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Clear Words

Clear Word – The purpose of parenthood (Proverbs 22:6)

Today’s Reading: Proverbs 20-22

Today’s Reflection: Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Today’s reflection text is among one of the best known and most misunderstood in the Bible.  It is primarily used to encourage parents to raise their children to know and fear the Lord, and while this is of obvious importance it only scratches the surface of the responsibility this proverb places before parents.

Getting into the original Hebrew, the text is more accurately (or contextually) translated ‘train up a child the way he is ‘inclined’ or ‘bent’’.  Each child has an inclination—a personality, a temperament, a series of gifts and abilities that come forth naturally.  Some children are bold.  Some are shy.  Some are artistic.  Some like to know how things work.  Some are leaders.  Some are organizers.  The role of parents is to draw these natural inclinations out and help shape them into the most positive, productive and, yes, God-honouring version possible.  This is critical because these inclinations come from God.  Look at many figures in the Bible we see from childhood—Moses, Samuel, David and Jesus.   It is clear their inclinations were God-given, even though at times these inclinations clashed with their parents ideas for their lives (1 Samuel 16:1-13; Luke 2:41-51).

Unfortunately, many parents believe that their role is to impose their own idea of how their child should be inclined rather than draw out their natural inclination.  The ‘my child will be a doctor, lawyer, businessman, go to university, get a PhD, follow in my footsteps’ drive that many parents have has led to much family and inter-generational strife.  And most often efforts to force children to follow the path parents insist on ultimately fail.  Children will eventually ‘depart’ from an inclination that is not their own in some way or another.  Some children will completely rebel in their youth.  Others will conform out of a sense of duty early on, but years later strike out in a very different direction with their lives.  Still others will continue to do what makes their parents happy, but live in quiet misery.  All three will feel some degree of anger at their parents, perhaps even betrayal.  Saddest of all, people in this situation may ignore the valid and valuable wisdom their parents have to share, if they feel they are not understood by them.

Colossians 3:21 – Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

So what should parents do?  Manoah, father of Samson offers a great example:

Judges 13:6-126) Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, 7) but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’”  8) Then Manoah prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born.” 9) And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field. But Manoah her husband was not with her. 10) So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” 11) And Manoah arose and went after his wife and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” 12) And Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?”

Rather than presume to know what a child is purposed to do, ask God who made your child what his or her true purpose is, then be willing to support and encourage the child in growing into that purpose.  When he or she is grown, they will not depart from it.

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