I have two children. Though both engaged in the same activities growing up, they favored different things when young. At 3 Chad was already giving me clues about his unique personality traits and bents. He was incredibly creative and would spend hours building intricate, ‘out of the box’, structures using recycled items. His vibrant drawings had more detail than his peers. This pint size kid also had an incredible ability to show compassion to others in a manner far beyond his years. I decided to pay attention to these natural bents and find opportunities to nurture, develop and support him in his areas of interests. Quite frankly, it wasn’t always easy. We share a few similar traits, so helping him develop those common traits seemed effortless. However, one area of tension was that I was an athlete and he was not! It wasn’t just about wishing him to be an athlete, it was about my inability to figure out how to teach him the invaluable, life applicable lessons I learned from being one. Though difficult, I committed to not fight the urge to mould Chad into what I thought he should become, but rather, trust his heavenly Father had a perfect plan for him. Practically speaking, I needed to learn that the life lessons I discovered from being an athlete, Chad would gain as he developed his own natural traits. God was calling me to parent from faith not fear. This also meant trusting that Chad’s immerging personality, though different than mine, was God’s blueprint for Chad so he could accomplish the good works God had prepared for him to do from the beginning of time.
By 8th grade Chad purchased his very own apple computer with no financial help from us. He has also developed a deep love for photography. In a few short months he had mastered coding and began his own website designing business. As he continued to go to school, he found time to design church and business websites. His creativity, eye for color and ‘out of the box’ thinking gave him confidence to seek a career that allowed him to use his gifts. Today at 23, Chad loves Jesus. He is now a cinematographer, using those natural bents of creativity and color, to light scenes as well as be the eye behind the lens in the film and TV industry. His compassionate heart gives a voice to those who are homeless, struggling and forgotten. When I reflect on Chad’s childhood, I can clearly see God’s handiwork in Chad and how those traits were used to instill a clear purpose. This personal journey with Chad has made me a big advocate for parents and leaders to grasp the beauty of Proverbs 22:6.
Proverbs 22:6 is packed with powerful parenting wisdom around this concept and has the potential to revolutionize the way we parent. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most misunderstood and misused verses. The Hebrew form of ‘the way he should go’ refers to ‘a child’s unique gifts/talents – his natural way/bent’. So in other words, this verse says, ‘Train up a child in (his unique gifts/talents by paying attention to his natural bent) and when he is old he will not depart from it.’ An arrow is designed to travel in a particular direction, depending on the bow’s bent. It’s all about the design of the bow. If you try to bend a bow differently than the way it is bent, you’re likely to miss your target. In the worst-case scenario, you’re likely to break the bow. Children are designed like bows to have their own individual bent to fulfill God’s given purposes.
So what are some practical things we as parents and leaders can do to identify and develop natural bents in children?
Provide an environment where they can be trained. As Christian parents God is vitally concerned with how we care for our children and how we train them in the ways of the Lord. They need to practically experience how the Lord is building our homes to be a household of faith where grace, mercy, forgiveness and even Godly discipline is practiced.
Become a student. Spend time learning about personality traits, learning styles, learning preferences and spiritual gifts. This will allow you to not only identify specifics in your children but also give you insight on how to link traits and purpose.
Observe your children and recognize their ‘bents’. Who are they? What do they prefer? What motivates them? What do they enjoy doing? What is difficult for them? How do your children’s distinctive personality traits facilitate the development of their unique gifts and talents? Remind yourself that there’s a reason why your child is shy, assertive, introverted, extroverted, emotional, bossy, observant, curious, inquisitive, artistic, etc. It’s part of a bigger, unseen plan that’s unfolding in your child’s life.
Be intentional: Learn to number your days. Seize opportunities every day to nurture your child’s unique gifts and traits. Don’t leave it to chance.
Put scriptures to it. Find scriptures that give life to those traits. Since words have the power to give life, repeatedly share those scriptures with your children. Post them in their rooms so they’re reminded of their unique gifts and their link to scripture. Talk about those traits over and over again and remind them how God is going to use it for a bigger purpose.
Honor your child’s personality. This doesn’t come without effort, especially if you have multiple children. As busy parents we tend to expect the same from all our children. Ask God to open your eyes and heart to the subtle traits that unique to your child.
Trust that you’re the right person. God has intentionally placed you in each of your children’s lives and you in theirs. He will equip you if you seek His wisdom. As you parent, God will continue to use the process to transform both your child and you, into His image.
Don’t live your life through your children. Don’t let your fears, past, or lack of experience decide how you’re going to raise your children. It will exasperate them. God desires to be your child’s potter – it’s not our job. Our job is to keep them pliable. Also, consider seeking professional counseling to help deal with fear and your past, or it will impact how you parent.
Build confidence to instill purpose. We’re designed ON purpose FOR a purpose. This purpose is shaped through our natural gifts and talents. Fighting against natural bents is fighting against God’s image and design in us and in our children. Commit to building confidence with what your children have rather than tearing them down with what they don’t have. Confidence allows children to experience success within who they’ve been created to be so when they grow older there’re less likely to depart from it.
Seek wisdom. Pray without ceasing. Ask Him to give you a greater vision of your children than what you have for them. Ask Him to teach you how to lead your children in the way He has designed them to go. Invite other adults and leaders to partner with you as you raise your children. Ask them to help you discern traits, develop them and hold you accountable to an intentional plan.
Proverbs 22:6 shouldn’t be twisted to imply that if parents we did everything properly children will not rebel. To say so creates major issues with man’s free will to choose their own way. However when we pay attention to our child’s natural bent and help develop it, it not only instills life-purposes but also gives our children the ability to gain a greater perceptive of God as well as His intimate involvement in their lives.