Train children in the right way; and when old, they will not stray.
Proverbs 22:6 (NRSV)
When children are young, they often look forward to being old enough to go to school or to join the Scouts. As children grow older, they look forward to being old enough and responsible enough to do certain things around the house, to be allowed some measure of independence and perhaps to get a part-time job or to babysit. As teenagers and young adults, they look forward to becoming old enough to drive, to vote or to drink. How old is old?
I suspect many parents have taken great comfort in these words from Proverbs. I suspect that they have endeavored to be the best parents that they can be …to teach their children right from wrong, to respect authority and their elders, to provide them with opportunities so that they can develop their gifts, skills and talents, to be responsible, and to nurture them in the faith. I suspect that parents have tried to teach their children by lessons and examples.
Many people, perhaps like me, have read this scripture thinking that “old” is late teenagers or young adults. Parents recognize that their children age and mature at different rates. If parents thought “old” were those teenage or young adult years, then they may be mistaken.
I have often wondered how old was the Prodigal Son? How old was the Elder Brother? I suppose I thought they were in their late teens or young adult years, although they could have been older, much older. Whatever their ages, it was obvious that both needed to grow up and to reflect on the Loving Father’s lessons and example. The Loving Father perhaps had to adjust his view of the ages when his sons would be old enough not to stray.
For parents who have borne great disappointment and grief when their late teen or young adult children have strayed, they need to trust that they did their best. They may need to be patient and fervent in their prayers that their children will yet profit by their lessons and example. The Prodigal Son finally came home and we do not know if or when the Elder Brother came to his senses. We can be certain that the Loving Father anxiously waited for his eldest son to become as old as the Prodigal, so that the straying of both of them was finally done.
O God, parenting is not an easy task. Even doing what they believe to be the best for their children, parents make mistakes. Parents and children need to be forgiving. Encourage parents with the words of Proverbs and help children to profit by the examples of their parents and the lessons taught by them, so that when they are old they will not stray. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.