Train up a child in the way he should go; and ...
Editor’s Note: The authors of this article are anonymous and this is appropriate for this anonymity derives solely from the depth of love felt for the family, even though their spiritual condition leaves so much to be desired. Readers must also appreciate that in order to preserve the privacy of everyone, not everything referred to in these lines applies in equal measure to each person within the family concerned.
It is not our objective, nor would it be appropriate, to present a detailed account of all that has transpired in our family experience; and for this reason it has been necessary to omit much detail. However, neither do we want to create the impression that we have endured significant tribulations; we have been spared much of the heartache that other Christian parents have had to face. Thankfully, we always enjoyed an excellent relationship with our children, and continue to do so now that they have left home. Our principal sadness stems from their lack of spiritual interest, and a lifestyle so different to what we taught them. One of our constant prayers is that we would not get so used to seeing them ‘in the world’ that it would no longer be a burden to us.
Perhaps there will be many who will consider this article to be strange, maybe even totally inappropriate for it doesn’t correlate in any way to their experience of family life. Some of the things expressed will strike them as being wrong, or a sad reflection on the weaknesses of the authors. In one respect we envy their lack of experiential understanding, however, we are writing to set out things as they are – and not as we would wish them to be. Moreover, the motivation for this contribution is a profound empathy with all those parents who, although conscious of deficiencies, sought to fulfil the injunction that forms the title of this article.
From earliest days you taught your children from the word of God, so that, like Timothy, it can be said of them ‘that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation’, 2 Tim. 3. 15. Attendance at assembly meetings was an accepted part of the weekly lifestyle, and the things of God lay at the very heart of home life.
Despite these noble aspirations you have seen your children turn away from all that you hold dear. Maybe some of them have never made a profession of salvation, whilst others who did so have either renounced it or have drifted away. Principles that regulated your home have not been adhered to by your family and today they, like Demas before them, love this present world. Their affections are not set on things above, former enthusiasm for Christ has dissipated, and carnality has replaced spirituality. Maybe you, like us, have often wondered ‘where did it go wrong’ or, even more painfully, ’where did we go wrong’.
To compound your sense of frustration, and sadness, there are a couple of matters that you struggle to understand, even though you cannot articulate those frustrations for fear of being considered unspiritual or bitter. Firstly, although you did your best to train up your children in the way they should go – they have departed from it! Not for one moment would you question the validity of the word of God; however, in some of your ’down times’, this verse has really challenged your faith. You attempted to fulfil the exhortation as best as you could, but the promise that follows it hasn’t been fulfilled. Secondly, why is it that some parents, whose commitment to the spiritual welfare of their family appeared to be less than yours, have seen all their children saved, baptized, and in fellowship? This strikes you as being unfair and, although you would be too embarrassed to admit it, there have been times when you almost wish they had had a taste of your medicine.
Our deep longing is that those parents who have trodden, or are treading, this tear-stained pathway will derive some solace and encouragement from this article. May we bear each other up in prayer, and live in the continual expectancy that salvation or restoration will come to those who are dearest to us. Like the apostle John we can say that we have ‘no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth’, 3 John 4.
We began to pray for our family long before they were born. Often in our prayers we borrowed the words of Manoah, Samson’s father, and asked, ‘How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?’ Judg. 13. 12. Within weeks of being born each child was taken to the Breaking of Bread meeting and Sunday School, and we also took them to the first half of conferences in the area. When they were old enough to keep awake they started to attend the weekly gospel service. The family reading and prayer time was a daily practice in the home and, once each one learned to read, they commenced a children’s Bible study.
Although our greatest longing was to see the family saved and develop spiritually, one thing we considered important was to play with our children. A sure way of putting any child off the things of God would have been an unbalanced emphasis on Bible reading and meeting attendance. These things must have their rightful place, but physical development, social interaction and fun are also vital elements of human development. We didn’t want our offspring behaving as patriarchs when they were just kids, and so they had plenty of opportunity to play with us and their friends.
We had the inestimable joy of seeing each one make a profession of salvation and show interest in the scriptures. They took it in turns to say grace at meals and joined in the family prayers enthusiastically. Whilst none was in fellowship it was never a problem for them to attend the meetings, even though this made them very different to their peers. Things continued in this pattern until mid to late teenage years, and then change came. Their personal Bible study petered out and, eventually, we also decided to stop the family reading time. This decision may appear strange to many, and some may feel at liberty to point a finger of condemnation at us. However, we considered that to insist on maintaining something for which they had no desire would have been irksome to them and counterproductive.
At differing times they stopped coming to the meetings and, with the world having set out its stall before them, they responded to it. Those who were our greatest joys and who we loved the most were also, in one aspect, our deepest sadness. Just as the father in Luke chapter 15 watched the ‘prodigal’ go away, we too looked on and watched as each, in varying degrees, put Christian things at the margins of their lives. Thankfully, none of them ever recanted on their profession but were, and remain, convinced of the validity of their salvation.
We would be less than honest if we failed to admit that on more than one occasion the temptation to jettison concerns for their restoration have been present. Maybe they have done something that has caused us real disappointment, perhaps something that has been so contrary to what they know we respect, that it has provoked anger within us. At times like that it’s easy to react in a fleshly manner and just give up on them.
Maybe one day we shall give account as to how we nurtured our family, and then we shall realize what mistakes we made. Not for one moment would we lay claim to being model parents, but we did try to do what we felt was right at the time. With the benefit of hindsight there are things we regret. If it were possible to rewind the clock and to know then what we know now some things would have been done differently, and others avoided altogether. However, it is unprofitable and debilitating to wallow in this line of thought for we can’t go back and start again.
One issue that sustains us when we feel low, and keeps us constant in our prayers for the family, is the incessant hope that ‘ere long they will return to the Lord and put Him at the centre of their lives. Over many hundreds of years Israel proved that where repentance is displayed, God is ever prepared to restore those who have gone astray. Proverbs chapter 22 verse 6 incorporates both ends of the spectrum of life, the formative years, ‘train up a child’, and the mature years, ‘when he is old, he will not depart from it’. In our case the formative years are over, now we longingly hope that the time of restoration is near.
Because we love the family our greatest desire is their happiness and blessing and, as would be true of any normal parents, we derive immense pleasure when we see them doing well in any facet of life. However, we also know that their greatest blessing and highest achievement cannot be derived from financial security, academic attainment, or career progression. The late Jack Hunter often used to quote, ’Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last’. How much they will have lost if they over-accomplish on earth, only to be bereft at the judgement seat of Christ.
Our minds go back over the years and recall those pleasant days of yore when, as a family unit, we engaged in, and derived much pleasure from, the things of the Lord. Obviously times change, the children have grown up and now have homes of their own. However, we cling on to the hope that one day they will reflect, repent, and return to the Saviour that loved them far more than we ever could.