How to Make It as a Family Divided by Faith

Can a Christian mother and her Muslim daughter achieve peace and unity?

Dr. Phil is outside the Green Room. That’s the first sign my daughter, Alana, and I have come together for something important. We’re waiting in the Fox News’ Times Square studios to promote our new book, Undivided, in which we write about our struggle to achieve interfaith peace.

You see, my daughter is a Muslim convert and I’m a lifelong Christian. While the division isn’t fresh, it is not unfelt. Sometimes the peace feels more palpable, but we’re feeling particularly divided and stressed this day — and not because of Dr. Phil. A riot and protests just hit Baltimore, so our scheduled appearance on the morning show Fox & Friends has been bumped.

That means our hard-wrought peace will take a back seat this morning in a nation divided and hurting.

As Dr. Phil McGraw takes to the Fox & Friends sofa, in fact, another mother has gone viral — the one who dragged her 16-year-old son from the Baltimore chaos, pelting him upside the head with an open hand as she wrestled him back home.

And Dr. Phil loves her — applauding this mom’s angered “parenting” style, which Dr. Phil normally wouldn’t condone.

“But I’m tipping my hat to this mother who gets off her butt and gets out there on the street, finds her kid and gets his attention and drags his butt home,” Dr. Phil says.

Hats off, many agreed.

Should I have gotten “off my butt” to find my kid, get her attention and “drag her butt” back home? Back home to Christ?

But what about those of us facing chaos and divide within our families? What, indeed, can my daughter and I do after she left our Christian faith during college to declare herself a Muslim?

Should I have gotten “off my butt” to find my kid, get her attention and “drag her butt” back home? Back home to Christ?

I use Dr. Phil’s vernacular because it raises a question people ask of me, even if they don’t ask it out loud: What kind of parent are you? Why didn’t you stop her? Or as one interviewer asked: “Do you worry that Alana is not going to heaven when she dies?”

I understand such questions. They’ve gnawed at me for almost 15 years, ever since my daughter called on a bright winter day to say, “Hi Mom. I’m a Muslim.”

I couldn’t answer her. I was distracted by other family drama. For one, I was struggling to manage my aging, widowed mother’s move to my household. And my other daughter was closing a business and trying to start over. And my husband and I were all the while trying to repair weak spots in our long marriage. Then my husband got sick and almost died. An eight-hour emergency brain surgery barely saved his life.

Then the phone rings. “Hi Mom. I’m a Muslim.”

I couldn’t answer. A Muslim?

What’s that? That’s what my mother asked when I told her the news. “A Muslim?” She frowned, trying to pronounce a word she didn’t know. “What’s that?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered. Not because I didn’t fully know, but because I wasn’t certain how to react.

True, the faith divide has been devastating to my Christ-following family — because faith is a glue. It holds kin tight.

My daughter proclaiming a different faith in our Christian family? What did that exactly mean? Well, here’s my answer:

First, it means we are divided. Since Alana converted to Islam, she has never again celebrated Christmas with her family. Or Easter. Or Lent. Or sat on a pew with us in the church where she grew up.

This wedge called faith has split our family right down the middle. And it hurts. It hurts bad.

And yet? God is a healer.

That’s how I answer the gnawing questions. As I tell friends and others who ask, “How do you stand it?” I say this: God carries me.

These questions are fair. But they overlook that God is still sovereign and in charge.

True, the faith divide has been devastating to my Christ-following family — because faith is a glue. It holds kin tight. A family’s traditions, values, stories, shared holidays, memories, and experiences say collectively that we are family, indeed.

Losing that bond, more than anything, kicked me to my knees. So I didn’t stop praying. For years, however, I couldn’t do “family” things. I avoided decorating a family tree at Christmas — because what was the point? One of us was missing, and her absence pained me beyond measure.

But God is a healer.

After too many years of dragging through my new normal, mourning our divided family, crying at every church service and acting hopeless and morose, I heard God say stop.

Instead, surrender.

In the meantime, we love each other — looking for the good in each other, instead of obsessing over differences.

As believers, we can forget to do that. But God told me stop now. Instead: surrender. Wait. Trust. Pray.

After doing that, I can reject the fallacy that believers in a divide always have to do something. As it turns out, the first and best thing to do in a divided family is to pray.

With prayer, I stay close to God. And the more I love and hear God, the better I love and hear my family, including my Muslim daughter.

Prayer helped me invite Alana to approach our divide and walk through it. Then keep on walking.

That’s how we manage our divide, not by arguing points of doctrine or discipline. Instead, we commit to walking together in peace, surrendering our hurts to God, giving him our hard questions (such as how to navigate holidays), and trusting God until he answers.

In the meantime, we love each other — looking for the good in each other, instead of obsessing over differences we struggle to affirm. These are the subtle but superior ways any family can resolve hurt, chaos, and division.

The good news? God helps. As Jesus told his fearful disciples, “Take courage. I am here!” (Matthew 14:27).

Then as we await our calls to serve, we can build, patch, and pave our way to peace. To a destination? No, peace is a journey. So keep on walking. Together. Forever.

Stay tuned for Alana Raybon’s corresponding piece.

The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
Image courtesy of Katrina Warme.

Patricia Raybon
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  • Sam

    I know my mother struggles with this. We don’t have the family faith based traditions that your family has for multifarious reasons, but I know she struggles with her faith and her acceptance of my faith. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to share this with her myself.