(Warning: this is a longer post than I usually write, but I hope you will stick with me! Thanks in advance!)
There is a verse in the Bible that many Christians quote frequently regarding child-rearing. It comes from the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. According to the New American Standard Version (NASV) Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This is pretty straight-forward. Teach your kids how to act and as adults they will act that way. Right?
Well, I think most of us can cite examples that argue the opposite in media and in real life. Take, for example, the television show “Breaking Bad.” A young drug dealer named Jessie comes from a loving, two-parent, suburban, middle-class home…not exactly the image of a meth dealer that we conjure in our own minds. However, he is seeking his way and has “departed” from the “way he should go”. (Now I have not seen the whole series yet, and as a mom, I am unlikely to get a block of hours to have a “Breaking Bad Marathon”, so please no spoilers. I don’t yet know how he turns out toward the end of the series.)
Still, my point is that people do indeed make mistakes and bad choices even if they are taught correctly from the beginning. And many people who grow up in horrible situations use those situations as catalysts to create happy, successful lives for themselves.
So, how are we to interpret this verse.
Well, I am not one who thinks everyone should interpret the Bible his or her “own way”. That leaves too much room for error. I’d rather listen to those voices of wisdom who have come before me and to those who have studied it and understand it in context. (You can’t just take a phrase that sounds good and make it apply to you, and assume that that is God’s will. You have to understand the context in which the verse was written.)
But many of the Proverbs are stated just as little nuggets of wisdom. I think this is why they appeal to me and to so many others. They are practical advice for all of us.
So, based on evidence that children don’t always grow to live the way they “should,” and even though I am not normally in the habit of interpreting bible passages on my own, how are we to take Proverbs 22:6?
We are to do the best we can.
How was that for a revelation?
We parents are to take the amazing, adorable bundles of possibility that come wrapped in swaddling blankets and diapers and do our best to guide them to being the people that they were put on this earth to be. We are to take the time to help them discover their talents. We are to lovingly prune away character traits that may cause pain to themselves and others. But we are to realize that we do not have the ultimate say over who our children will become. That is between them and God (even if they don’t believe in God.)
So when we are told to raise up our children in the way they “should” go, we are to train them to have the discipline to do for themselves the things that they can…age-appropriate chores, self-care, schoolwork, etc. But we are also to follow their individual “bents.”
If you have a child who seems to love sports, allow him to try any number of sports at whatever level you can afford (financially as well as time-wise). He may discover that he does not enjoy playing football but that he has a knack for studying the statistics of the game and analyzing plays…maybe instead of the next Joe Montana, you have the next Lou Holtz on your hands.
If you have a child who gravitates toward music, please allow him to explore it. Even if you can’t afford expensive lessons, look for a way to bring good music into his life.
One of the things we have to avoid is trying to force our children into our own “bents.” If you would be willing to spend $500 on hockey gear and skating lessons, but your child couldn’t care less about playing hockey, then you need to assess whether or not you would be willing to spend that money on music lessons…hopefully your answer is a resounding “yes.”
If a child’s interests are thwarted, ridiculed, or otherwise dismissed (as in a parent forcing…not just sharing, but forcing…his own interests on the child), a great opportunity for happiness and fulfilment will be missed.
But if a child is allowed to explore his passions and his God-given talents, and is brought up to be a healthy, well-adjusted human being, there is no stopping that child from reaching his full potential. And if that is the case, even though life will throw in difficulties and surprises, “…when he is old, he will not depart from it.”