to brighten our eyes whenever we walk towards the fullness of love.” Draw comfort from the good she does for others even though you don’t understand her spiritual journey.

Pray that your interactions with your daughter reflect God’s will for your relationship. While in Rome in 1979, Mother Teresa gave a speech saying, “Very often I feel like a little pencil in God’s hands. He does the writing, he does the thinking, he does the movement, I have only to be the pencil.” Focus on the way that your daughter’s path is one of goodness toward others. Ask the Spirit to shepherd your life so that you become a little pencil guiding your daughter toward the fullness of love.