I have lived in my current home for almost 15 years. In that time, I have seen my neighbor boy grow from preschool, to the elementary school’s gifted program, to drug addiction and jail. I watched his parents take him to church, involve him in sports and Boy Scouts, and find additional educational opportunities to challenge him. I watched them pour their hearts, their time, and their money into that boy. I saw their pride when he was young, their optimism when he first began to struggle, and now their defeat. Today his father told me that he was glad to hear that the police had caught his son because he knew where the young man was, and he knew his son was safe.

We’ve actually had two boys in the neighborhood go down this path. Both from stable homes with involved parents. Both bright kids with every opportunity. Both hit middle school age, got in with the wrong crowd, and started to slide toward trouble. Both of them are addicts now.

Neither of them are beyond hope. But both of them will have a steep uphill climb fighting addiction and living with the legal ramifications of their pasts. Life will not be easy for these boys, even if they turn their lives around. Even if they get the best professional help money can buy.

Life is not easy for their parents, either. From other friends who have walked a similar path, I know the heartbreak and guilt they carry. I know they replay over and over the decisions they made as parents and question where they might have done better. I know they feel guilt, shame, anger, and a lot of worry for those boys. I know they also feel a lot of love and at least a glimmer of hope. I know it is their deepest desire to see their kids clean and sober and leading productive lives.

Here’s the thing: No one can do absolutely everything right as a parent. And even if you could, your kids can still assert their will and run down the very path you have tried to steer them away from. We all have just enough parent fails and insecurities to turn the blame on ourselves, but it’s unlikely that your little imperfections ruined your kids. After all, some kids come from much worse situations without straying. The simple truth is that our kids have free will, and nothing we can do completely ensures that they will make the right choices.

In Proverbs 22:6, Solomon writes, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It sounds like Solomon is making a promise, a simple cause and effect, but we all know kids who don’t seem to fulfill that promise. I don’t know what makes one kid stay while another runs. It might be rebellion as they get tired of the “straight and narrow” and go looking for their version of fun. Maybe negative influences pull them away from the truth. But no matter how fast or how far they run from God, the way you raised them does not depart from them. It is in there. It’s their conscience, their compass. No matter how hard they try to suppress it, or how fast they run, the truth is still in their memory and still colors the way they see the world.

If your kids are still at home, keep planting those seeds. If your children have turned away from the Lord, do not give up hope. Press in and continue to pray and believe for them. Isaiah 55:11-12 reminds us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Keep planting seeds of God’s word and keep watering those seeds with your prayers!