This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Each day, I’m reading and praying in Proverbs with “parenting eyes” and blogging whatever comes to mind. That’s the plan, for good or bad. The chapters 10-22 are, as one of my former students referred to them, “Christian fortune cookies.” In other words, two lines of insight with no real connection or continuity among them for nearly 400 verses. So, there may be different themes/topic that you notice but I go in a different direction, so I hope you understand that. Today, I read Proverbs 22: 1-16.”
The kid was spinning until his junior year of high school when he could take the available tech classes offered at his high school. He discovered what we used to call “woodshop” and showed a bit of skill at the craft. The teacher took notice and spent extra time with him. He even secured a job at a “big box” home improvement retailer which allowed him to buy the best possible tools at a discounted price. That job also afforded him the opportunity to do some work on the side. You know…some guy comes in and seems to be a novice but is buying a lot of wood for a patio deck and realizes he and his buddies may have bitten off more than they can chew, right? So, he’d give the guy a card and make a good deal of money hiring himself out for those kinds of odd jobs. He graduated to cabinets and furniture…all in high school, mind you. He once came to finish a swing set deal that almost killed me (literally, almost killed me. Story for another time, kids.) and it took him about three minutes.
Another kid excelled in math classes and was on an academic track at his school. Even on a math team (whatever that is). Then he got his first car…and obsession doesn’t begin to describe it. It started with tires & rims. Then to stereo equipment. Then the engine. All his spare time and money went into that car. Sure, there were the requisite speeding tickets…but he could fix a car. Any car. Any thing wrong with any car. Started hanging out with a friend who could get them use of a garage after hours and they’d work on their cars, or their friends’ cars, or their parent’s cars. He even helped me out with a small deal that would’ve cost me MUCH more somewhere else. He would sneak out of his house late at night to work on his car. His parents caught him and sent him back to bed on more than one occasion.
The parents of both kids were in my office (years apart) and here was their “problem”: “Kid A is plenty smart and we’re a little frustrated with him because he’s dragging his feet filling out his college applications. He keeps trying to tell us he doesn’t want to go to college at all…something about a internship trainee deal at this furniture company. Says he needs to be an apprentice to be a carpenter or whatever it is he says he’s going to do. You have to help us, Brent. He needs to go to college so he can be a success.”
“Kid B better get this idea out of his head that he’s going to move to Houston and study to be a mechanic on Porsche’s and other high-performance autos. He’s brilliant with math. He can be an engineer and design those kinds of cars. But moving to Houston and basically becoming a glorified grease-monkey? Out of the question.”
I could give other examples, like when some soldiers were walking through the airport and one of the parents of a kid who was struggling in school grabbed her son, pointed at the service men and said, “Keep it up, Kid C, with the bad grades and there’s your future. Better crack the books, bud.” (I was floored, and pulled the parent aside and can’t believe I had to ask a parent in our community when did serving our nation lose nobility? And I followed it up with the lecture that we want the best and brightest doing that job, right? Ugh. And I’m the LAST guy you’d think would be giving that lecture, right? But I believe it with every fiber of my being) (oh, and it might help to know that this was pre-9/11, when there were some less-accurate views of the military, firemen and policemen afoot)
It happens in smaller ways, too.
You know, when our kid quits that activity that we pushed them into because we either did that activity or we wished we’d stuck with that activity. Baseball. Piano/guitar. Yearbook. Drama/choir. Dance. Soccer. Math team. Et al ad infinitum.
You know, the shy kid needs to be more outgoing and make friends, so we push them to go on trips with school or church they don’t really show much interest in going to. Or the outgoing kid needs to buckle down and get more serious at school, so we sign them up with tutors and all even though they really don’t show much interest in academics. Or the “slacker” kid needs more direction, or the high achiever needs to be more well-rounded…and on it goes.
