Twisted Scripture - Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child..."
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
With a few exceptions, generally related to mental health issues, every parent wants what is best for their child. They want them to grow up to happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults who find their way in this world. For parents who are committed to really any religion, part of what they hope to pass onto their children is their faith. Every parent I know wishes they could find the magic formula which would guarantee their child grows up to be successful, well-respected, and honorable.
Often, Proverbs 22:6 is pointed to as the Christian parent’s promise from God that, if they do everything right, their children will grow up to be the good people they hope and pray for them to be as adults. And, unfortunately, it is too often used as a judgment against parents who did the very best they knew how to do in raising a child who chooses a path which veers away from God’s will.
Because of this, I want to start out this week’s post with acknowledging a few things. First, parenting is hard work. Kids have a unique way of trying a parent’s patience and reminding them of their worst character traits. More than once during my teen years my friends I heard our parent’s mutter, “Someday, you are going to have a child just like you.” As my sister parents her three girls through the toddler and childhood years, more than once she has looked at one of them said, “It’s a good think you’re cute.” Living with another person 24/7 is challenging when you are both reasonable, rational, responsible adults. Living with another person, or several other persons, who have temper tantrums because they don’t want to wear shoes to go outside in the winter, or who fight with each other over who’s turn it is to do just about anything, or even simply don’t know how else to express the complicated emotions they are feeling and so burst out in tears.
Secondly, parenting does not come with any guarantees. You don’t get to purchase a warranty plan at the hospital before you take your baby home which promises that someone else will be along to fix things if anything goes wrong. Yes, every parent can make choices which increase the odds that their child will not only survive but thrive in this world but there are no guarantees. There are no guarantees because each child is still an individual person who will make their own individual choices.
And finally, I want to acknowledge that no parent, no family is perfect. We all make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are small ones quickly forgotten, other mistakes are bigger and haunt us for days, weeks, months, or even years. It is way too easy, especially if things have not gone according to plan, to get sucked deeply into the “what if” game. I don’t believe we are called to be perfect parents. I do believe we are called to parent in the best way we know how, to make use of the information and support available to us, and to learn from the mistakes made by previous generations. But I also know that grace and forgiveness are there when we have a bad day, make the wrong call, or simply get tired and run out of energy.
With these three things in mind, let’s dive back into our commonly miss-used verse for this week. As I eluded to above, this verse is often used to encourage Christian parents to go “all in” when it comes to raising their kids, especially when it comes to raising their kids in the church. Church and Sunday school every Sunday, youth programming on Wednesdays, youth retreats and summer Bible camps, Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Mission Trips. Find a church which offers all of these and more and be sure the kids are going to everything. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with a Christian school, send your kids there instead of these suspicious public schools. If you can’t send your kids to Christian schools, strong consider homeschooling them. And, when the time comes, only look at Christian colleges. Family Bible study each day and only watching TV programs fully approved by Focus on the Family or some similar organization.
I’m not a parent but I do have to say, that sounds exhausting and overwhelming. I know that, as a teenager, I would not have been on board with all of that church based activity…and I was a kid who ENJOYED going to church! I went to a public school and regularly shared by faith and had a solid group of Christian friends from a variety of faith backgrounds. These same friends would wrestle with various questions and often find answers in the other Christian traditions while we also talked about boys, part time jobs, upcoming tests, and plans for the future. A checklist of how to live a good, Christian life, is, no matter how well intentioned, a checklist. Jesus didn’t come to give us a checklist, he came so our once intimate relationship with God the Father might be restored.
An important thing to remember about Proverbs 22:6, and indeed all of the proverbs, is that they are just that: PROVERBS. They are not promises. The book of Proverbs is known as wisdom literature and this book in particular was given so that those who strive to follow God could do so skillfully in this world. Proverbs describes how things GENERALLY work, how they would work if we lived in a perfect world. But as we all know, our world is not perfect and so what we read in Proverbs is not how things always work out.
So what does this verse have to offer us if not a promise that our kids will make all the right choices as adults?
First, it reminds us that parents do have an important role to play in raising their children. Training is action. It is being involved in all aspects of their lives. When it comes to faith specifically, that means living out your faith in a real, tangible, active way for your children to observe and participate alongside you in. You don’t get to drop them off at the door to let others do the work of teaching your children about God and what it means to live a life following Christ, you have to model it. Despite the eye rolls and backtalk, study after study shows that still today the first person pre-teens and teens look to in trying to figure out how to live life is their parents. Training up your child is a hands-on activity.
Next, we are reminded that we need to teach our children the difference between right and wrong. We need to teach them things like how to be kind and thoughtful, how to exercise self-control, and how to admit when they are in the wrong, ask for, and receive forgiveness. These are things which don’t come naturally to any of us as human beings. What is one of the first words most children learn how to say? “MINE!” By nature, we are selfish beings who look out for our wants and needs first and foremost. To the two year old who is determined to have their way, it matters not if the object of their desire is good (or even appropriate) for them to have, they will fight for what they want and heaven help the poor, unfortunate soul who must tell them “No.” If you want to see this in full action, find some siblings who are about 6 years apart in age and spend a day or two with them. It won’t take long before the younger one claims something with little or no regard for anyone else’s feelings or opinions and the older one complains because they aren’t allowed to behave with the same reckless disregard for other’s feelings. We have to be taught the difference between good and bad and how to make the right decision, even when our nature tempts us to pick the selfish option.
And finally, while this isn’t a promise of the choices a child will make as an adult, it is an encouragement. The reality is that how you raise your child does influence their choices as an adult. All too often the argument is made today that, when they are old enough, parents plan on allowing their children to make their own decisions about faith, morals, character, and such. However, how can they know the decision there is to be made if they are not first taught well about their choices? The reality is that if we want them to choose to remain faithful to God as an adult, we have to teach them what that really means as a child. We can’t just leave it up to chance.
This is the key to using this verse correctly. To see it as an encouragement to keep on going when you are tired and frustrated. It is meant to remind you that, as a parent, what you are doing matters in the long term, big picture of your child’s life. It is reminder that you can only do the very best you know how to do and then you will have to trust God with the rest because you can’t guarantee they will make the choices you want them to make.
- If you are raising young children, how is your support network? Does it include parents who have raised children through the teen years and into adulthood? Do you take the time to really listen to their advice and prayerfully consider how it might inform your parenting?
- If you are recently, or about to be, empty nesters, what would you have changed about your parenting in the early years? What is one thing about parent you wish someone would have told you before you brought your first kiddo home?
- If you are enjoying your golden years and spoiling grandkids a bit, what young parents are you investing in? How can you be the friend and mentor to them you wish you would have had?
Helpful Resources Used:
"Proverbs 22:6 - A Second Look at an Unpopular Verse" posted by TheDisciple-MakingParent.com
"What Does is Mean to Train Up a Child In the Way He Should Go?" by Brent Rinehart and posted by CrossWalk.com
"Proverbs 22:6 Reexamined" by Wes McAdams and posted by RadicallyChristian.com