The Imperfect Homeschooler
P.O. Box 743
Janesville, WI 53547-0743
Christian Child-training vs. Free Will
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
This verse probably ranks among the top ten favorite verses of Christian parents, and among the top five of Christian homeschooling parents. As a Christian, a parent, and a homeschooler, I have heard many speeches and read many articles that were built on this verse.
It’s the basis of entire child-rearing seminars. Christian homeschool conventions often feature speakers who make their living presenting disciplinary techniques and theories in an effort to help parents train their children. In fact, this verse has been used as the theme of more than one convention.
When times get rough, many parents cling to this verse as justification for disciplining their children. Since I became a parent 20 years ago, I have recited that verse to myself many times, as a reminder that while disciplining my children may not be easy, it’s what God expects of me.
So imagine my surprise the night I heard my Bible study leader, one of my Christian mentors as well as someone I highly respect, refer to this verse and comment, “It’s not a guarantee!”
A few of us stared at her. If it was in the Bible, it had to be true, right?
“It’s a principle,” she said. “Not a promise.”
A buzz filled the room. Her comment seemed almost sacrilegious. So many things I’d read about Christian parenting stated that if you were persistent in disciplining your children, they would grow into godly adults. I found myself feeling a bit indignant. What exactly was she saying?
“It’s all about free will,” she began. “If this was a promise, a guarantee of how your children will turn out, it would be leaving out free will. God has given us free will so that we may love him freely. No one wants to force someone to love them, and neither does God. But when you give people free will, you cannot guarantee their behavior.”
That seemed to satisfy the class, and we moved on, but for the next several days her words echoed in my head. I agreed that God gave us free will, but did that really mean that no matter how hard parents work at raising their kids His way, those same kids might reject their parents’ Christian values and beliefs?
I had to admit that I knew several examples of fine Christian parents who had brought their children up in the church, and yet one or more of their children had not turned out well. When I was a new parent, I wondered if perhaps their parenting skills were not as good as they appeared. I thought they must have fallen down on the job somewhere along the line. What other explanation could there be?
It was painful to consider the possibility that things could fall apart even if the parents had done what they were supposed to do. If I believed that, then all my hard parenting work might be in vain. I didn’t want to go there.
Let’s face it, we love our children so much that we want to guarantee that they will turn out well. That’s why some parents homeschool their children, others make financial sacrifices to send their children to Christian schools, and some with children in the public schools make sure their children are in church, Sunday school, and youth group each week. We make every effort to turn out godly adults. But going
to a Christian school doesn’t make you a Christian, nor does homeschooling, or even attending church.
Still, believing that Proverbs 22:6 is a guarantee gives parents, especially new ones, a lot of comfort. It certainly beats considering the possibility that a child might reject his parents’ training.
But children do that, even children of godly parents. It happens all the time. It even happened to famed evangelist Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth. Both of their sons were “spiritual wanderers”. In her book Prodigals and Those Who Love Them, Mrs. Graham wrote about prodigals in history, and included poetry and journal entries she wrote while waiting for her own sons to return to the fold.
Imagine how hard it would be to have a prodigal (much less two!) in the family when Dad is a world-famous Christian evangelist. In one of her poems, “They Felt Good Eyes Upon Them,” Mrs. Graham vividly demonstrated in just a few lines how it feels to be the parent of a prodigal under the gaze of “good parents” (meaning parents of children who didn’t stray when they grew up). The poem ends with the line, “Remind them gently, Lord, how You have trouble with Your children, too.”
And it’s true. God is always having trouble with His children, with us, isn’t he? We know how He wants us to live, and yet we sin, and disappoint Him. If God has trouble with His children, what makes us think we can escape trouble with ours, just because they were taught Christian principles?
Of course, not all children will stray. Many Christian parents are blessed with children who grow up to be righteous adults. That’s where the principle of Proverbs 22:6 comes in. Train your children God’s way, and you’ll have the best chance of producing godly adults.
But thanks to free will, some who have been raised as Christians will stray, and will depart from God’s ways. However, since the principle is a sound one, there is hope that they will return eventually. The second half of the verse points out that “when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
The Grahams’ sons are living examples of that principle in action. God led both of them back to Him, and one is now prepared to take over his father’s ministry. But their parents would be the first to say that there never were any guarantees.
So since we can’t be guaranteed results, should we relax our efforts to raise each of our children “in the way he should go”? Of course not. God does not value our efforts only if they are successful. He wants us to be faithful.
Besides, though that verse is not a promise, it’s still a principle. Training up our children in the way they should go gives us the best chance of keeping our children in the fold. And even if some do stray, we know we can leave them in God’s hands and rely on Him to lead them back.
© 2004 Barbara Frank
More articles by Barbara Frank.