Monday, May 6, 2013

The pitfalls of discipline

Deuteronomy 8:5 (NIV)

Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.
Surely the point of this verse is to remind humans of their need to be humble before God. In context of the larger passage (subtitled “Do Not Forget the Lord,”), God reminds the people how He led them through the wilderness for 40 years, causing them to be hungry and then feeding them with manna. The next verse continues the theme: “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him.”

Those are very good things for me to keep in mind. I believe very much in the important of humility, even if I’m not always great about putting it into practice. I want to be held accountable before God, though I know I am far from perfect. I don’t have anything close to the experience of 40 years in the wilderness, yet I retain a strong sense that God provides, even at times when I don’t understand or appreciate what I truly need.

That said, reading this verse today I am inclined to invert the meaning. I do believe God disciplines me. I know I try to discipline my sons. But my worry is about the manner in which I discipline. I trust God is and will be eternally fair with me, employing wisdom far beyond anything I can imagine. I do not, however, trust myself to be as good a disciplinarian with my kids as God is with me.

And yet I can’t shy away from the responsibility of setting rules, enforcing penalties and trying my best to use my parental authority to guide my children safely into responsible adulthood. It hurts me to think there are times when my heavy-handedness is doing more harm than good, or that I might be looking the other way when it would be far better to assert myself. With three kids, there are multiple chances every day to make good and bad choices when it comes to discipline — and the fear of constantly making the wrong choices can have a paralyzing effect.

I tend to think my parents did a pretty good job with me and my siblings, and I suppose when they started they didn’t have much more to go on than we did in terms of experience. Surely the house rules they grew up with affected their disciplinary style, and some of that continues to filter through generations. I suppose for better and for worse, depending on the family and the desire (or lack thereof) to continue successful strategies and consciously avoid flaws and missteps.

I will forever question if I’m the kind of parent God calls me to be, and I’ll know I’m not measuring of to a standard of perfection. But unlike a teacher who hands out a test and then waits to grade the completed papers, God is alongside me each step of the way, offering guidance, insight, direction and hope. It falls to me to take advantage of that divine resource, and further to not just try my best and seek God’s approval but to put God at the center of the process. If I can do a better job of ceding control, such that I am a channel for God’s love instead of a human impediment, then certainly our whole family will benefit.

As usual, easier said than done. But saying it is the first step. Without a plan, I’m totally lost. God is my refuge, my strength and my guide. Together we can do this thing the right way.

A prayer for May 6:

Lord, sometimes this parenting business is simply terrifying. I worry the things I do or say will cause damage far beyond what I control. I need you every hour to help me make good choices, exercise sound judgment and be as fair with my children as possible. I don’t trust myself to do it alone, I depend on your guidance, your calming presence in my life and the hope your love and grace provide. Help me be at my best for the people I love most. Amen.

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