For the past few days, my wife and I have had our 6-year-old great-niece, Victoria, staying with us. Since we don’t have any grandchildren yet, Victoria comes the closest to fulfilling that role in our lives. We’ve played, swam, talked, drawn some pictures, watched a movie or two, played with dolls, made silly faces and done all the other things you do with a 6-year-old.

I brought back a little bracelet from Panama just for Victoria. It was a little loose on her, so it slid off her arm and into the toilet. Good thing Uncle Walker bought a spare in case of just such an emergency.

Since my sons are grown men, I’d forgotten some of the rules—you might call them guarantees—of taking care of a younger child. Here’s a refresher:

  1. The later you stay up, the earlier the child will awaken the next morning. Do children come with invisible internal clocks that sense when you go to bed?
  2. For a child to get clean, something else has to get dirty. The demon of dirt requires a sacrifice. I’m sure this rule is written into the DNA of every child.
  3. Although we keep toys in our house for the times we have visitors with younger children, I’d forgotten this rule: Toys multiply to fill any available space. Right now, I can hardly walk through a room without stepping on a crayon, tiny doll shoe or other pain-inducing plaything.
  4. The longer it takes to cook a meal, the less a child will eat. This law also has a partner: the more you pay for the meal, the less a child will eat. You can never go wrong with a McDonald’s Happy Meal. And forget about trying to introduce new foods to the children in your life. They’ll always say, “This tastes yucky.” Just once, I’d like to try eating “yucky.” Other than chicken, it must be the world’s most universal taste.
  5. If you’re in a public place and only one child acts up, you can be sure it will be yours. The larger the crowd, the more likely this scenario is to occur.
  6. If you take a child to pick out something in a store, whether a toy, a pair of shoes or a dress, the child will always choose the most expensive item. It goes without saying that the cheaper the toy, the more a child will play with it.
  7. The only guaranteed way to get a child to complete a task is to forbid said child to do it.
  8. The gooier the food, the more likely it will end up in one of two places: the carpet or you. The companion to this is the more likely the food is to cause a stain, the greater chance it has to land on clothing or carpet.
  9. No matter where you’re going, three minutes in the car will cause any child to have an intense urge to go to the bathroom.
  10. The more challenging the child, the more rewarding it is to be a parent . . . sometimes.

My great-niece has just begun learning to read. As she was going to bed tonight, she wanted to read her Uncle Walker a bedtime story. I crawled in the bed (which contained as many toys as a bed could hold and still have room for a child) beside her.

Victoria’s favorite book is a Children’s Bible complete with pictures. She started with the story of creation and has been reading the Bible every day. Tonight, she took me to the story of the time Jesus asked John the Baptist to baptize Him. She sounded out each word, her little finger following along, and read me the story.

As I turned off the light and kissed her good night, I remembered this verse: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6, NIV 1984). You may notice that this verse doesn’t say take a child to church and when he gets old he will not turn from it. Instead, it says train. To train a child is intentional, systematic, with a goal in mind. It involves imparting the knowledge and skills needed to be a follower of Jesus. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you don’t learn the skills, all you are is a walking encyclopedia. Jesus imparted both knowledge and skills to His disciples. In other words, He trained them.

To see a 6-year-old who has just gained the skill of reading using that skill to read through the Bible reminds me that the Scriptures come with their own guarantee: “and when he is old he will not turn from it.”