Four Tips for Parental Discipline

four-tips-for-parental-discipline

I’m teaching a marriage class at church and I opened the floor for participants to ask me any of their marriage and family related questions. And, they submitted some excellent questions. Last week’s question has to do with raising kids:

How can you discipline your children in a godly way?

I probably raised more questions than I answered in my previous post about parental discipline. There’s certainly a lot to learn and I felt like it was vital to lay the groundwork first. This post is designed to go a little bit further, to give you a quick set of tips to help you implement what we talked about last week.

Here are four tips for godly parental discipline:

1. Be aligned

If you’re blessed to be raising a child along with your spouse, regardless of what parenting method you choose, it’s imperative that you’re aligned. Take the time to get on the same page. If you’re not aligned, it’s going to be stressful for your marriage, confusing for your child, and ineffective.

2. Be clear and consistent

Kids need to know where their parents stand, where the boundary lines are drawn, and what the consequences will be for misbehavior. It may feel contradictory to you, but kids thrive when they have clear and consistent rules. It gives them a sense of security and well-being and is what is best for their soul even if they tell you it doesn’t.

3. Be self-controlled

If you have a temper—like me—you’ll find that the moment you lose control is the moment you’ve ceased being the parent your kid needs. Do what it takes, as much as it’s humanly possible, to be calm and composed when you’re disciplining. If you have to walk away, that’s OK. Take a few minutes. Whisper a prayer. Use the timeout to consult with your spouse. Then, in a calm, measured, controlled, and loving way, deal with the issue at hand.

4. Be gracious

By all means, teach your children about God’s grace. Find ways to help them understand the weight of their sin (which, let’s be honest, is the driving force behind much of our children’s misbehavior) and then to understand the freedom and joy that comes when their sin is forgiven and the consequences are removed. And, don’t stop there. Show yourself some grace, too. You may be trying to emulate God but you’re not him. Admit your mistakes. Apologize to God and to the kids. And move forward in the grace he gives.

This parenting thing is tough. Disciplining fairly and constructively is extremely difficult. It’s as much art as it is science. But, following God’s lead, we can raise kids who don’t resent us. More importantly, we can raise kids who love God and who are open to his transformative discipline long after they’ve left our loving, if imperfect, care.

Discussion questions

  1. Are you and your spouse aligned in your parenting philosophies? If so, how did you get aligned. If not, what do you need to do to get on the same page?
  2. Do your kids know where the boundary lines are drawn? Or, are they unsure? What can you do to help define what is acceptable (and what isn’t) with and for your kids?
  3. Is your parental discipline more characterized by self-control or a lack of self-control? What is God revealing to you about his will for you in this area?
  4. Do you need to get better at receiving and giving grace? Read [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 2:8-10″ display=”Ephesians 2:8-10″] and reflect on God’s grace in your life.

The Goal and Method of Parental Discipline

goal-method-parental-discipline

I’m teaching a marriage class at church and I opened the floor for participants to ask me any of their marriage and family related questions. And, they submitted some excellent questions. This week’s question has to do with raising kids:

How can you discipline your children in a godly way?

This is a fantastic question because one of the main purposes of parenting is to guide the next generation in the right direction. If you’ve been a parent more than a couple of years, you realize that a big part of that responsibility comes down to being an effective disciplinarian. If you’re anything like me, however, you’ve probably struggled to find wisdom and wrestled with your own strengths and weaknesses in this area.

Let’s talk about the goals and methods of parental discipline.

The goal of parental discipline

To observe a lot of parents and to read a lot of the experts, you get the sense that the primary goal of parental discipline is to produce children who are compliant and controlled, whose outward behavior is civilized and appropriate.

If we’re being honest, isn’t perception management the bottom line for most parental discipline? We want people to think highly of us. And, nothing says, “This couple has their act together!” quite like having well-behaved kids. Right? Think about your own efforts to discipline your kids. Aren’t many of the corrective actions you take primarily driven by your desire to avoid social embarrassment on one extreme or to solidify your reputation as an all-star parent on the other extreme?

Let’s take it a step further. If you’re a Christian parent, this will be especially relevant for you.

