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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Guarantee or a Promise

Proverbs 22:6 - Train up a child in the way he [or she] should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (KJV)

I love the sound of that verse.

But, is it a guarantee?
I wish it were. There are so few guarantees in life. But, I don’t think so.

Or is it a promise?
It sure sounds like it.

So, what does this verse promise exactly?
Let’s start with “the way.”

Solomon, the ancient writer of this verse, was probably talking about living a good life, one that counted, one that a parent could be proud of. Who wouldn't want that for their child?

He was a follower of the Lord Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So, that was a big part of what he meant when he talked about the way. But, he wrote a whole book, Proverbs, and another, Ecclesiastes, with some very specific wisdom about how to live life. He was very practical in his approach. His advice was hands on. Don't swindle your neighbor. A good ox brings a good harvest. And, "don't txt whIl U R drivin." Real practical stuff.

A Christian may read, “Train up a child in the way he should go,” and think, “I need to teach my child to believe in Christ and follow him as I do, then he gets older he will.” Does that sound like something Solomon would say? Not really. Even if we excuse the fact that Christ wasn’t around at the time, it just doesn’t sound like the rest of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Here is what Solomon did say in Ecclesiastes 12:13.

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind. (NIV)

So, God was definitely at the core of Solomon’s life and teaching. So, if you want to “Train up your child in the way,” you’d better include that part. But there is so much more.

Proverbs 1:8 - Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
    and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. (NIV)

Proverbs was written as a guide book on life from a father to a son. Solomon wanted many to learn from it, see verse 1-6 of chapter 1, but the first few chapters are directed specifically to a son.

Solomon gives advice about how to deal with bloodthirsty men and adulterous women, the importance of dealing fairly with your neighbors and business partners, and the blessings and difficulties of being married to the right (and wrong) woman.

Solomon describes life and gives his son practical wisdom about how to navigate through the best and worst that life has to offer. Training up a child in the way that he [or she] should go is not a matter of passing on a faith in Christ as much as it is engaging in a very real, practical, personal relationship with your child.

According to their research, Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton have concluded, “that the best social predictor, although not a guarantee, of what the religious and spiritual lives of youth will look like is what the religious and spiritual lives of their parents do look like.”[1]

So, pass on your faith while you are engaged in an intimate and genuine, growing relationship with your child. It’s likely that they will see who you are and imitate you.

But, they will only be able to imitate you as much as they can see and understand who you really are. If you hide your doubts, fears and failures from them and give them a perfect picture of your faith, they will see that you are hiding and imitate that in their own lives. If you parent them using fear and guilt to manipulate them, they will see through that and believe what they think you believe, “God is a god of fear and guilt.” And, they will choose not to follow such an immature and weak god.

But, if they see you growing and failing, loving and accepting as best you can, admitting failure and striving to do better next time, they will see you more clearly. They will long for a real relationship with God, like the one they have seen you model.

If you teach them how to balance their check book, how to love the unlovely, how to treat your neighbor, and how to walk confidently through difficult times, they will value the relationship that they have with you. They will imitate you and your faith. And God’s promise will make sense…

Train up a child in the way he [or she] should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (KJV)

PS - This week, I realized that the worst traits of each of my children are my worst traits. But, I later realized that my best traits are also each of my children's best traits. So far, God's word and the research are accurate with my family. How about in yours?

[1] Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, USA, 2005), 261.

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