Is Proverbs 22:6 Really a Promise? Or Is It Just a Proverb?
To be a parent is to be a heart-shaper. And being a heart-shaper can be the most heart-wrenching job in the world.
As parents, the thing we wrestle with the most, the thing we long for the most, is simply to know that our children will turn out okay.
We don’t expect perfection, just that they would be okay. We long to know that they will make wise decisions as young adults.
We long to know that they will grow up to be healthy spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. If we could just have that assurance, parenting might be a lot less heart-wrenching.
This brings us to Proverbs 22:6, a nugget of truth tucked subtly into the book of Proverbs. But maybe like me you have wondered in your own heart, is Proverbs 22:6 a promise or just a proverb?
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
When we read that verse as parents, we hope that verse is true of our children. We hope that something we’ve taught them, the way we loved them, the lessons we’ve ingrained in them… we hope it’s all enough. We hope that somehow, despite our mess-ups, they turn out okay.
The way we look at Proverbs 22:6 is really a reflection of our faith in the God of the universe.
I think we want to believe this verse is true, but do we really believe it’s a promise or just a wise saying, a catch phrase, or a motto? Is it just luck that our kids turn out okay?
Or is there a deeper promise hiding in this verse… a jewel of wisdom that we can take into our parenting?
The first part of this verse implores us to “train a child in the way he should go.”
According to the dictionary, “train” means, “to develop or form the habits, thoughts, or behavior by discipline and instruction.” Other words for “train” are words like “aim”, “focus”, “target”, “zero in on”.
Let’s unpack this a little bit. Heart-shaper, this verse is not asking you to produce the results of your parenting.
This verse is inviting you to simply aim your child in the right direction. And the only safe direction to aim your child is in the beautiful grace of God’s direction.
We know, as Christian parents, that “the way he should go” is in the direction of God. We know that that is the only place where our children will find the wisdom, the peace, the guidance, and the light that they need to navigate this life.
But can we bank on our children continuing in that direction once they leave the nest?
Our Father in heaven “is a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 6:15). As we reflect on His character, goodness, faithfulness, and love for us, we can count on Him to keep our children aiming in His direction.
It may not be a perfect route. Our children may wander and get lost for a little while.
But Proverbs 22:6 promises that there is something ground-breaking, soul-shaping, and heart-shaping about training our children with the wisdom of the Bible and the gospel… that it grabs hold of a heart.
That wisdom shapes a heart. That wisdom holds a heart close because it’s wisdom that is full of the love of a jealous God, a God who longs to rescue each and every one of His children.
So dear heart-shaper, you can rest in the promise of Proverbs 22:6. But the thing is, you don’t have to be the sole heart-shaper anymore, you can let God and the Holy Spirit shape your child’s heart as you teach your child the lessons of the Lord.
You can take your grip off a little bit, trusting that the Holy Spirit is wooing your child’s heart, pursuing your child’s soul, and jealously running after your child’s heart to win his or her heart.
What’s your part? Your part is simply to aim your child in the right direction with a lot of grace, love, faith, and prayer. You will mess up. You will make bad decisions. You will sometimes model bad behavior. You will have rough days.
Often you won’t feel like teaching your child about Jesus because it’s hard and it’s awkward sometimes and you are still trying to understand Jesus and your relationship with Him yourself.
But know, dear parent, that every bit of your love, your teaching, your helping, your directing your child, your praying… every bit matters.
You can take the pressure off of yourself, dear parent, to produce a child that turns out okay because we serve a God of grace, of love, and of power.
And the greatest thing you can do today in training up your child in the way he should go is to focus on YOUR relationship with Jesus. As you keep that first in your life, the blessings and the lessons and the heart of the gospel will spill out over your child’s life.