As parents, we have big hopes and big dreams for our kids, right? We’ve learned a few things along the way and know how things really work, right? Usually it starts with plugging them into the things we enjoy…I love to read, so I read to my kids a lot. Or I played baseball, so it was pretty easy to buy her a glove and ball and bat and spend time with her at softball. We did things that we thought they might like, too…like dance class or piano lessons. In my world, academics are a big player so we make sure that they’re keeping up with schoolwork and all that jazz, and the older they get the stakes seem to be higher so we somehow stress about their academic progress. I mean, they have to go to a good school, right? And they need to get a good job, right?
And it works well if their interests line up with our expectations, right?
But can I ask you a question?
Have you cleared those expectations with God?
See, what I learned from Proverbs 22:6 (Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.) is that, one, the Hebrew word for “train” is similar to “consecrate” or, “to set apart.” Second, “in the way that he should go” literally reads “in his path.” In other words, we are to set them apart for the way they should go.
Now, I’ve heard all sorts of commentators say that these verses mean that every child has a particular “bent” or “natural inclinations.” And, it is possible there might be a little bit of that in these verses so I don’t want to discount that completely…
…but all through Proverbs it’s pretty clear that there are two ways to go: Righteousness (following God) or foolishness (following the world/evil).
See, I believe it’s our role as parents to do this…to set them apart to follow Christ. In New Testament terms, we should put them in positions to “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.”
The problem comes when that seeking might be different than the way we have it drawn up for them to go, doesn’t it?
See, I think it’s possible for a kid to be gifted academically…and to go to a university to study for a career that requires that, be it medicine, law, accounting, education, engineering, liberal arts, and all those career paths where that training is needed. And, yes, there are kids that seek God and his righteousness and follow Him to university.
I think it’s possible for a kid to have the skill and desire to pursue a trade, like carpentry or mechanics or cosmetology or paralegals, or dental assistants and all that jazz. And, yes, there are kids that seek God and his righteousness and follow Him down that path.
I think it’s possible for a kid to have a desire to serve their country, through military or civil service. And, yes, there are kids that seek God and His righteousness and follow Him down that path.
I think it’s possible for a kid to desire to be an artist of any stripe…and, yes, there are kids that seek God and His righteousness and follow Him down that path.
And, I don’t think I’ve said anything all that controversial…I mean, we agree in theory, right?
The issues come when we don’t trust our God with our kids…or we don’t trust our kids to follow God.
I used to tell my students that the best way to get your parents to see where God was leading them was to show them day-in and day-out that you were following the Lord. To make it easy for your parents to see that you were growing in Christ, that you were telling them about your passions and dreams and struggles and letting them know that you were following God first and foremost, so when you told them where you thought God was leading you, they’d be involved in the process. I know. Seems like a pipe-dream, right? Well, my kids have been pretty good at that very thing, and I know others who have had their kids do that, too. So it isn’t impossible. Some checks: Are they involved in a small group of believers consistently? Are they attending worship services of some kind somewhere consistently? Are they praying? Are they in the Word, whether sermons or lessons or on their own? Are they using their gifts/interests to serve? It is hard to trust your child if there aren’t visible evidences of growing. If you don’t have these, make sure you’re doing those things…and then have a heart-to-heart with them about how to make spiritual decisions about preparing for their future and communicate your expectations–and WHY you want them to seek first His Kingdom & righteousness.
And I used to tell the parents I served that they needed to be students of their children…so they can guide them down the path wisely. Put them in situations to grow spiritually, teach them to follow God and listen to Him in practical ways (especially being forthright about specifically how YOU do) and then trust them to do that. Feel free to lovingly tell them their strengths and weaknesses and try not to force them into your preconceived ideas of what that looks like. Oh, and again, you might want to model the questions in the previous paragraph as reality in your own life.
Because if you trust God with your kid, and your kid is seeking Him first, you’d be amazed at how He works. And let’s be honest, don’t we need more Christian plumbers/carpenters/mechanics/hairdressers/artists/soldiers/engineers/accountants/teachers/et al who do what they do because God created them to do that very thing so the Kingdom can be more populated and rewarded on The Day?
So, for today, what ways have you let the world’s way of doing business affect you as you try to set apart your kid for the path of seeking Him first? And how can you start doing that more effectively where you are right now in your relationship with Him/them right now? How can you encourage your child as they strive to be who He created them to be?