Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” The question is, which way is “the way”?
Generally speaking, Proverbs is a book about wisdom—where to find it and why it’s worth getting. So “the way” in which we should train our children is toward God and His truth, the source of all wisdom. We do that largely by living out our own faith at home, demonstrating kindness and acceptance and forgiveness and grace.
More specifically, though, the Hebrew rendering of “the way” is the word dereck, which in English translates as bents. Therefore, training children “in the way they should go” means raising them according to their natural inclinations. In one of my favorite books, Grace Based Parenting, author Dr. Tim Kimmel explains:
If you were making a bow out of a tree limb, you’d first study the limb to figure out what its natural “bent” is. Then you’d string it. If you didn’t do this, when you pulled the bow back, it would snap because it was strung against its natural bent rather than with it. In the same way, we are to groom our children according to their natural bents. This means coming alongside them with a plan to help leverage their natural and unique gifts and skills into highly developed assets that they can lean on in the future.
This is why we must get to know and appreciate who our children are as individuals, separate from our own biases or expectations. Only then can we truly encourage them to reach their full, God-given potential.
However, for any parent who devotes countless hours and prayers to raising godly kids, consider this word of encouragement—or caution, depending on how you see it. Many of us will read the second half of Proverbs 22:6—”even when they are old they will not turn from it”—and interpret those words as a pinky-swear promise from God.
If I raise my children right, then they will grow up to be holy.
If I discipline with grace and install parental controls on the computer and give them a purity ring when they turn thirteen, then they will never try drugs or cheat on an exam or have sex before marriage.
And if I pray for them and teach Scripture and send them to Sunday school or youth group or Christian college all their growing-up years, then they will not stray from the faith.
Yes! If I—the loving, intentional parent—do A plus B plus C, then D will surely follow because GOD SAYS SO!
Except—not quite. Read the rest of Proverbs and you’ll quickly discover our choices have just as much bearing on our future as our upbringing does. It’s evident in verses like these:
If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. (Proverbs 9:12)
The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin. (Proverbs 10:8)
Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. (Proverbs 28:26)
As parents, we must step back at some critical point and let our children make their own decisions, whether foolish or wise. It’s a necessary part of them maturing and making their faith their own.
Yes, they might get hurt. They might stumble. We might all have regrets one day, regardless of how hard we worked at raising our children “right.” But God is sovereign. He can redeem bad choices and broken people. It’s His specialty.
So whoever our children are today and whoever they will become tomorrow, remember God has them covered at a level we mortal parents can’t possibly reach this side of heaven. He is their all-knowing, forever faithful, almighty Father—the perfect parent. And I’m so grateful for that.
I rest in that.
This post contains an excerpt from my new book, The Cranky Mom Fix: Get a Happier, More Peaceful Home by Slaying the “Momster” in All of Us. Published by Bethany House / Baker Publishing. Used by permission. For more details, go to crankymomfix.com.