Her Way

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“This bit of wisdom, passed down from generations past, tells us to move from the general to the specific, to know our children and fan the flames of their unique fascinations so that they will recognize their calling in due season and not veer from it.”

Emma beach“Train children in the right way, and when they are old, they will not stray.” -Proverbs 22:6

I grew up understanding that there’s a right way and a wrong way to train a child. You only need to look around at all the wayward people to see training gone amok—lackadaisical parenting resulting in children who shun youth group or adults who steer clear of any church.

So when I became a parent, I knew training my children in the right way, in The Way, would be a priority. I wanted them to grow into their faith and contribute goodness to a hurting world, so I bought Children’s Bibles with pastel-hued pictures to ensure they’d learn the Jesus stories. I took them to Sunday School to ingrain a Sabbath rhythm. I prayed bedside prayers each night to teach them how to talk to God about everything—good grades, mean words, hurt feelings and even our fear of the dark. This was all part of my attempt to train my children in The Way.

I always thought this proverb was about instructing my children in God’s way of life. And to my ear it sounded like a promise—if I taught my children to follow God’s ways from the earliest of days, then I could rest assured that they would forever follow Him.

Then I read a commentary on Proverbs, discovering that the translation from Hebrew into English changed a key word and thus the entire meaning of the passage. A translation more true to the Hebrew would read “educate a child according to his way; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

We all want to raise our children right. Ellen Davis, scholar and author of aforementioned commentary, calls it a truism. But the wisdom of the proverb shines through in the Hebrew where the focus is on the child—to educate him according to his way. She entitles this section “A Radical Pedagogy” and I can see why!

So, the last set of days, I’ve been thinking about the difference between raising my children in The Way versus the wisdom of raising him in his way and her in her way. Yes, I want to instruct my children in the ways of God. That’s a given I think the Torah would assume. But how do I teach my son according to his unique way—who he is, how he’s gifted, what fascinates him? And my daughter, how do I help her to learn according to her way?

The wisdom given here points to the particular; each child possesses a particular way that is distinct to them. My son has a way about him—bursting with confidence, an extroverted enthusiast, able to string together complex ideas and deeply compassionate. My boy loves activity, team sports, long conversations, math and science. If I’m listening to the proverb, then I’m wondering how to encourage these ways so that as he ages, he will never outgrow his innate gifting and passion.

Then I remembered this modern proverb: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner) And what if I raised my son so he’ll know intimately, expansively, and truly his deep gladness so he’ll recognize his calling in God’s hungering world? What if part of my parenting is to familiarize him with his deep gladness so he’ll find his way, his vocation?

This proverb is not about enrolling our children in a generic Sunday school program or making them memorize Bible verses to guarantee they’ll become lifelong Christians. This bit of wisdom, passed down from generations past, tells us to move from the general to the specific, to know our children and fan the flames of their unique fascinations so that they will recognize their calling in due season and not veer from it. I think this wisdom points to cultivating the seeds of vocation planted in the soil of our small children.

These days I’m spending more time observing my children. I’m watching for her way and his. What brings her joy or makes his eyes alight with glee? I notice the things they do for hours, where they lose track of time. I listen to their questions and hear their deeper curiosities bubbling up. I’m trying to discern their ways so that I can teach them well.

When they rush out of Sunday school, telling me the story they learned, I look for connections to their current fascinations and experiences. When I sit bedside at night, I pray blessings over their favorite activities and their strengths. While I’m teaching them The Way, I’m also heeding a bit of old wisdom and educating them in her way and his way. And may they never depart from either way.

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Image credit: Kelley Nikondeha

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Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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