Most discipline is focused on external compliance but is woefully inadequate at reaching the heart. A parent can make his child sit up straight, be polite, speak when spoken to, and do the right things. But, discipline aimed at external conformity, in reality, only teaches kids to be hypocrites. It teaches them to be good on the outside but leaves their hearts untouched.

So, back to the question. What is the goal of parental discipline? If we’re going to understand the goal of parental discipline, it makes sense to look to our heavenly Father:

“We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 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,” ([biblegateway passage=”Hebrews 12:9-11″]).

The goal of discipline is hidden right there in the word itself: disciple. When our heavenly Father disciplines us it’s for our good. It is always to help us share in his holiness. It produces a harvest of right living. It is transformative.

Transformation is the goal of God’s discipline in our lives. That should be the goal of parental discipline as well.

As parents, we don’t want to produce little hypocrites, people who behave well on the outside in spite of their poor inner character. We want to partner with God in the process of making disciples, young men and women who behave well externally because they’re being transformed internally.

The method of parental discipline

If it’s our goal to partner with God to raise little people who have his heart, how do we do it? There are hundreds of parenting philosophies and self-proclaimed experts out there who, for the price of a book, can teach you all about how to get compliant kids. There is some decent stuff out there—and some really bad stuff, too—but we know that. There are relatively few that will equip and inspire you to partner with God in transforming your kids hearts. But, before recommending resources, it’s important to look back to God for our cues.

It’s difficult to pick out one chapter and verse that prescribes God’s way of disciplining us, his children. That’s OK. To understand how God disciplines us, you have to look at the whole arch of Scripture:

  • God disciplines in the context of his loving, unbreakable relationship with us. Without a loving relationship with our kids, discipline can only be punitive and can never reach the heart.
  • God’s disciplinary acts are firm, never abusive; fair and just, never arbitrary; merciful, never spiteful; patient, never impulsive; and redemptive and restorative, never reactive or manipulative. We must aim to emulate his kind, steady, and loving approach toward our kids.
  • God disciplines with the long-term goal in mind. He patiently, repeatedly, and persistently forgives, extends grace, and embraces us. We must parent for the long haul, always willing to extend the same kind of grace we have received from him.
  • God sacrifices himself—even to the extreme—for the sake of his children. We must stop parenting for ourselves and remember that partnering with God to help transform our kids’ hearts will require great work and sacrifice on our part. But, it’s worth it.

The best parenting method and resource is the whole of the Bible narrative. A thorough knowledge and experience of God’s grace is essential if we intend to raise our kids well. All of the other best resources I know are based upon the Bible. Therefore, they contain some really helpful wisdom for parents.

This post was fairly theoretical, I know. If you were looking for practical stuff, I’m sorry to disappoint. However, before we move on, it’s so important to establish the foundation. Come back next week and I’ll share four tips for parental discipline.

Discussion questions

  1. As a parent, how has your discipline focused on outward compliance while neglecting inner transformation?
  2. Reflect upon Hebrews 12:9-11. What are some of the ways God has disciplined you throughout your life? What has his discipline produced in you?
  3. What are two or three practical ways you can give grace to your kids?

How to Forgive Someone Who Hasn’t Asked

how-to-forgive

Have you ever sensed the need to forgive someone who has harmed you? Forgiveness is easier when they apologize. But, what if they’re oblivious or unrepentant?

Lately, I’ve done some thinking and praying about how to forgive someone who hasn’t asked. Before we get to that, we have to be clear about why we would consider forgiveness in the first place.

Why forgive?

In the wake of being wronged, forgiveness is the last thing most people consider. We don’t want to sacrifice the sense of justice and control we receive from the anger we harbor and we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable or weak all over again.

There are many who scoff at the idea of forgiveness. But, as a Christian, it has to be different for me. So, why forgive. I can think of three reasons.

1. We forgive to avoid the sin of hatred.

Immediately after saying that [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:3-11″ display=”God blesses”] the merciful, the meek, and those who make peace, Jesus talks about the corrosive nature of hatred and how, ultimately, it’s [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:21-22″ display=”equivalent to murder”]. We must not harbor or nurture resentment, anger, and unforgiveness. It imprisons us. If we are to be the kind of people God wants us to be, we must resist the gravitational pull of hatred and choose to forgive. To condemn, to keep a record of wrongs, to harbor resentment, and to loathe someone is contrary to [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:36-40″ display=”God’s will for us”].

