The Way He Should Go

It’s the morning after the last TCAP (Tennessee’s standardized tests), a soft rain just the permission we needed to sleep in. As a third grader, this was Jake’s first experience with the tests that somehow mean everything and nothing. Jake is more of an athlete than a scholar, and I’m still trying to figure out what to expect from him academically.

My boys could NOT be more different from each other. Everything I think I know as a parent is consistently thrown out the window once Jake gets involved. His energy is boundless, his joy contagious, his mouth noises incredibly annoying. Every morning he begs to ride his bike to school, and every afternoon he plays with neighbor friends for hours. His middle-childless is large and in charge.

Watching him find his place in the world will be quite the thrill, I’m sure of it. I am at the edge of my seat wondering who he will become. If his impact at birth is indicative of his impact out there, WATCH OUT WORLD!

“Train up a child in the way he should go” is thrown around a whole lot when it comes to parenting. I always thought this way looked clearly defined, and I thought the burden was on the parent to discern the perfectly Biblical, perfectly black-and-white, perfectly identical way for their children. I used to think I’d have a final say on the way my kids will turn out. I used to think it was all on me, figuring out the way they should go and making sure they follow suit.

I did not anticipate parenting correctly, that’s for sure.  A few years in I began to see that there is nothing narrow about this Proverb. Our job as parents is not to dictate or restrict. It’s to model, to create safe guardrails, to give freedom as much as each child has the capacity to hold it. And mostly, it’s about listening to my child’s life and the One who created it to uncover each one’s unique path.

This makes sense – after all, God is so much bigger and smarter than me! He doesn’t take a narrow, defined, dictated approach with his children. He doesn’t should on me all the time. He’s much more interested in a partnership of unfolding mystery, knowing full well who I am and who I will be.

This is the approach I want to take with my children. The ultimate goal is for the child to choose for himself the way he should go. That’s the way that will stick, the one he won’t depart from: the way that he chose out of his own free will, not the way that was chosen for him.

I am not so much creating my child – that was God’s job, and He did it well. I can’t control my child.  But I can tend to him, prune him, give him good soil, watch for weeds, teach him to do these things for himself so he can continue to grow into his full self.

Perhaps the most sacred act of parenting is leaning into the prophetic destiny of my child – watching and listening for what God has put deep within him as He formed him in my womb. Laying down my own agenda (all my shoulds and vicariously-lived dreams) and asking God to give me eyes to see my son they way He does. Becoming a student of my child, noticing what he’s drawn to, what he does naturally, what is difficult for him, what brings him alive, what he dreams about at night and in the day, what sparks something in the people around him, what he adds to the room, what favor is on him, what has been spoken over him prophetically, what his love language and personality type is, what has been scary, what the enemy’s strategy against him looks like.  Listening, watching, being alert, intentional, … being a student of my child in tandem with the God who created him.

Then I get to process all this input with God and consider the implications of these gifts and callings. What will my child need if his strength is xyz? What might the pitfalls be? How can I equip him if his weakness is abc? How can I teach him to fend off the enemy’s strategies against him?

Beyond all the wearing daily tussles and discipline issues, having a bird’s-eye view of a child’s way they should go is deeply refreshing to my mother-heart. Parenting is high-stakes. I can’t imagine doing it blindly. What a gift to have a God who is more interested in my child’s destiny than I.

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