Parenting takes about 18 years to finally figure out. We’re totally winging it through our children’s infant and toddler years. We tumble and stumble through the prepubescent range of their existence. And when they begin to morph into these esoteric, half-child-half-adult mutant humans commonly christened “teenagers,” we scratch our heads and pull out our rapidly graying hair.
Then and only then, about the time they turn 18, and we feel 50 years older, an epiphany happens: it dawns on us that we may, just possibly, have graduated to momhood and dadhood.
If you’re from a religious background, it’s likely that sometime during your fledgling parenting career you learned this verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). It sounds so simple, right? Coaches train athletes. Sergeants train soldiers. And parents? They train sons and daughters.
And indeed, we do. Or we give it the old college try anyway. We teach them that biting, as natural as it seems, is not socially acceptable behavior for expressing disappointment in others. Paul tells us to “bring [our children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). So, we bring (or drag) them to church. We read them stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and his ark, and—just for kicks—the tale of Jael hammering a tent peg into sleeping Sisera’s head. And, come bedtime, we pray the Lord’s Prayer together with them and their very pious stuffed animals.
Our speech, our moods, our preferences, our quirks, our outbursts—our sponge-like kids soak them all in and replicate them in their own tiny lives.
But since, most of the time, we’re still trying to come to grips with what in the hell it means to be a parent, we’re going to screw things up. Our children may appear oblivious to 99% of what we say, but let an F-bomb drop in a moment of anger and they’ll be repeating it with gusto to their VBS class the next day. Our speech, our moods, our preferences, our quirks, our outbursts—our sponge-like kids soak them all in and replicate them in their own tiny lives.
You see, we’re never not training our children. It just so happens that some of the training is undesirable at best and downright despicable at worst. Thank God that parents, like their children, live solely by grace, not the score on a divine report card.
And while we’re on the subject of thanking God, let’s thank him for a little Hebrew gem that’s embedded in Proverbs 22:6. As it turns out, this verse is not so much about what we do as parents but what our Father does when he claims our children as his own.
The Hebrew verb commonly translated as “train up” in Proverbs 22 is chanak. It occurs only five times in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 20:5, it’s used twice to refer to the dedication of a newly built house. If a soldier has built a new house but not chanaked it, he is excused from battle. In 1 Kings 8:63 and 2 Chronicles 7:5, it refers to the dedication of the Lord’s house. Solomon offered thousands of sacrifices to chanak the temple. The Jewish festival of Hanukah or Chanukah, which celebrates the cleansing and rededication of the Lord’s house, is formed from this same word: they chanaked the temple.
So, in the five occurrences of this verb, in four of them, the object that is chanaked is a house: either an Israelite’s home or Yahweh’s home. A dwelling is dedicated, set aside, claimed, owned, and inhabited by someone. To chanak a house is to say, “This place belongs to so-and-so. It’s his and no one else’s. Let no one else attempt to claim it. This is the way things stand.”
With that background in mind, let’s take another look at Proverbs 22:6. The Hebrew phrase sometimes translated “in the way he should go” is literally “according to his way.” With that in mind, as well as the other four occurrences of chanak, we get this: “Dedicate a child according to his way: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
In other words: “Dear parents, your own children are not your own. They are yours, yes, but more importantly, they are the Father’s children. You love them, of course, but God loves them more, loves them perfectly, has loved them from all eternity. Indeed, he loved them even to death in the sacrifice of his own dear Son, by which he bought them with the price of blood. His gracious will is to dwell within them, to make their very bodies and souls and hearts and minds a temple of his Spirit. So dedicate them to that way, to that divine life, to him who formed them in the womb and claimed them on the cross.”
As important as the training of your children is, much more important is handing them over to God—from the very beginning, from infancy, and beyond.
This happens in a liquid exchange, as we hand over our children to the Father, in word-filled water. In the dedication of baptism, God claims every little one as his tiny temple, a human house in which the dove of his Spirit builds an everlasting nest of love. The child enters a new way, a new mode of life, the life of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And even as our children grow, as they mature, and as they eventually have their own gray hair, they can’t leave this behind or depart from it, because it is God’s doing, not their own.
Just as a man chanaked his house, and just as Solomon chanaked God’s temple, we moms and dads chanak our sons and daughters. We say, “These children belong to the Father. They are his and no one else’s. Let no one else attempt to claim them. This is the way things stand.”
But know this: God will never stray from them.
As our children age, they will face many challenges and countless temptations. Some will stray from the church, some will stay. But know this: God will never stray from them. He who claimed them as his own never un-claims them. Run from him though they may, he is the Hound of Heaven, and he will dog them to the uttermost ends of the earth to chase them home.
We will fail in many, many ways as parents. But in one way, we cannot fail: when we hand our children over to their dear heavenly Father. That, in reality, isn’t our action but his. He claims them, he takes them in his arms, and he blesses them with all the riches and grace of Jesus. What better gift could our children possibly receive?