2. We forgive to follow Jesus’ example.

Jesus never sinned. He never broke the law. He blessed, healed, taught, and loved. But, he experienced the jealousy of the religious leaders, the betrayal of his closest friends, and the brutality of the Romans. And, he went to the cross. This is stunning: his last breaths weren’t used to plead his case or to curse his murderers; in his final breaths [biblegateway passage=”Luke 23:33-34″ display=”he asked God to forgive”]. And he asks me to follow him.

3. We forgive because we’re forgiven.

I have wronged God too many times to count. But, because of his mercy, grace, and love, and because of Jesus, I have been forgiven. And, if you’re a believer, you have received the same. We choose to be [biblegateway passage=”Colossians 3:12-14″ display=”the kind of people who forgive”] because we’ve been forgiven.

Now that we know why forgiveness is on the table—and why Christians ought to pursue it—we can consider our question.

How do you forgive someone who hasn’t asked?

In the midst of a recent conversation about a fellow believer who mistreated me in the past, Kelly asked me, “Could you sit next to that person and take communion together?” After a flash of defensiveness surged through me, I had to admit to my insightful wife that I could not. This person hasn’t asked for forgiveness. As far as I know, this person has no sense of wrongdoing or responsibility. This person is someone I have very little chance of seeing again. However, if I am to genuinely live my faith, it is incumbent upon me to forgive.

So, here’s the process I’m allowing the Spirit to lead me through by God’s grace. It’s what I’d recommend to you if you have a wrong to forgive.

1. Understand how you have been wronged.

Your mind, like mine, has a way of either maximizing or minimizing traumatic events. Therefore, it’s vital to be clear about what happened. Pray through the situation. What led up to it? What was the sequence of events? What was said or done? Write it down on a list or in a journal. Be comprehensive. Refuse to gloss things over or to reason away. You were hurt. Understand it for what it is. (And, this is a great time to own your personal responsibility for what happened, even if it’s ever so small.)

2. Pray for healing.

Once you’ve acknowledged precisely how you have been hurt and have felt the weight of it, you’re ready to allow God to heal it. The process may take ages; it may happen piece-by-piece, layer-by-layer. Or it might be instantaneous. That’s not the point. The point is that God is the only one who can remove it. And he will.

3. Eliminate residual hatred.

Your healing won’t be complete as long as you’re harboring one shred of hatred, resentment, or condemnation. If hate isn’t removed, it grows. Pray about it. Journal about it. Confess it to a friend (without gossiping). Do whatever you need to do to get rid of it.

4. Release the offender’s debt.

Finally, there will come a time when you must release the debt that your offender owes. They may never understand that they’ve hurt you. They may think you’re foolish. No matter. If they refuse to exit the prison you’ve unlocked, that is up to them. The point is that you’re no longer the one keeping them there.

For a myriad of reasons, it might not be advisable—or even safe—to communicate your forgiveness to your offender. That’s OK. You can offer forgiveness without personal contact. Write a letter and burn it on the fireplace. Head out into the woods and voice your forgiveness to the foliage. Give it a voice and walk away.

In instances, it might be necessary to communicate forgiveness face-to-face or in a letter. If you have that chance, be prayerful, humble, merciful, and honest. State the ways in which you were wronged, share about your journey toward forgiveness, and utter these three words: “I forgive you.” Then, walk away from what you’ve dropped and refuse to pick it up again.

5. If possible, seek reconciliation.

If it’s not safe to contact your offender, your journey is complete. But if reconciliation is a possibility, leave the door open and embrace it if it comes. A reconciled relationship is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. If you can sit beside that person one day and commune together once more, what a wonderful thing that would be.

I’ll let this disclaimer be my final word on the topic of reconciliation: Reconcile with care. Your brave act of forgiveness doesn’t require you to make yourself vulnerable to becoming a victim again. It’s OK if the relationship has to change or if you have to be careful to abide by wisely placed boundaries.

What about you?

Are you holding someone in your debt? Do you need to offer forgiveness?

