Proverbs 22:6 (HCSB) says, “Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” But what does this really mean? Here are a few of my thoughts as a dad and pastor who has worked with pre-teens and teens for most of my life.
First, it means that the foundation of early child-hood is really important.
I often marvel at God’s Word. I’m pretty convinced that the Bible isn’t a scientific text, but occasionally, you find these little nuggets that coincide with what we now know about child development. In this case, the more intentional we are with our children from a young age, the more likely they are to reach their potential.
There is a reason that Deuteronomy 6 (and numerous other verses) instruct parents to teach their children about God’s commands, promises and character wherever they find themselves from a young age.
And this really is about training.
If you think about training for an instrument, sport, or job, you know that to become proficient in it, you need to devote focused time and practice to it.
Spiritual training is no different. And the earlier we start that training the better our children will fare later in life. (Just think about the difference between learning to play piano as a child and as an adult!)
Second, it suggests a way, it doesn’t dictate a formula.
Contrary to what some critics of Christianity say, training our children young isn’t about brainwashing our kids. It’s about giving them a road map of , ethics, morality, and proper thinking .
We recently went to Florida as a family and as usual, we drove! Now there are three main routes from Manitoba to Florida and they all end up being withing 50-100km’s difference. So, on the way south, we took a route that brought us through Kansas City and St. Louis, but on the way back we ended up hitting Louisville and Chicago.
Some people insist that the best way to get to Florida is via Chicago, and other’s will advocate for the other routes. But the truth is, there are many routes to Florida! (Some of them would add many days of travel but would take you through some pretty interesting places.)
And, of course, many parents, often driven by fear, do make Christianity into a recipe as opposed to a road map. A recipe, if followed to the letter, usually produces the same end result. But a road map gives options and so does Christianity.
If the spiritual training is rigid and doesn’t allow questions or exploration, if the training insists on it’s own truthfulness because we believe it as parents, then it’s brainwashing.
But that isn’t what these verses are teaching. In fact, that isn’t what Christianity teaches.
Christianity is remarkable because it is open to dialogue. “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord to Israel when their sins are being laid bare (Isa 1:18).
Astonishingly, the practices that are central to our faith such as forgiveness, care for the poor, and prayer, among others, are widely recognized to have an impact even if the people practicing them aren’t Christians!*
So, contrary to anything the culture might tell us, by training our children young, we are setting them up to live moral, ethical, and thoughtful lives. But the training, while disciplined, is not rigid. It is a way, not a formula.
Finally, it takes the long view.
“…even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
But this “training” doesn’t mean your three-year-old isn’t going to smack his sister.
It doesn’t mean that your pre-teen won’t get suspended from school.
It doesn’t mean that your teenager won’t rebel in the worst possible ways.
What this verse is saying is that the training we give our children throughout their lives bears fruit, and sometimes the full expression of that fruit only shows up much later in life; quite possibly after you are dead.
Are you OK with that?
I mean, as a dad, I want to see my kids living godly lives now. I want them to know and love Jesus and try live to please Him. I also want them to obey me, clean their rooms, stay sexually pure, have good jobs, move out… and I would prefer if the training had an effect right now.
But… I have the long view on this thing as well. I am more interested in their lived demonstrating “the way” eventually than not at all.
There is a big chunk of trust in here that says, “God, Your Word says that if I do my part in training my children, that there will be fruit, and I am trusting You for that.”
I’m not always OK with that, but if I’m serious about Proverbs 22:6 parenting, then I actually need to be!
*Robert Cialdini is one of numerous authors who talk about this. Cialdini has a small section on the positive effect of prayer for romantic partners in his book Pre-suasion.