The Challenge of Discipline

In chapter 9 of Spiritual Parenting, Michelle Anthony writes about discipline and I have to tell you that this is where I struggle most as a parent.  I worry if I am disciplining the right things in the right way all the time.  I often feel like I am the worst version of myself as a parent when our children make bad choices and especially if their choice comes on a day when I’m feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed anyway.  A LOT of ink has been spilled in my prayer journals asking God to forgive me and to help me do a better job of parenting our children when it comes to matters of discipline.  So, I feel particularly inept to say much about on the subject.  I certainly can’t give you advice on the best practices that I have discovered because I’m still discovering much.  What I can say is that reading this chapter made me think more about 3 things.

1. The role and importance of stopping to pray before I react to bad behavior.

More than once in this chapter, Anthony advocates taking a beat and praying for God’s help before dealing with a situation.  How I need to remember that!  Often I feel like the lone ranger parent, trying to form these little human beings out of my own resources.  When I approach discipline this way I will always have an empty cup but when I have stopped to ask for God’s wisdom and help it has always come and the discipline always goes smoother.  Remembering God is at work in me and in them to shape and form both of us helps me keep perspective and to not overreact.

2. The importance of paying attention to and knowing each of my children and the unique way they behave when they have made mistakes.

In my reading I found myself thinking about Mary Ana and Daniel and how different they act when they make a mistake.  One of them often has a nervous smile (which in my worst moments is interpreted as not caring that wrong has been done) but the other will most often run and hide in a corner when confronted by a mistake.  It is instructive to me as their parent to pay attention to those reactions and understand that behind both lies fear of us being angry with them.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want our children to fear us.  Certainly I want them to respect us, to know that certain behaviors are not OK in our home, and to feel sorry for bad behavior but I NEVER want them to question whether or not Wes and I love them, mistakes and all.  Anthony talks about offering encouragement in the face of their pain as we move them toward different behaviors.  There is power in that.  I want a relationship with my children that can bear all the hard stuff because we know and love one another and are patiently bearing with one another as we grow into who God has made us to be.  Isn’t that what Paul talks about it 1 Corinthians 13? (go look it up!)  Remembering who our children are and how we understand them has to be central to the way we seek to discipline them as their parents.

3.  The way God has received my bad behavior and moved me not to guilt by way of punishment but to repentance by way of love.

I have made mistakes, a lot of them.  I’ve gone to God countless times in my life to ask for forgiveness for the way I’ve turned away from Him and His love for me and chosen to go my own way (most always to my own detriment). Often my approach to God is with head bowed, certain that I’m going to get a Divine spanking for my behavior and yet I have to tell you that has never happened.  Now, to be sure I have felt bad and there have been unpleasant consequences for my choices, but never have I experienced God punishing me or rejecting me.  Always I have felt God’s love, offering forgiveness and gently encouraging me to be honest about what I’ve done and why I’ve done it.  Anthony talks about discipline as being intended for our healing.  Another way to look at that is that discipline is intended for repentance – the turning around of one’s path.  When I’m getting a barrage of “I’m sorry’s” from our children I have often said, “I know you are sorry but I want you to understand that sorry does better.”  In other words, our sorrow is most helpful when it is coupled with a determination to be changed moving forward.  I have never been moved to repentance by punishment.  I’ve moved to anger and sorrow and bitterness by punishment, but never to repentance.  However, in the face of being loved and someone believing that it is in me to be different I have known true repentance and change in my life.  That is a powerful thing to remember in thinking about how we discipline our children.  Is our goal just to hear, “I’m sorry” or is the true goal to hear, “I want to be changed”?  When the goal is the latter there is great opportunity to point our children to Christ who is the only source of transformation and new life in us.

There is much here for me to sit with and ponder and I will be doing that.  I hope you will too and that we will all know God’s love and encouragement as we seek to repent and become the parents God has created us to be.

In the trenches with you!

Pastor Toni Ruth


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