“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” Proverbs 22:6 KJV.
Train up a child… That’s what we’re trying so hard to do in our lives and with our homeschooling, is it not? And yet, there is some unneeded stress involved in that Bible verse. Many of us were raised with the idea that if we somehow live “right” and follow all the rules, modeling perfection and thus training “up a child in the way he should go,” we will assure the salvation of our children because they “will not depart from it.” Wow! That’s a huge burden. How do we manage to do everything “right”? And — even if we could — think of the guilt and second-guessing if our kids don’t make all the right decisions.
Recently, I was introduced to the biblical understanding that we are putting the emphasis of this text in the wrong area, and maybe not understanding it as it was originally intended. This isn’t a stern verse that makes us responsible for our kids’ salvation, nor one that refutes our children’s right to the free will which God gives all of us — the free will to choose Him, not be forced into His arms. Instead, this is a wonderful, beautiful verse which invites us to understand our children better, and to instruct them and point them to God in a way that they themselves will best understand.
Take a look at this. The Soncino Books of the Bible offers this definition: “Train up. From the verb is derived the Hebrew word for ‘education’ (chinmuch). In the way he should go. lit. ‘according to his way.’ The intention is not ‘the way of uprightness and good living,’ but ‘for the way in which he is to spend his life.’ Whatever occupation he is later to follow it is necessary to prepare him for it in his early years, because then are habits formed which influence his conduct in manhood” (p. 146).
Likewise, another commentary understands “train” (hanak, in Hebrew) as meaning “to dedicate.” (See these texts as reference: Deuteronomy 20:5; 1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chronicles. 7:5; Daniel 3:2.) These add the idea of steering the child’s conduct into the way of wisdom — dedicating them to God, and preparing them for future responsibilities and adulthood.
“In the way he should go” is better captured in Hebrew as “according to the dictates of his way.” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible also points out that “the way he should go” could be understood as “the path especially belonging to, especially fitted for, the individual’s character. The proverb speaks to the closest possible study of each child’s temperament and the adaptation of ‘his way of life’ to that.”
That should be music to the homeschooler’s ear! Our personal goals in Proverbs 22:6 become much clearer. Rather than trying to create the “perfect” child by being “perfect” parents, and thus ensuring their salvation, we are advised to focus on dedicating, understanding, training, and preparing our children for the responsibilities and skills required in adulthood —all while gently leading them to His feet.
Dedicating our children to God is no problem. We probably do this informally every day when we pray for our children. Each family also has personal goals for their homeschooling, and many know what methods of education work best for them. Nonetheless, extra input on understanding, training, and preparing our children is always helpful. Right?
This school year on the SDA Homeschool Families Blog, you will enjoy the advice, experiences, and encouragement of 23 homeschooling authors. They will focus on early childhood through teens; challenges facing everyday homeschoolers, as well as how to meet special needs in some kids; and advice on everything from home management, to life skills, to subject matter, to transcripts, to bringing joy to homeschooling. These volunteer writers from around the world hope to help you in your own homeschooling journey by sharing theirs. And, in the process, you’ll likely find a lot of good tips on how to “train up a child in the way he should go.”