As Christian parents, when we start out raising our children, we have high hopes and dreams for them. Even though our children are ultimately the Lords and He only entrusts them to us for their care and training for a short while, we naturally want to take ownership of them. We may have plans for our children when they are grown but our children were given the same free will that we enjoy. This means there is a possibility that their choices may lead them down a different path than what we intended. We may have raised our children in church but the decisions they make, as with ours, come with consequences.
Many a hopeful parent with a wayward child have clutched tightly to the promise of Proverbs 22:6 which instructs us to train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it. When this is read, the natural response is to think it means train up a child in an upright, Godly way. That is what I always thought until a pastor once told me, “No, it’s referring to the parent allowing the child to grow into their natural bent, using the gifts and talents God gave them.” After he told me that, I held onto that belief for a long time. Now I know that pastor was wrong. It means exactly what you think it means. Train up a child in an upright manner to know the Lord and when he is old, he will not depart from it. But hold on. You’ve heard of the wise saying, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Is that a promise? No. It’s a wise saying. So is Proverbs 22:6. It’s a proverb not a promise. The idea is to raise your child rightly and the vast majority of the time, your child will not depart from that. But there are exceptions.
It’s dangerous for a parent to cling so tightly to Proverbs 22:6 as a promise. The danger in doing this is that if the child turns out to be a wayward child engaging in sin, that parent will think God doesn’t keep His promises and may end up angry at the Lord when it wasn’t a promise to begin with. This can have devastating consequences in ones life. The Lord does keep his promises. But we have to recognize what those are. Proverbs are not promises. They are wise sayings.
This is where recognizing the genre of what we’re reading in the bible is helpful. The bible has several different genres. Understanding which one you are reading helps with interpreting the passage.
Should Proverbs 22:6 be included when teaching parents? Sure. Not as a promise but as an encouragement. In the meantime, know that the Lord is hearing your prayers and you are not alone.