“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he shall not depart from it.”
I used to think this verse ensured that if I was a good enough parent and taught my kids how to read the Bible, how to pray to God, and the joy of serving in the local church body, they would be sure to have a solid relationship with our Heavenly Father. Even if they made bad choices for a time, they were going to come back, just like the prodigal son, because that is the promise of this verse in Proverbs.
But now…now I've lived, and seen, and heard, and witnessed enough heartache to last a lifetime of parents grieving the waywardness of their children and their unwise choices.
The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to teach knowledge and wisdom. The verses within this book are full of advice for everyone, in all stages of life, on how to live a fulfilled and Christ-centered life.
But all the wisdom and knowledge in the world will never negate the free will that God has given us.
He wants us to choose Him.
But the fact of the matter is, not everyone will.
Our children may come from genuine Christ-centered homes and still choose the far country over the abundant life they were created for.
So how do we, as parents, cling to this beautiful promise in Proverbs while watching our children “depart from it”?
First of all, I am not at the crucial, parenting teens stage of life yet (thank God!). I have an almost 11-year-old, a 9-year-old, two 6-year-olds, and a very strong-willed 3-year-old, so I am NOT here to give advice based on my own parenting techniques or successes.
No, I am here as a once-a-teenager-in-the-far-country-myself mom. I am here as a friend to mamas chest-deep in that season themselves. I am here as a friend who has walked through pain upon pain with other friends who have chosen the wrong road, and I can only imagine how much harder it is to navigate when it is your own children making those wrong choices!
The awesome thing about our Heavenly Father is that He speaks to each one of us, no matter where we are, with the same conviction and life-giving advice. He speaks unwavering, consistent truth whether we are in the midst of the storm or someone else is the victim (or cause) of it.
Let's start with the Proverbs 22:6 passage above. We, as parents, are commanded to train our children in the way they should go. That means be the example, in word and action, that mimics Christ–His grace and His love.
This verse is much more freeing than I initially thought! We cannot be the Holy Spirit for our children. We cannot MAKE them do what they are supposed to do. No, that is their responsibility. We can teach them the ways of abundant life, but they have to take hold of that love and grace-filled life themselves. And, as difficult as this concept is, it is almost freeing to know that we are not ultimately responsible for the direction they choose to go.
That being said, as parents it is SO difficult to let go and watch our kids suffer the consequences of their unwise choices.
I always go back to the story of the prodigal son. The father gave the inheritance to his youngest son, knowing full well what that might mean. He had to trust the Lord to take care of his child. But the more I put this story into perspective, the more I realize the beauty of the purpose of parents. We are given children for only a short time. They are really God's children (just like everything else we are given in life…it's all God's) and we are to nurture, bring up, train, and teach until they are old enough to make those choices on their own. That is where the father in this story finds himself. He has to be willing to let his son go and make his own choices.
Which brings me to my next point. We wait and pray.
- We pray for them as they wade through the waters of choices.
- We pray that we will love, regardless of where they end up.
- We pray for confidence in the parenting choices we have made as we followed the Lord's leading.
- We pray that this season will bring our children closer to Abba, their one and only Heavenly Father.
- We pray that their spiritual eyes will be opened and that they will run back home!
And when they do, we are to run to them, arms open, fighting the urge to say “I told you so,” and embrace them in their filth and stench from the foolish choices.
We are not guaranteed to have children who love our great God. I cannot imagine the pain this reality must bring to a parent. But we can choose to entrust God's children back to Him when it is time. He is the healer. He is the provider. He is the lover of the guilty. He is ABBA, Father.