Hebrews 12:11: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (NIV).
My daughter and I had a pretty interesting discussion regarding discipline about a month ago. I explained to her that she’s disciplined because she’s loved. If her dad and I didn’t care about her, then we wouldn’t take the time to teach her how to obey. She was handpicked by God for our family, and we consider her a blessing. God allowed us the opportunity to be her parents, but at the same time, placed a huge responsibility on us. She learns how to obey God by first practicing obedience to us.
She is nine, and therefore, right on the edge of preadolescence. Since we were already talking about obedience, I took this opportunity to talk about how obedience and trust walk hand in hand. I explained that if she wanted the freedom as a teenager to hang out with her friends, drive a car, or date, we needed to establish obedience and trust now. If I can’t trust her to wash the dishes when I ask or finish her homework before she watches TV, then I certainly can’t trust her to drive the family car or hang out with her friends unsupervised.
I happened to look over at our staircase and realized it was a perfect example for a nine-year-old. The staircase represents childhood. When you’re little (like her younger brother), the issues of obedience and trust happen on the first few steps and center around issues like staying out of the road, picking up your toys, and not hitting your siblings. Only when those skills are learned can someone advance to a higher step, which might include sleepovers, staying up past bedtime, or playing outside with minimal supervision. I explained that she had already mastered the issues that we were working on with her brother, but that she now needed to concentrate on nine-year-old obedience/trust issues. I loved her too much to allow her to advance further up the staircase until she was ready because of the likelihood of sliding down, falling, or generally getting hurt. If she willfully disobeyed, the resulting injury would be much, much worse from a higher step than from a relatively low one. There were going to be different issues she would face as a teenager and they could be much more damaging to her body, her life, and her future than not washing the dishes or refusing to do her homework.
I summed it up by reinforcing that we all make mistakes, but by not deliberately choosing to disobey, the mistakes would be fewer and the injuries less severe. I reminded her that just as God never stops loving us whether or not we obey, her dad and I would never stop loving her regardless of her choices. The person who would get hurt would be her because she would lose our trust and therefore, her freedom. Loss of freedom is not a punishment, but instead a natural consequence of our incredible love for her.
I believe that God allows us to start life as children so that we have plenty of time to practice obedience in the small areas. Then, by the time we’re adults and the stakes are higher, we’ll hopefully make less mistakes. Not washing the dishes as a child may result in double the work the next day, but not showing up for work because you didn’t feel like it could result in losing your job, putting a hardship on your entire family.
I have no idea if my kids are thankful that they have parents who are consistent in their expectations of obedience. I’m thankful my parents loved me enough to expect the very best so that I could learn the lessons of obedience early. Just as stairs naturally go up and down, I gave them a run for their money at times during childhood. I still make plenty of mistakes in areas of obedience in my life, although I keep working at them. That’s why I’m glad that God’s love isn’t conditional on whether or not I obey.
Just as my Heavenly Father keeps giving me multiple chances to “get it right,” I’ll never stop encouraging my children to push their own restart button. They are a blessing from God to our family and I want to help them practice while they are still under our care.