What happens when every effort at Christian parenting appears to fail?
Do our children come with a “Proverbs 22:6 Guarantee”?
While I’m in the U.K. for a week of mission work in Cornwall, followed by my son’s wedding in Wales (!!), my good friend and multi-published author Robin Patchen was gracious enough to agree to step up to the mic here at Five Stones and a Sling. Robin shares her powerful perspective on a vital topic–Christian parenting. This one touches almost every believer’s life at some point.
A Guest Post by Robin Patchen
I have a confession to make: I have three kids ages fifteen and up, and all of them have rebelled to one degree or another. In fact, one rebelled so thoroughly, he spent what should have been his senior year of high school in rehab. I promise you, when he was a little baby, all smiles and giggles, I never imagined that. When I was reading Goodnight Moon to that boy for the thousandth time, you couldn’t have convinced me he’d ever struggle with addiction. When I homeschooled him, taught him to read, took him to church, rehab never entered my mind.
So what went wrong?
When my kids were preschoolers, my husband and I attended a parenting conference. One of the classes was taught by a man I respected greatly. He made a lot of points in that class, but one stuck with me.
He suggested that some of the “great” men in the Bible weren’t all that great as fathers. He mentioned Eli, whose sons were called “scoundrels” (1 Samuel 2:12). He talked about David. One of his sons, Amnon, raped his own sister (2 Samuel 13). Another of his sons, Absolom, started a revolution (2 Samuel 15). This Bible teacher’s point was clear: If your children misbehave, then you must be a bad parent.
Some evidence for that idea can be found in the Bible. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (NKJV).
Way back when I had preschool children, I savored that idea like I would the best Swiss chocolate. I believed I had that much power, that if I just did my job right, my children would obey me, walk with God, and be blessed. I was convinced that if I could just be good enough, then my kids could skip that pesky rebellious stage and slide effortlessly into adulthood.
What a nice thought, that great parenting plus solid Bible teaching equals perfect kids.
A decade later, I can testify to one thing—that’s a total crock.
Don’t get me wrong, friends. It is essential that we parents do our very best. We must discipline our children consistently. We must teach them the Word. We must expose them to truth and encourage them to do right. It’s essential that we love our children and spend time with them. We have to monitor their viewing and Internet activity. There’s all that stuff, and there’s mountains more we need to do to ensure our children have the best chance in life.
But do our efforts guarantee results? If we do all of that, will we then have godly, obedient children?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Let’s go back to that often-memorized scripture, Proverbs 22:6. It is one of my favorites. If you read it closely, you’ll see it doesn’t promise that your children will never depart from the way you taught them to go. It says that “when he is old, he will not depart.”
What about the time between today and “when he is old”? Will he not depart from the correct way at all, ever? How does that fit in with the idea that “all have sinned and fall short…” (Romans 3:23)? Doesn’t everybody disobey? Other Scriptures warn us that children do rebel against their parents, even perfect parents.
“Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth!
This is what the Lord says:
‘The children I raised and cared for
have rebelled against me.’” Isaiah 2:1
If our perfect God didn’t raise perfect children, how can we, as imperfect as we are? And do we truly believe that our children are simply blank slates, or are they, like us, born with a sin nature? Why do we believe we can outsmart sin with rules and guidelines?
It’s a lovely idea. Or perhaps, it’s an insidiously evil idea. Because if I believe I can control my children’s futures with perfect parenting, where does God fit in? If I believe that Bible teaching and Scripture memorization will make my kids into perfect little Christian soldiers, what room have I left for grace? And when my children fail to be perfect—which they are guaranteed to do—who do I blame? Myself, for all the times I failed? God, whom I was trying so hard to obey? Or my children for not living up to my expectations?
I thank God that over the years of parenting, He taught me that, ultimately, I have very little control over their choices. The older they get, the less control I have and the more freedom they have to make good choices or to mess up their lives.
When my oldest chose drugs over our family, my husband and I let him walk away. But we didn’t forget him—not for a moment. No, we prayed and begged God to bring him home. At one point when I was praying, I felt the Lord’s words in my ears. “Do you trust me with your son?”
Did I trust him? Too many young people, many children of godly parents, get lost to drugs and alcohol—or simply lost to their own foolish choices. Some kids end up in prison, others end up homeless. Some run away and aren’t heard from for years. And some end up in the grave. There are no guarantees for any of us. Trusting God meant facing that my son could be lost to us for a time, or for good. But I knew I couldn’t fix it, and I believed God could. I was out of options.
I decided at that moment that I did trust Him with all my children. It was either trust Him or go mad with grief and fear.
My first-born’s story has been a testimony to God’s provision. He brought my son home, and my son went to rehab, he got clean, and now he’s a missionary spreading the love of Christ to whoever will listen.
God’s plan for my son was not my plan for him. He rejected us and rejected God, but God never rejected him. God wooed him back, pulled him through, and turned him into an amazing, Spirit-filled young man with a burning passion for Christ. None of that would have happened apart from the rebellion that started it all.
So are we failures as parents, because our son landed in rehab? Or are we good parents, because now he’s walking with God? Or are we merely imperfect parents, doing our best—all anyone can be asked to do? God knows our faults and shortcomings, and He blessed us with these young people anyway. How they turn out is ultimately in His hands. No matter what happens, I will continue to trust Him with my children.
As an author, I sometimes need to write about an event to really process it. That was the case with the situation we found ourselves in with our son. Although the events and the people in my novel Generous Lies bear no resemblance to our story (though my husband is as amazing and handsome as the hero) the internal struggles this father deals with are quite close to home.
Generous Lies: Hidden Truth Series Book #3
Former FBI agent Garrison Kopp suspected his teenage son was in trouble, but a midnight summons to the ER after an overdose reveals the problem is more serious than he thought. Desperate to get his son away from negative influences, he asks a friend who owns rental properties for a place to stay. This isn’t how he’d planned to reconnect with the beautiful woman he’d met a few months ago, yet spending time with Samantha makes a hard time more bearable.
Vacation homeowner Samantha Messenger is happy to provide Garrison and his son a lake cabin where they can regroup. She tells herself Garrison’s call had nothing to do with the chemistry they shared and everything to do with the fact that the other rentals were booked. She helps him search for a good rehab facility and tries not to hope for more than friendship. After what she’s been through, more isn’t an option, no matter what her heart wants.
Sparks fly between them as Sam and Garrison work together to help the resistant teen. But that becomes the least of their problems when a package planted in Garrison’s car lures enemies to the idyllic cabin on the lake. With their lives—and love—on the line, can they protect all they hold dear?
Robin Patchen is an award winning multi-published author, but only because she can’t pursue her other dream.
If time and money were no object, Robin would spend her life traveling. Her goal is to visit every place in the entire world–twice. She longs to meet everybody and see everything and spread the good news of Christ. Alas, time is short and money is scarce, and her husband and three kids don’t want to traipse all around the world with her, so Robin does the next best thing: she writes. In the tales she creates, she can illustrate the unending grace of God through the power and magic of story.