I have lately been revisiting what I have always felt is one of the most confusing and frustrating verses in the Bible: Proverbs 22:6. We’ve all read it and memorized and at times have found both aggravation and solace in its simple yet profound message.
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
When I was a young parent I clung to that verse as a promise that my attempts to train and discipline my children would someday be rewarded with their compliance. When my children were teenagers I felt guilty each time I read that same verse. Surely I had failed miserably to train them in the way they should go, because they were totally ignoring at least half the things I thought I had taught them, and they certainly weren’t following a path I would have chosen for them. Now that they are adults I am still baffled by some of the things they do, not because their actions are necessarily bad, but just because their path is so different from their upbringing that I wonder how they found it.
I’m positive that my own parents felt the same way.
And the parents of my students often share similar concerns with me.
Which brings me to some questions about that verse:
How much training? The Bible admonishes us to teach our children daily, constantly. Does anything less constitute failure? Is it enough to talk and guide and be a role model? Or must the training be much more formal? Does it apply to daily life skills or only Biblical truths?
How old does a child have to be to return to the training of his childhood? I seem to recall a few people in the Bible who were trained in godly ways but were certainly disobedient adults. My young adult children are not attending the church of their childhood or practicing many of the things they were taught as children. Do they have to be really old to return to the ways of their childhood training? 50, 60, 70? I don’t attend the church I was raised in. I don’t believe some of the things I was taught as a child. Will I finally change my mind when I’m 80?
How about all those years in between child and old? Some groups, such as the Amish, actually expect their youth to “go wild” for a time- they call it Rumspringa. Others such as the Mormons, try to control their youth with a highly structured culture and service expectations. The Jews have a formal ceremony (Bar or Bat Mitzvah) signifying a child’s maturity and responsibility for their own actions. Christianity seems to adopt a bit of each- we want our teens to behave well in every situation, but we know from the experience of our own teen years that it is unlikely that they will. We try to give them other things to do besides get into trouble, but we know they can serve the Lord on Sunday and be in serious trouble with their peers on Tuesday. We let them be children for as long as possible, but tend to hold them accountable for their actions once they start driving and aren’t under our scrutiny all the time.
Perhaps we are all taking the verse too literally. It becomes a troubling conundrum if we think of ourselves as trainers. My own life has been more of a roller coaster than a path. How can I expect my children to follow my training when I’m not sure I followed my parents’ training? People have been going astray for generations. And their parents probably puzzled over this verse for the same reasons we do. When I find myself totally at a loss I file my confusion under “things too wonderful for me”. I remind myself that my mind is small and my knowledge limited. And I re-read Psalms 139:1-6.
O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
3 You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
5 You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.