Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
This is a forever popular verse in parenting discussions, because as much as it is a command, it is also a promise. The idea that there is anything that we might do that can direct our children for life is hugely appealing. But I think that parents often go at it in a weird way. The way your child should go is not an abstract thought. It is not about presenting the right way in flashcards or on a white board. It is not about laying out for them the basics of a life that you imagine would be good for them.
Of course this is all very appealing. It does seem like something that we could achieve. It seems like we just need to sit our kids down and fire a bunch of planned righteousness at them. We have an idea in our heads about what the ideal Christian life looks like, and we think that if we point it out to our children, shazaam, when they are old they will stay on that path.
But this is not the point of the verse. Train them up in the way they should go. Train them up in your obedience. Train them up in your thankfulness. Train them up in your faithfulness. Train them up in your self sacrifice. Train them up in your repentance. The way that they should go should be the way that you are going. You are not to be pointing out some mountain path in the distance and saying, “Do that kids!”
The point of this verse is that your children are learning the path because they are walking it with you. We ought to be able to say to our children, “This is how it is done.” The misconception here is often that if you didn’t do something right a long way back, that you are not on the path, and thus cannot teach your children by example. Parents disconnect themselves from the teaching because they want better for their children. But what kind of nonsense is this? If you have Jesus, you have the Way. You have the Truth. You have the Life. If you are walking in fellowship with God, you are walking in the way.
I think that the temptation to point elsewhere is strong when we are not especially proud of our own past performance. But the Christian life is not about our living sinlessly, it is about Christ living sinlessly. We need to see that our own failings, brought to God in repentance, are the very things that qualify us to teach our children. The human heart is full of sin. Your children, even though they are growing up in a Christian home, will struggle with temptation. But if they have grown up in a life that is full of the sweet air of repentance, the sweet water of life, the bread of sacrifice, and the presence of a savior, they will not ever want to depart from it. When the fellowship is sweet no one wants to leave.
On the flip side, we can easily drive our children away from the faith by pretending that whatever the righteous life is, it is to be found out there somewhere. We think that the way that they should go is far removed from the way that we have been. We want them to control themselves around the internet while we look at our phones under the table at dinner. We want them to keep themselves pure before marriage, but we go ahead and watch smutty shows. We tell them to control themselves, but we don’t discipline our emotions, we indulge our every pity party. We want them to be joyful, but we forget the source of our own joy.
Walk in the way as parents. Walk in Christ with your children. Bring them along. Let them see that you repent, that you have joy, that you love. If we are faithful to God and our children in this way, we will be walking together the length of our lives.
Train your children up in the way of life. Train them up in the way of obedience. Train them up in the way of Jesus Christ. And when they are old, they will certainly not depart from it.