Of mules and children


     Every Christian parent has Proverbs 22:6 imprinted somewhere in their world: a magnet on the refrigerator, a 3×5 card on a mirror, a cross-stitch on the wall, or simply underlined in the Bible:


     “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”


     It’s a daunting verse. It engenders fear and hope. It leads to confidence in scripture or despair at my failure as a parent.


     My wife and I read a book years ago, “To Train up a Child.” The author believed children should be trained like mules: Discipline them quickly and teach them to obey your voice. It had many poignant lessons that helped us with our children, but it always bothered me to compare my children to the genetically incompatible mating of a donkey and a horse. In that illustration, all our friends knew which between my wife and me was the jackass.


     But I digress.


     This verse is often misquoted and certainly misapplied. Hebrew is a rich language. It can be difficult to translate into modern languages like English. The word “should” is not a word in Hebrew. Removing it gives a little more clarity to the verse. “Train a child up in the way he goes, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That would seem to indicate that whatever the cultural context, a child will maintain that throughout life.


     But here’s the beautiful twist in the passage: “The way” has to do with a child’s bent, how he or she is gifted, how God has made that unique child. Now the verse becomes even richer: “Help develop a child into the person God created them to be, and when they get old, they will be surefooted (not depart from it).”


     Which is why setting an example as parents is paramount. I have six children. Each of them is unique. I have sought to know and understand them as individuals. But the fact is, I’m not always as good at cultivating their individuality as I wish I could be.


     But what I can do is show them how to live. How I love their mother, how I treat friends and enemies alike, how my faith does or does not define my life and affect my decisions. All of these influence what each child does with their giftings and personal traits.


     James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”


     Take time to know your kids and how they are bent. Invest in their talents and skills.


     But more than anything, live faithfully before them.


     And when you mess up — and you will — show them how to apologize and repent well.




Dan Hall is an executive and strategic coach to leaders and executive teams. He also works with organizations on team building, conflict resolution and communication skills. He and his wife, Hazel, have six children and four grandchildren. You can reach him at

Pro-Life Mississippi