In August, my husband and I drove our oldest child to college for the first time and dropped him off. And then I spent the next week crying. While processing my feelings and reflections about my son’s life, the command of Proverbs 22:6 kept coming to my mind:
Train up a child in the way he should go…
While I know my son needs to “go” in this new direction of independence, it has been so hard for me to send him. It’s not that I’m worried about any academic deficits or social deficiencies. After all, our society places a high value on parents and schools readying children to transition to life after high school with success in these two areas. What I do find myself evaluating is much longer-lasting than worldly achievements and earthly relationships: my son’s eternal relationship with Jesus Christ. Along with my husband, I’m looking back to the past and considering these questions:
- How did we train our son?
- How did we encourage his dependence on God and desire to pursue godliness?
- Did we help him cultivate a love for reading the Bible and a healthy prayer life?
- Is joining a new community of believers a priority for him now?
Parents, as I’m looking backward about these things, I encourage you to look forward. How are you training up your child with the future in mind? Now is the time to consider the way you want your child to go and how you can train him along the way.
Consider Where Your Child Can Go
Christian parents have a deep desire for their kids to hear the gospel and put their faith in Christ at a young age. Ultimately, eternity in heaven is the way we want them to go. Holiness is the path we pray they’ll pursue on the way. Yet, our training cannot make our kids holy. Only the saving work of Jesus’ death on the cross can give them “the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12-13). So, we pray that God would draw our children to himself—that a personal relationship with Christ would begin early and continue to grow. And we consider what to teach our children that will help them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
It can be so hard to think of the end goals when you are in the thick of here-and-now household messes, sibling squabbles, and ever-present fatigue. But it’s important to carve out some time to look forward, prayerfully considering the way your own children can go. Believing that “…with God, all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26), what desires and habits do you want your children to have? A love for God’s word and commitment to prayer? The ability to notice God’s good gifts and walk joyfully—even through difficult circumstances? What qualities of godliness do you hope your child will display? If you are a list person, consider making one. But first spend time in prayer: Heavenly Father, how can I help my children to know and love you before they leave my home?
Consider How Your Child Can Get There
The “where” and “how to” of training up a child go hand-in-hand. Maybe because my children are athletes, the word “train” makes me think of people who progress through athletic training with the help of a coach. With this metaphor in mind, think of yourself as a coach, setting goals and choosing methods. How can you coach your child to read his Bible? How can you coach your child to pray? To faithfully build community with other believers?
The overall goal of any good coaching plan is broken down into smaller objectives. So, start small. Simply begin with building a habit of daily prayer (perhaps at bedtime), and thank God for his good gifts in that day. Sing songs filled with biblical truth. Help your child begin to read the Bible by learning single verses together. Those verses will become a light for your child’s path (Ps. 119:105).
Let your kids catch their “coach” modeling these spiritual disciplines. Let them find you reading your Bible and spending time in prayer. Let them join you in loving others from the overflow of Christ’s love in your own heart. Your kids will pick up more than you realize.
Consider also how your local church wants to partner with you in training your children. Make it a priority to bring your children into “big church” so they can see other families worshiping God together and watch how their parents sing, pray, and submit to the preaching of God’s word. Regularly bring them to Sunday School, where they can learn biblical truth at their developmental level. Help them to establish friendships at church, so they can learn how to be in community with the body of Christ.
Above all, persevere in the training! Don’t give up, even if you don’t see immediate fruit. Commit to an eternal perspective, and remember that holiness is God’s desire for both you and your children in the training process. Adjust your objectives as you see how God is producing growth. Coach faithfully, believing the promise found in Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Rest in Christ
The command of Proverbs 22:26—“Train up your child in the way he should go…”—includes that daunting word, “should.” Of course, we all should obey God’s law all the time. But that’s impossible! Your children and my children are sinners, and so are you and I. We won’t always train our kids the right way, and they won’t always respond well—even when we do get it right! We’ve all experienced the feeling of defeat in the process of training.
As we persevere in prayer, we can rest in Christ. We pray for reliance—theirs and ours—on Jesus Christ to do his will in our families. Since Jesus completed the work his father gave him to do on the cross, he is able to complete the training of our children. We can also pray for opportunities to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in our homes, knowing that Christ will equip us to apply it in the training of our children.
As my kids are getting older, they are increasing in dependence on Christ and decreasing in dependence on my husband and me. We find that they need our “coaching” skills less and less, but we are praying more and more. We find so much comfort in the truth that we are not training our kids alone! Jesus Christ is the perfect trainer, and he will faithfully bring them the way he has planned for them to go.