A young father was pushing a shopping cart in a grocery store while trying to contain a screaming, thrashing baby boy.

Very softy he kept repeating encouraging words like “Calm down, Brian.” “Don’t yell, Brian.” “Don’t get excited, Brian.” “It’s going to be ok, Brian.”

A woman observing the father’s calm demeanor offered her approval. “You are certainly to be commended, young man, for being so patient and trying to soothe little Brian.”

The father looked at her and soberly replied, “Lady, I’m Brian.”

Parenting is tough. For both fathers and mothers. It is demanding. Challenging. And often humbling. The Bible provides advice, counsel and encouragement for parents as they raise their children.

The wise man admonished, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).

While this verse offers wisdom and instruction, it has often become a passage that has provided confusion, consternation and grief for many Christian parents.

I’ve had this scenario play out more than once over the years. A parent comes to me about their adult child who is no longer faithful to the Lord. They can’t understand it. They taught them right from wrong. Took them to church and Bible classes. Maybe sent them to a faith-based college. Then they quote Proverbs 22:6 and sincerely lament, “What have I done wrong?”

Maybe nothing.

This verse is not an absolute guarantee of future spiritual faithfulness when you raise your children right. Proverbs are short pithy sayings. General ruling principles. Axioms. Adages that are fundamentally sound. But not 100% true in every case.

Initially this may sound a bit strange since we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. However, remember Proverbs is a unique collection of wisdom from men that is revealed to us. Their insights are solid, sound advice. They are well-reasoned. But there are exceptions to the rule.

Furthermore, if you apply this passage as absolute in every situation, then you find yourself in the untenable position of accepting the impossibility of apostasy. We all have freedom of choice. Even our grown children who were properly taught may decide another course of life.

Finally, it is entirely possible that this verse doesn’t teach what we’ve made it to mean over the years. Bible commentator Albert Barnes says the expression “the way he should go” means “according to the tenor of his way.” In other words, “the path especially belonging to, especially fitted for, the individual’s character. Barnes adds, “The proverb enjoins the closest possible study of each child’s temperament and the adaptation of ‘his way of life’ to that.

In his book Go For the Magic, Pat Williams suggests, an interpretation of this proverb might read, “Train up a child according to his own unique characteristics and when he is older he will become all he was intended to be.” Williams further observes “we are not supposed to pour our kids into a mold or stamp them out with a cookie cutter. We are to discover and develop the unique traits and abilities of each of our children.”

Williams dubs this the “red thread” concept. “A ‘red thread’ is that one aptitude, passion or interest that stands out among all the rest in a person’s life.” ‘Red threads’ may be music, sports, reading, writing, math, a special hobby or a particular vocation. They include a children’s intellect, emotional make up, personality, physical abilities, likes, dislikes, strengths and skills.

While all training should include a strong spiritual foundation and we should bring them up in “the way of the Lord,” not every boy is going to be a preacher or an elder. Nor is every girl going to be a Bible class teacher or a preacher’s wife.

Our job as a parent is not to push a child in the direction we want them to go, but to find their unique bent in life and gently guide them in that direction. Then they will achieve their God-given potential. And can use their achievements to the glory of God.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

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