In the early days of our marriage, Lee and I lived in an apartment the size of a matchbox in Frisco, Texas. Miles from our home, a new church was in it’s early stages, still meeting in a local school while a building was being constructed. This church was led by Chuck Swindoll, an author both of us had long admired, and we quickly discovered that his preaching was the perfect fit for two kids playing house and trying desperately to grow up.
Every Sunday for two years we left our apartment early and traveled the two miles from home to church where we made it a point to sit on the second row, right next to Chuck’s wife Cynthia. We soaked in every word of his preaching, taking pages and pages of notes as we gleaned from his wisdom and his charisma.
Over the years, we have kept track of Pastor Swindoll through his Insight for Living broadcast, and on occasion we order a series of messages that we feel would be particularly beneficial. Last fall, we purchased his series on Biblical Parenting, and the first sermon alone left such an impact that I think on the message often.
He started by breaking down a verse that’s given me a great deal of consternation for the last few years. It’s a verse that I’ve long felt was misunderstood and misquoted often to the detriment of both parents and children.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
This verse was always explained to me in such a way that if I raise my children in a strong, Bible believing household, and point them to the Lord, then when they grow old, they will naturally follow that path and not turn from it. The advice seems sound enough, and the message is nice to hear when you have young children who are easily trainable.
But what happens when those children grow up and rebel?
What about the children who choose to depart from their parent’s teaching, or from the church of their youth?
What happens when children question and doubt, and perhaps even turn their back on the Lord?
What are parents supposed to think then?
I’ve long felt that the common interpretation of this verse sets children up for unrealistic expectations of perfection, and sets parents up for a world of heartache and guilt if, indeed, their children choose to take a different path.
Chuck Swindoll set my mind and heart at ease when he broke down the literal interpretation of this verse. Proverbs 22:6 instructs parents to raise their children in the way they are bent.
We are to recognize the natural talents, passions, and gifts that our children possess, and train them up according to those things, so that when they grow old they will know who God created them to be. They will grow with a confidence in who they are, and in their purpose on this earth. This sets children up for success far more than a simplistic view that if they know Jesus at 6, they will know him at 26.
Does this mean they will stay the course and resist temptation? No, it does not. I pray daily that my children will make it through adolescence and young adulthood with a strong sense of faith and trust in the Lord, but I do not expect to raise perfect little robots who never fail, never make mistakes.
We must take the time to really watch our children, to observe them closely, and to take note of the traits that make each of them unique, and then we must heartily and graciously point them toward those naturals bents, even if they differ from what we would desire for them.
Is your child a gifted musician? Does he have an ear for music that comes naturally? Then by all means, buy him a guitar, give him a piano, or purchase a set of drums and some good ear plugs and let him flourish.
Don’t try to make him a quarterback if his natural gifting and desire lean toward music. Don’t try to make a musician out of a child that loves soccer. Don’t try to make a bookworm out of a thrill seeker.
We all recognize giftings in our children, and we naturally want to develop those. Sometimes we see a gift, but quickly realize that they don’t have a passion for that activity, and we have to make the hard choice to sit back and let them walk away from something in which they could potentially excel. Because the fact is, talent without passion can only take us so far before it all falls apart.