Author: Kimberley Mulder
I hate having to discipline my children. I hold awkwardly and begrudgingly the parental authority that has been given to me. There is nothing that causes my heart to sink faster than my children’s disobedience and disputes. I can be in a fantabulous mood all day but when that door bursts open and in tumbles a wailing child followed quickly by a yelling one it feels like a massive vacuum suddenly sucked away my mood and energy. Honestly, if I am not careful this scenario can wrench my attitude into despair and discord for the rest of the day. It is in these times that I am seeing the situation as a burden rather than the opportunity it is offering.
What is the goal of discipline? Certainly good citizenship is a goal, as is building good habits. However, these are lesser goals. The great goal of discipline is to teach us to trust God. This is true whether discipline is enforced from outside (think parenting), or internally adhered to (think self-discipline). To keep our relationship with God healthy and strong he instituted an intertwined dance of trust and discipline. Every sin is, in some way, a distrust of God; discipline was meant to guide us away from the lies we believe and back to the heart of the One who loves us.
Divine discipline strikes me as art. God gets His message across to us, His disobedient children, in so many ways. Reading the Bible as a standard is a two-dimensional reading of a three-dimensional text. The dimensions of God’s discipline are so deep and high and loving, so personal that the receptive child will feel the gentle pressing of His words in the scriptures, and have it bring out conviction like a hologram that has turned to reveal the picture. At other times, in love that we cannot understand, He abruptly blocks a path like a shutter capturing a black and white image.
Imagine the Father painting His discipline throughout history. The base layer is the creation of the Israelites and the ten commandments, then throughout the Old Testament He adds the foundational characteristics through particular sudden strokes (like Saul’s downfall in 1 Samuel or Jeroboam’s legacy of war because of his idol worship in 1 Kings.) The prophets add depth to the horizon as they envision God’s desires and cry out to the Israelites to return to God. But when Jesus walks onto the canvas the picture becomes alive and complete. The details are added as the broad strokes of the old covenant are built on and covered by the fine, personal, lines of forgiveness.
Jesus touches and teaches individuals that it’s the heart the Father is trying to reach through discipline. He doesn’t want outward conformists and inward sinners. In John 8 the Pharisees ask him how to discipline the woman caught in adultery. But Jesus tells these conformists: “Let any one of you who is without sin throw a stone at her.” This masterful stroke drives right into their hearts. Then he deftly highlights the beauty He is painting with the finishing stroke of forgiving the woman.
So, as a parent, I want to emulate God’s purposes in my discipline. The trajectory of all my efforts is not to make good kids who will obey all the rules. Rather, it is to develop their trust in God above all.
I want them to trust me too, which means I must be trustworthy. Are they seeing and feeling that I have their best interests in mind? If I am reacting, then I don’t have their interests at the forefront. Do I listen to them carefully, giving them space to be heard? Do they see me making every effort to be fair? I hope they will reflect on their growing up and see that the consequences I placed on them were part of what shows my trustworthiness and God’s. This is a lot to embed into the hot scenarios that we encounter daily with our kiddos! That is why it is so important to spend time intentionally thinking and praying about our discipline strategies.
For some of us we need to see the discipline in our childhood as our Old Testament and let Jesus lead us into living his new covenant as we discipline our kids. Do you react harshly wanting to simply squelch a behavior? I confess, I do at times because of my upbringing and lack of intentionality. However, Jesus doesn’t squelch, ever. He probes into the pain and sin, illuminates, addresses and then extracts it with his truth and forgiveness. He does it in a way that draws us near, not pushes us away.
If you struggle, as I do, to allow Christ to renovate your discipline, I encourage you to intentionally address it. Certainly pray and read the gospels to gain insight into Jesus’s way. Seek out classes on discipline that are grounded in His way. Talk to parents who you have witnessed disciplining with grace and wisdom. Employ forgiveness. Learn to evaluate your response before you execute it. My oldest sometimes gets frustrated with me because I take too long (in her view) to answer or discipline. I remind her that I need to take the time to carefully process the situation with Jesus so that I don’t react in a sinful way. And when I do riff off a reactionary consequence to her (always to damaging effect!), I have gone back to her and apologized. Then we evaluate what an appropriate consequence would be for the situation.
Let’s internalize God’s loving discipline and intentionally learn the art of building trust through the opportunities that the disobedience of children and others bring to us.
Kimberley Mulder is a contemplative at heart who deeply enjoys the company of Jesus in the day-to-day of caring for her family of 5 (plus a dog and a cat), teaching English to immigrants, growing her garden, and writing. Currently, her walk with Jesus is taking her more deeply into writing as she leads a spiritual formation group at her church, and records the reflections and connections Jesus gives her to share with others. She treasures the truth that God’s Word does not go back to him without accomplishing the purpose for which he sent it, and that that Word is embodied in our lives. (Isaiah 55:11)