“Honey, please don’t hold the pillow on the baby’s face. And that Lincoln Log is not a gun!”

As the words tumbled out of my mouth some 25 years ago, my calm tone belied a frantic rescue. My then two-year-old son loved his new baby sister, but playing peek-a-boo with a pillow had just gotten dangerous. And I didn’t like how he turned innocent toys into weapons with his sister for target practice.  

Parenting a toddler and a newborn felt like herding cats. Never the organized type, I was convinced that other moms had it all together while I struggled to squeeze in a shower. But as a young mom and a new believer, I wanted to raise my children well.

I felt completely inadequate.

When I first read the verse in Proverbs 22:6, Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it (KJV), I focused on the obvious—teach them about Jesus. We read children’s Bible stories, trotted off to Sunday school, and tried our best to raise God-loving, mostly well-adjusted kids.

Would they turn out okay?

My son was in high school when I heard a different spin on that verse. “Train up a child according to his natural bent—according to his gifts and talents,” the Bible teacher said. She applied Proverbs 22:6 to careers as well as to the walk of faith.

What were my son’s natural gifts and talents? College and career were right around the corner. Did I train him up—help him find his path—according to his own personality and strengths?

I checked off a mental list of his interests.

He played video war games, despite my best intentions not to allow them.

He collected weapons. An uncle had shared an interest in handcrafted knives and my son was fascinated. Airsoft guns, swords, bows and arrows, and replicas of medieval weapons adorned his room. His grandfather took me aside after the Columbine High School massacre to ask whether my son was a threat to society.

I was insulted. This was a kid who played drums with abandon in the youth group worship band, enjoyed many friends, and marched fearless into new situations.

But war games and weaponry? Did we let it go too far?

Train up a child according to his natural bent.

Then it hit me.

He was a warrior.

He loved the heroic battles of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. He’d devoured the Redwall books by Brian Jacques, epic quests of good versus evil. He fought battles on the basketball court, on paintball excursions, in friends’ backyards, and through video screens.

 “Have you ever thought of being a cop?” I asked.

“Yes, but I thought you wanted me to go to college,” he said. “A cop doesn’t need college.”

“Well, that’s not true,” I explained. “You can go to college, major in criminal justice, and then go to a police academy.”

From that moment, he never veered. He graduated from the University of South Florida’s Criminal Justice program, attended a police academy, and has worked in law enforcement ever since. Today he’s a young patrol officer, a certified drug recognition expert, and a man of faith on the city’s streets.

I’ve never met anyone who loves his job as much as my son loves being a police officer.

What about your children? What are their interests? How do they play? What are their favorite things? If they are young, keep a watchful eye as they grow. If they are older, think about what makes them come alive. Talk to them about vocations and help them discover their future, according to their own natural gifts and drive.

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6, KJV

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