Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6.
I think we’ve been taught that this verse means that if parents bring their children to church and teach them obedience to God, then after they go through their rebellious stage, they will return to “the church”. I could write a whole article on the devastating misconceptions in this teaching; e.g., the idea that bringing a child to church is what God had in mind when he told parents to train their children, the expectation that all children will rebel and embrace worldliness- at least for a season, and the contentedness with our children returning to “the church” instead of a heart’s cry for them to remain in Christ. But that’s an article for another day. For today, let’s talk about what this verse might actually be about.
I believe this verse is teaching us about individual purpose and design. It’s about getting to know each child and teaching him in a way that fits his personality, spiritual gifts, talents, and interests- or, his unique design. It is a word of guidance to parents concerning how to help their children live their God-given, individual purpose. (Which, incidentally, if they are doing that, there won’t be a so-called rebellious stage, and they will remain in Christ, so “returning to the church” will never be an issue.)
The Amplified Bible says it this way: Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], (emphasis mine) and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6.
This article points out that the Hebrew form used for the phrase “in the way he should go” actually means “his way”. It refers to the child’s particular bent. Used as a noun, the word bent means a special way of doing something, or the special way in which something was designed. When shot from a bow, an arrow will travel in a particular direction, depending on the bow’s bent. This is designed into the bow. If you try to bend a bow differently than the way it is bent, at best you’ll miss your target, at worst, you could break the bow.
Children are not empty buckets, waiting to be filled, or lumps of clay, waiting to be molded into what their parents desire for them. Children, like bows, are designed by God with an individual bent, and a set of gifts to be used for God’s purposes. We as parents are called to recognize this “bent” and to train our children according to their design.
You may be wondering how you can know your child’s individual gifts and bents. I can’t tell you that you will know that all in one day. I can tell you though, that you must start studying your children.
Discovering a child’s learning style is definitely a worthwhile venture, but please don’t stop there. Spend some time learning about spiritual gifts, and how traits like shyness and/ or bossiness may actually be a trait of their God-given gifts. (Susan Scott has some very helpful teaching on this) Find out what they enjoy, what comes naturally to them, and what is difficult. Watch how they react to the situations in life, what motivates them, what scares them, what shuts them down.
Honor your child’s personality. Be very careful not to treat your children like they were made in a factory; all the same. Ask God to open your eyes to the subtle but very important traits that make up your child. Ask Him to show you His vision for your child. Ask Him to teach you how to train your children in the way they should go, in keeping with their individual gifts and natural bents.
When we get to know our children and then train them in such a way that we allow them to find success within who they were created to be, they will not have to depart from it.
How do you feel about this topic? Is it new to you? Does it give you a refreshing perspective on education? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please come chat with me in the comments sections below.