“Train up a child in the way he/she should go; even when he/she is old he/she will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
There is a Hebrew word ( דַרְכּ֑וֹ ) pronounced “dar-kōw” and it is used 706 times in Hebrew scripture to describe the specific “WAY” or “JOURNEY.” Today’s quote is perhaps the most quoted scripture when it comes to parenting. If your experience is anything like mine, then despite it being a common word with a very clear definition, your Pastor, Priest or Imam has probably misused it as did mine. Today, I’d like to set the record straight.
Now that this series has peeled back the layers of philosophical pathology which have creeped into our parenting, we now have a clear line of sight through which we can relearn this life-giving, liberating passage. In short, my premise is that institutional power has highjacked this scripture for its own benefit of behavior modification and corporate compliance.
This scripture is not advocating that a child is trained in religion so that he or she will grow up and remain in the religion, though that is how it is often spun. This passage uncovers a truly significant nuance which requires a lot of wisdom to truly follow. The problem is, it only works if the biblical philosophies within this series are actually believed:
- A child cannot be RANDOM.
- A parent is the STEWARD of the child.
- A parent is growing in INFLUENCE not authority.
- A parent never PUNISHES but seeks discipline.
Our psychological world believes in Tabula Rosa or what we call “Clean Slate” approach to child development. This fatal assumption is that we all come into the world with a wiped hard drive and over the course of life, parents and society write the code for each person’s life. Thus, when a person faces struggle or pain in life, the psychological “therapy” is to GO BACK to where the malware script was written.
This passage assumes something different. A parent is to train up a child according to the CHILD’S WAY, NOT THE PARENT’S WAY. If we were to dig into the deeper nuances of the passage, it is essentially telling us that a child, is like a small branch or twig on a tree which has a particular and unique “BEND” to it. We know that such “BENDS” remain with the tree its entire life. The parent’s job is not to straighten the bend, but to preserve it, because it belongs to the child, it is designed into them, it is purposeful for their life, for their true sense of identity, for their purpose in the world.
Unfortunately, many parents take a different tack, especially those who are under the control of fundamental institutional power. Many are taught that the parents job is to bend the child according to tradition, one’s set of beliefs, or one’s assumptions. All of which are parenting disasters. This is seen in so many examples where banishment or threat is used to gain allegiance. This is saying that the God-given pattern and purpose for each child is established in the child, it is not established by the parents. The parents job is to identify it and and support and nurture it.
If the parents don’t understand the work of discipline, they will see this as nonsense. They will say things like: “Well, my child had the inclination to hit his brother and take his toys, should I just support that natural bend of his?” This silly argument reveals the bigger problem, but it also shows up in areas where families are very much anti-gay or where they see what is believed to be a mortal sin which they wish to mortify in the child. Morality is important, but not when used as a power play. While it is true, we must steer our children away from evil, we do this by teaching them wisdom, not rules. As they learn that mortification of sin is an inside job, they will appreciate righteousness and spiritual law, not resent it. Ultimately, it is the spiritual law which liberates us into our truest self and most prosperous life, but if that law is not distinct from rules and forced compliance, the baby is thrown out with the bathwater. Wisdom is nuanced.
Lastly this passage reveals that our pattern and purpose are not two things, but aspects of a single, larger thing. Pattern is not the goal, purpose is. Thus pattern lives in service to purpose. Form follows function. Once again wisdom sorts out this distinction. When a parent places the “cart before the horse” by emphasizing “pattern” or “form” over “purpose” or “function” it immediately creates dissonance inside of a child. Consider for example the family who insists a child dress up for church or religious services in their best attire. This is not wrong or a bad practice, and it can be helpful in teaching reverence and respect for the sanctity of the service. However, if the emphasis is on dressing correctly and not on the true reason for the service, the whole tradition is called into question and the essence is lost.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)
It should relieve parents immensely to know that it is not up to them to define a child’s purpose. It isn’t even up to parents to help a child discover their purpose. It is the parents responsibility to help the child know who they truly are and support our children as the step into themselves as they try out things that interest them and allow for self-discovery. Perhaps the biggest parenting miss on the road to purpose is to just “entertain” a child or strive to prevent boredom. Like learning to self-sooth as a newborn, dealing with boredom is the child’s responsibility, and discovery fuels more curiosity. Plugging a child into tech wastes this latent potential, and robs the child of self discovery and ultimately purpose. In this case, the established pattern is deleterious. People who need constant entertainment don’t usually have much sense of self or purpose, only vicarious living. Purpose arises out of self-discovery and childhood is the ideal time for this to take place, not mid-life. Should we be surprised that a parent who lacks purpose and self-discovery would not be able to lead a child into self discovery and into finding their purpose?
The work of parenting is not easy and it must be tremendously intentional. It must be guided by wisdom or it is far to easy to just react to the next thing. Parents, we can do this… it is within our grasp… we can start today by examining our patterns. Are they developing creativity, curiosity, discovery and sense of self? If so, the pattern is on the path to purpose. Or are our patterns developing apathy, laziness, discord, and distractions? If so, then the pattern is on the path to pain, struggle, and the loss of self and purpose. We must train our children in the way they are designed or we will miss the entire point of parenting. We can all do better, so let’s begin today.