Bill Gernenz blogs at Broken and Undone and is a pastor in East Texas.
Proverbs 22:6 has become to many parents, a golden strand of hope that their prodigal son or daughter will one day return to the Lord. I greatly empathize with parents going through that terrible trial. Friends and church members should comfort, pray for, and encourage these hurting parents.
Indeed, parenting is the most painful calling God has entrusted to human beings. It alone has the unique capacity to bring both unspeakable joy and immeasurable sorrow.
A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him. (17:25)
That is why, although the prospect scared me to death, during Sundays message, I was obligated to challenge the common understanding of Proverbs 22:6. I knew that some would interpret my words as robbing them of hope for their personal prodigal, but nothing can be further from the truth.
The truth is Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise; it’s a command. (Technically it is not even that. It is a proverb that carries the weight of a command, but I digress). Some may argue that it sounds like a promise — sow this reap this. But the problem with that understanding is that it forgets the nature of Proverbs. We accept this more easily when the proverb appears to promise long life, wealth, happiness, and peace. We recognize that those proverbs are not promises. So, why do we resist understanding this proverb in the same way?
Hope. We want hope. We want to believe that our sin or daughter will return to the Lord.
But we must refuse finding hope in the wrong things. To twist Scripture is to hold onto an artificial hope. But hollow hope cannot bear the weight of a parent’s grief. We need substantive hope, real promises, and solid truth.
The reality is parents lose more than they gain when we cling to false hope. This is true in at least three ways:
- Parents operate out of stress, fear, and legalism instead of hope, joy, and grace. If we believe that our children will turn out right if we parent right. We have put our necks under the yoke of fear. Our joy will be hindered and our perspective skewed. While we recognize our God-given call as parents to train, nourish, and discipline, and while we recognize the vital importance of our God-given influence, there are more factors involved that just our parenting. Pray for your kids; diligently disciple them; and LOVE THEM! Do not parent out of fear but joy and faith.
- Parents incur unnecessary condemnation. Nobody has been or ever will be a perfect parent. That does not excuse our failure; we must still repent. But we do not want godly conviction to become satanic condemnation.
- Too often, we are tempted to see our wayward child and think, “There’s nothing I can do now. I ‘trained him up’ and now I just wait to see when they come back.” The problem with that is, even if 22:6 was a promise, it says nothing about “returning.” We cannot allow a false hope to paralyze us into passive parenting. Your hope is not in what you have done and how well you may have done it. Our hope as parents is in the gospel. God actively pursues sinners… so get out and actively pursue your prodigal. Mend relationships; patiently love; confess failure; and graciously speak truth.
Again, the great hope for parents is the gospel. Our hope is in the truth that God seeks and saves the lost. We serve and love and cry out to a lovingly heavenly Father who graciously adopts the children of imperfect parents.
The full message, “The Teaching of Wisdom (Instructing Children)” can be heard here.