Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (NKJV).
This scripture has always been hard for me. As a child growing up I saw many Godly families, my own included, have children that didn’t make the Godliest of choices and some that walked away from their faith all together, at least for a little while. I’ve seen teens from the same families with the same great support and encouragement turn out a poster child for Christian teens and another with their mug shot in the paper. So it’s a verse I’ve struggled with. As a parent, at first glance, it is comforting. But the problem is it isn’t a promise. Oh if only it were. Most of Proverbs was written by Solomon as a book of guidance and wisdom, a sort of ‘Living a Biblical Life for Dummies’, if you will. As a parent with 5 children, I know I can teach each one the same exact thing and the outcome will look 5 different ways. Quite frankly the verse puts a lot of pressure on parents. If you do your job, they turn out right. It forgets to mention, that whole free will thing.
So I was excited to come across a bit of a different take on the verse than I have seen before from Greg Laurie’s devotion in 2009 entitled Raising Thirsty Children.
The phrase “train up” in the original Hebrew speaks of the actions of a midwife who would dip her finger into crushed dates and then put it in the mouth of a newborn child. The purpose of this was to stimulate the infant’s thirst for milk. So drawing from this concept, we see that to “train up” a child means to create a thirst within him or her…
I love this imagery. Create a thirst within them. We need to point our children to Jesus in every aspect of our living. We need to make the love of Jesus look so appealing in our own lives that they desire to have it in theirs. We can direct them to righteous living and set boundaries and rules to live by but the real transformation comes when our children can see the relationship, the intimate one on one, the need we have with a Mighty, Ever Loving, Always Present Savior. We need to long for Christ so that longing grows deep into the psyche of our children. The more we can present that to them…the more we live our own lives with an appreciation for the love, grace and mercy of Jesus…the better chance they have to grow into spiritual maturity.
Here’s the catch. In truth, anyone can fall short of the grace of God. Free will is designed that way. In truth, we can pour our hearts in to our children and love them large and leave them a legacy of goodness and they may still turn away from it all. That is the world we live in. That is why our success in parenting shouldn’t come from the success of our children and their choices but our obedience to Christ. Of course, our guidance and values and the example of an intimate relationship with Christ will certainly help but it is still up to the child to choose. We do our part and abide in Him. God will do the rest.
That is what God has called us to do. We are establishing external boundaries for our children’s protection, but we are also seeking to develop within them an internal motivation to know and love the Lord.
I think that is why this next piece is so important. “In the way he should go…” You cannot train up each child the same way. You have to encourage a child in their gifts, their passions, their God breathed life. What is it that God shows you in their spirit? What is special about them? Unique? Cultivate that. Each child has their own particular set of talents and strengths and each child will have their own catalyst toward growth. Each child will be encouraged differently. Some may need rewards to stay motivated and others may have an internal drive that is incentive enough. I believe it is imperative as parents for us to help our children explore their interests and nurture their gifts. When we do this, the probability that they will embrace God’s will for their lives and answer His call, increases greatly.
If we are being the salt of the earth (see Matthew 5:13), then we will create a thirst for spiritual things in others, and they will see something in us that they will admire. So, in leading our children and training our children, the most important thing we must do is to live it first.