Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it.
– Proverbs 22:6
This one passage from the book of Proverbs, that book of wisdom and poetry, has – in my opinion and experience – instilled more angst and feelings of defeat than any other verse in the entire Bible. It has also been used (abused) unmercifully by mean-spirited people who, like a coiled Cobra poised to strike, judgmentally and condescendingly hissed this scripture at a mother or father wearily attempting to traverse the vine-laden jungle of parenthood.
I will never forget the day one of the church deacons went forward at the end of the worship service, via the ritual of the invitation song (or as Baptist friends would call it, the altar call), and publicly confessed he was an alcoholic. I was in 6th grade, and this was the beginning of my awakening to this life as an individuated being that I had been sheltered from most of my young life. How could he be a “Christian” and an “alcoholic”? How could his parents have gone so woefully wrong?
So what does it mean to ‘train up a child in the way they should go’? It seems so clear, so cut and dry. No gray area on that one, my friend! Train up your child in the way you think they need to go, and when they’re old they’ll blindly follow in your all-knowing footsteps.
Isn’t that what this really means?
As my own children began to discover independent thinking (ie., ‘their eyes were opened’ and they became aware of themselves as individuals), that scripture haunted me. I was the mother to three children who were, apparently, given minds of their own! And yet, I loved the fact that they seemed curious, adventurous, and (as I was reprimanded for allowing) strong-willed!
Of course, I worried constantly that someone would see them in a not-so-stellar (by conformist standards) moment and do that head-shaking, lip smacking tisk-tisk sound alerting me that I had fallen short of the glory of God. Oh, my young mother ego was so fragile.
“If you train up your child in the way they should go”, they would remind me…
I had a few years left to get them – and, truth be known, myself – in order so there would be no straying off the Proverbial path. But I wasn’t so sure of all those rules and sub-rules and the ever-present ‘that’s just the way it is’ statements when those fast and steady rules just seemed so brutal from a loving father-God. So how, how HOW was I supposed to ‘train up’ these children for all eternity when I kept falling down myself? OH MY GOD!! What kind of system was this that I be tasked with teaching them “the way” in 18 short years when I wasn’t even sure about the direction I was going?
What if I gave them a road map of my own well-intentioned design, based on what I thought was right, only to discover later that it led to a dead-end?!
I’m still learning, God!
Isn’t that what this is all about…a lifetime of seeking wisdom and discovery of the ‘depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable God’s judgments, and God’s paths beyond tracing out.’ (Romans 11:33). Your path is beyond tracing out!
If I can’t define it, how can I teach it?
Shouldn’t I, as their mother, be laying out the blueprint that they should follow and replicate?
Then one day, after all my children were grown, each traveling a different and unique path – not at all like the one I worked so hard, and failed so miserably to stay on for so many years -it occurred to me:
“….in the way they should go.”
The answer was so clear. If the God of this vast, ever-expanding universe was giving me a lifetime to plunge into those depths, to seek the wisdom that is beyond my defining, perhaps, my job is to train them to go.
Seeking wisdom is the ‘way’, not a final destination. My responsibility to my children is to point away from myself, my understanding, my limitations, even my truth which, like the universe, is ever-expanding and evolving. And now, more than ever, I want my adult children to continue asking questions, embrace their God-given right to be who they are, to follow their own rhythm, unshackled by the legalistic chains that have bound so many for so long.
I want them to search for the immeasurable wisdom, never saying “I have arrived at all knowledge. I long for them to grow old on this beautiful, ever-expanding path, free from fear and judgment.
And as they begin bringing their own children into this world, I pray they feel empowered to set them free, to train them up, from the very beginning – to go.
As their mom, I resolve to embody this freedom and motion in my own life. Really, it’s the best ‘training’ I can continue giving.
Denée King has been a part of the Presence family since she and Doug married in 1998. In addition to working behind the scenes on the technical side, she also also serves as co-creator and co-caretaker of the six-acre Presence headquarters in Dacula, Georgia that they are blessed to also call ‘home’. From hosting guests from the world over to participating in global conversations that seek to advance unity of spirit to celebrating everyday life with friends and family, the message is the same: It all begins with love! So if you’re ever in the Atlanta area and need a place to rest or just want to say hello, come on by and you’ll be treated to some Southern hospitality and maybe even a piece of homemade Buttermilk pie!