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.”
There have been many parents who have questioned why their child has become an atheist (and doesn’t appear to be coming back to their spiritual roots), especially in light of what Proverbs 22:6 says. What are we to make of this?
Chuck Swindoll in writing about this verse said, “I know any number of rebels who were forced into a restricted, parent-dominated, externally religious lifestyle during their early years in the home. And when they got free of all that, they split the scene and ran wild. I mean, really wild! And they never did stop running. In fact, they didn’t return to the Lord, even when they grew older. I know some, in fact, who died while running from Him.”
If I could give just a simple word of advice to parents, especially those with their children still at home. Parent each child individually according to their natural inclinations, rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach. You must raise children, not just a family.
Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train up a child in the way he should go (the way he is inclined to go, i.e., habits and interests), even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Some things to remember when you read and apply this pithy saying of wisdom to your life, particularly in the context of this question.
Remember, this verse is not a promise; it is a proverb, or a probability. A child still has a choice when he is grown and may choose to depart from what he or she was taught. But if you get to know your child deeply, and you become a student of his/her ways, the lessons you teach about God will not be soon forgotten. Chances are they’ll grow up to be Theists, but there is no absolute guarantee. Abraham Lincoln said, “There is but one way to train up a child in the way he should go, and that is to travel it yourself.” When you do that, there is a strong probability that your child will also follow your lead. What you do has more impact on that probability than all the lectures you could ever give.
Remember, this verse requires some wise disciplinary measures. The text says, “Train up a child.” This is more than just a one time event! And, this process of training starts at child birth. According to one prominent psychologist, it’s best to start disciplining your children when they’re young, approximately 14 months of age. Youngsters are more pliable until they’re around 4 years old. After that, the concrete hardens a little and you have to work harder at breaking it up. The pyschologist summarizes discipline like this: At a football game when a guy jumps off sides, what does the referee do? He doesn’t get red-faced and begin screaming about the virtues of keeping the rule. He drops the flag and he steps off the penalty. In the same way, when your child messes up, don’t break the peace of your home. You step off the penalty –– and you do it consistently. Don’t reason with the little guy or gal. Discipline them in love and with full explanations.
Remember, this verse requires that parents know their children deeply and create memories with them. The text says, “Train a child in the way he is inclined to go.” In other words, if your child likes baseball, teach him about God, about values, about life through the game of baseball. If your daughter loves art, become a student of her art and teach values through art. If your child loves hunting, teach him about God, about values, about life through the sport of hunting. And, if you personally as a parent loved to play the sport of baseball (but your son doesn’t) and couldn’t stand the sport of hunting (but your son does), learn how to hunt too if you kid loves hunt! If your child has some great questions about the deeper things of life, encourage them to keep asking them and answer them the best you can, doing research and guiding them in a Christian Theistic worldview. Remember, it’s according to “his/her way” not your way, your plan or your curriculum. Memories are more important than things. When you know and do things that your kids love to do and teach them about God in the process, they will attach your words with some of their fondest memories.
My friend Ed Frank shares that it’s important to “Discover Your Child’s Passion and Giftedness” in thinking about these things: “I would perhaps show parents ways to expose their kids to a bunch of different things while they are young (music, sports, languages, etc) and learn how to identify something their kid may enjoy and excel in, and if they do enjoy and excel in something – to “exploit” that and be willing to channel whatever resources of time, energy, and money to allow them to excel….And also to point out that if their child is a “plain jane” then that is alright because the foundation of everything is character…” Good advice Ed. But, he has more: Show the parents not to try and live their lives (with their missed goals and dreams) through their kids by forcing something on them that “isn’t them” and also avoid not exposing their kids to something because the parents don’t personally like it – like athletics (since they may have been couch potatoes all their life).
I have learned that for the most part if someone is going to be great at something – the passion and foundation is usually going to be formed during those first 18 years while at home. Start creating a thirst for God early in their lives. Do this as long as their living with you. Make being a Christian Theist a normal part of life.
Remember, this verse applies to all of your children equally, not just a select one or two of them. Otherwise, you will fuel what already exists – sibling rivalry. One of the biggest things that parents must guard against in their home, especially in the blended family situation, is sibling rivalry and parental favoritism. Susan Yates wrote about her friend Joe and his two boys. Joe’s first boy was real athletic. Because he was so athletic, he was the apple of his father’s eye. His dad loved to roughhouse with him and he encouraged him to be tough. Joe’s younger brother, Jeff, was a very sensitive child with a slight build. He disliked sports and shunned physical activity. His tendency to recoil from aggressive play irritated his dad, and he began to make fun of his son by saying, “You need to be like your brother, Joe.” But Jeff couldn’t, and he soon became the object of sarcastic comments and subtle ridicule. It was no surprise that the boys began to dislike each other. Today, as adults, the siblings have nothing to do with each other. Parents, the tendency is to favor the child that brings you the most glory and honor. If we play parental favorites with our children, showing more pride in our athlete as opposed to our artist, we’re only setting the stage for problems between our children now and down the road that may take them years to sort through defunct atheistic worldview explorations.
Sibling rivalry generally occurs for one or two reasons: (1) children are discovering who they are, and in the process, they are competing to find their own niche (their own talents, activities, interests); or (2) children feel that they are receiving unequal amounts of attention, discipline, and/or responsiveness from their parent(s). Love your children equally. Become a student of their ways and desires. Don’t compare your children with each other. Instead, study the unique way God made each one, and nurture their individual gifts. Train them to support and cheer for each other. Parents, when you pull into the driveway at home and you step out of your car and into the house, at that point, you’ve got to forget about your hard day and go after your kids like your life depended on it.
1. Parent’s, make sure before you go to bed tonight that you tell your son or daughter, “Son/Daughter, I love you. I’m proud of you.” Make sure your home is a place of affirmation. Take time with a problem child. So often what they need is meaningful human interaction.
2. Brothers and Sisters, the day will come that you’ll go your separate ways. Before you say that critical remark or offer that scourging rebuke, remember, God might want to use your sibling in a powerful way and he might want to use you in building them up.
3. Parents, love your rebel. I love this line from Josh McDowell: “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” Rebellion is a cry for relationship – “Pay attention to me.” If you have a rebellious child, don’t let it ruin your future. Create the kind of home and relationship that they will want to run back to. Lovingly hold them accountable and make sure they see how their behavior negatively impacts others in the family. But in all of this – love them.