Let's Not Beat Ourselves Up With This Scripture
I knew it was coming. I had a feeling it would come up, and it made me uneasy to think about tackling it. I guessed it was a question we needed to talk about. It's an issue that lurks at the back of my mind and subconsciously holds me captive in my parenting...I don't think I'm alone. This comment after my last post reminded me of that.
"How do I reconcile the scripture that says I "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." (Prov 22:6)? "
Yeah, what about Proverbs 22:6?
I have often wrestled with the meaning of this scripture. For years I believed that it was a command with a promise, especially aimed at spiritual matters. An if, then statement that dangled a huge "if" in front of me. If I parented correctly, then my children would embrace my faith and not depart from it. It became the "gold standard" of my parenting. My kids' decision to embrace a relationship with God became the judge of my success as a parent.
As my children grew and transformed slowly toward building their own faith, I felt validated that I was doing something right. But let me be honest with you. I often felt like a big hypocrite. I was far from a "perfect" parent. I made so many mistakes and sometimes sinned gravely toward the two young souls God entrusted to my care.
Like the time I yelled at Nick and Kati in the car, telling them how lucky they were to have me drive them around and reminding them it was not their "right" to expect it. Even now my heart cringes at the memory of the thunder in my voice and seeing their stricken faces from the rearview mirror. I wish that were the only time my anger surfaced.
It might not have been the consistent tone of my parenting, but for a season that anger bubbled out more often than I want to admit. How could I ever expect my kids to want to follow God if that was the example in front of them?
We are sinners trying our best to raise our children. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I have found myself recounting parenting mistakes over and over again in my mind. Why do I do that? I wish I spent even half that amount of time rejoicing over parenting victories I have had...
But, back to Proverbs 22:6...
This verse is sometimes taught as a formula in raising godly children. For a time I believed it was an absolute truth. As my overall understanding of the Proverbs has grown, I have come to believe that I was wrong. There is truth in all of the Proverbs, yes. A teacher recently reminded me of a modern wisdom saying, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Meaning, our children are often similar in character to their parents. That is true. But it isn't always true.
There is a good and wise principle to embrace from Proverbs 22:6, but it was not meant as a guarantee or judge of my parenting skills. Even though I think differently about this now, my original understanding continues to have an emotional grip that's difficult to overcome.
The irony of my dilemma is that one of the first lessons I learned in studying the Bible was to take all scriptures in context and make sure I didn't pull a single verse out to build a case for my belief on any topic. Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear that each soul must find it's own path to building a relationship with its creator.
Yet, somehow, I willingly took on the belief that the faith of my children hinges on my parenting skills...
Now, do I believe that God gives me responsibilities in raising my kids? Yes. Sure I do.
Do I believe that I can have an influence in the choices my kids make as they mature? Absolutely. Yes.
But is it my fault as a parent if my children choose a different life than the one I am living? No.
Consider what God says in Acts 17:26-28 (emphasis added)
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him, we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (ESV) The version of that scripture I memorized as a young disciple stated that God determined "the exact times and places" we should live so that we "might" reach out and find him. I believe God put our children in our home. I am not a perfect parent, but I am God's choice for them. Somehow, as imperfect as I am, being in my home is the best chance they have to "perhaps feel their way toward him and find him." I love that wording. I picture a person groping their way through the dark, feeling their way to reach safety. We are all spiritually blind for at least a short time in our lives, and we all have to grope our way along the path, hopefully, to find the source of real peace and joy in our life.
As a parent, I am instrumental in providing love, guidance, discipline, and understanding as my children grow up. After they are grown, I hope to always be a safe place for them to land, a friend and support as they forge their own path through life.
Taking on the responsibility of their faith, however, puts me in a position God didn't intend. I think we're sometimes tempted to take on much more responsibility than God designed, but that is a topic we'll explore next time.
I would love to hear your comments and discuss any questions you might have on this subject. This is the second in a five-part series on rethinking our definition of a "good parent." You can read the first post at /lorikayziegler/2017/05/lets-rethink-what-it-means-to-be-good.html)
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