Parenting isn’t a formula.
I’ve known wonderful parents who have prayed and prayed while doing their best to carry out Proverbs 22:6—“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it”—only to have a child leave home and abandon his faith.
I’ve also known parents who didn’t provide any spiritual direction, and yet their child grew up to have a deep, vibrant faith in Christ. That doesn’t seem to “add up,” does it?
One brokenhearted father reiterated this idea to me recently when he said, “Why doesn’t Proverbs 22:6 work?”
“Work” is formula language. It reveals that inside, whether we vocalize it or not, we believe that life with God is linear. If we do this, this, and this . . . then God does this.
To script it out in equation language, it would look something like this: If I pray + read my Scriptures + discipline + read this latest parenting book and follow its advice = then God will give me a child who is well behaved and faithful.
This formulaic outlook works if you’re doing long division or paying taxes, but it breaks down when you’re relating to God.
Why does it break down? In part because certain things that God says in His Word are promises (i.e. “I will never leave you nor forsake you), and other things He says are proverbs (i.e. Proverbs 22:6).
A promise is something you can take to the bank. A proverb is something that is often circumstantially relevant, and proves to be true much of the time. When we try to take a proverb to the bank . . . well, sometimes the bank refuses to make good on it.
Formulaic thinking also breaks down because God is simply an untamable, sometimes unpredictable being. He often allows earthly “blessing,” or good things, to happen to evil people (cf. Matt. 5:45, Psalm 73). And He often leads His children whom He deeply loves through horrific pain and loss (cf. John 15:20, 2 Cor. 6:3-10).
Why does God do these things? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
What does this mean for our parenting?
It means that we need to keep our eyes on the right goal. If our goal is to work the formula in order to produce good, well-behaved, faithful children . . . our goal is out of our hands.
The Lord has a mysterious, perfect plan for our son’s life, and it likely won’t look anything like what we expect. Expecting a certain product, or outcome, as a result of our parenting is setting us up for pain and discouragement.
However, if we make our goal as parents to walk with the Lord in faithfulness and obedience, enjoying His grace each day, then our goal is on solid ground.
Making faithfulness, and not working the formula, our goal prepares us for whatever God does in our child’s life. If our son grows up to walk with God, we’ll see it as a gift; we didn’t earn it or produce it.
But if our child ends up not walking with God, we will see it as a mysterious, albeit difficult, work of God . . . but we won’t have to reconcile the idea that either I failed or God failed.
Nobody failed . . . it’s just the formula wasn’t there in the first place.