Broken But Useful

broken-but-useful

When I was young, our television quit. My Dad and I took the TV to the appliance repair shop in the next town. We dropped it off, drove home, waited a couple of weeks, picked it up, lugged it back into the house, hooked it up, and used it for a few more years.

Aside from making me feel old, this foggy memory illustrates something:

We live in a throw-away culture. 

If my television stopped working, I’d put it in the junk pile and head over to the electronics store to buy a new one. (I’d probably get a bigger one, too; don’t tell my wife.) You and I would agree that the time and money we’d invest in fixing a broken appliance would dwarf the cost of a new one.

It’s amazing what we throw away. People used to mend the holes in their socks and patch the knees of their jeans. They tinkered with the lawn mower until it began working. They rolled down the car windows when the AC quit. Today, it’s not that we lack the resources. We reason that fixing stuff takes too much time, effort, skill, and care. And, because everything we need is at our fingertips, it’s just much more expedient—and gratifying—to shop for something new.

And, I suppose, when we’re talking about electronics, clothing, appliances, or vehicles, that’s fine. 

But, what do we do with broken people?

Do we discard them? Or, do we invest in them? Do we shop for someone new? Or, do we renew our commitment? Write them off or embrace them? Ignore them? Or, draw nearer?

There are two types of brokenness

These affect everyone we encounter:

First, we are broken because of  the sin with which we struggle. Sin affects us all. We rationalize it. We compare it with the sin we perceive in others. We hide it. Keep it at bay. It breaks our relationship with God and with those we love. It consumes our time and takes our strength. And, by God’s grace, eventually it breaks us and sends us to the only One who holds the cure.

Given godly sorrow, repentance, and accountability, people who are broken by sin ultimately get an experience of God’s forgiveness, grace, and power.

Second, we are broken because of the trials we all endure. God permits dark days. He allows tests and trials. He guides us into valleys. He stretches us. He moves us past the margins of our strength and resources. And, he meets us in our brokenness, shining the light of hope and peace into our fear and upheaval.

Given time, faith, and ample amounts of courage, this type of brokenness is the distinguishing characteristic of a true servant of God.

What do we do with people broken people?

First, we understand that we are just like them. Then, we draw near. We offer accountability. We provide comfort. We bear burdens. We beat back loneliness with our presence. We shine light into darkness. We speak God’s truth. We restore. We remain for the long haul. And we help them discover their new place in service to God’s Kingdom.

The men and women who have been broken, only to experience the healing touch of the Father, are precisely the ones who are humble and hungry enough to be the most earnest and effective workers in God’s Kingdom. People can be both broken and useful. They’re not to be thrown away. They’re to be restored and released for the glory of God.

Why? Because God is a loving Father. He is in the business of redeeming all kinds of brokenness. He doesn’t just discard us and move on to someone new. He doesn’t get frustrated and walk away. He remains. He doesn’t turn his back, ignoring us until we give up and leave. He commits. He loves, forgives, heals, restores, and calls us to greater service than what we could have asked or imagined before being broken.

What about you?

If you’re broken, take heart. If you seek him, allowing him to do his work, there are great things ahead.

If you’re tempted to discard someone who is seeking God in his brokenness, reconsider.

A Father’s Love

a-fathers-love

It’s a season of milestones.

My eight-and-a-half-year-old son began third grade this week. He looks so grown up. He’s turning into a young man.

Along with the transitions, he’s learning additional ways of interacting with me. To state things simply, he’s learned to talk back. And, actually, he’s quite skilled at it! We’ve had a couple of run-ins in recent weeks during which he’s launched some startling verbal tirades. A few exchanges during which I’ve had to lay down the law or take away a privilege have prompted some you’re-a-mean-daddy responses.

As I’ve thought about this new arrangement, I’ve realized a few things.

Four truth’s about a father’s love

1. His words don’t alarm me.

I’m not surprised about the strength of his emotions. He’s frustrated. He’s not sure what to do with what he’s feeling. And, he’s my son! I’ve lost my temper and said things I regret one or two [thousand] times before. His words don’t alarm me.

2. His words don’t hurt me.

I know who I am. I know I’m not awful, bad, or a stinker head. And, because I know him and can see beyond the moment, I don’t take things personally. I’m neither broken nor shaken. I don’t wonder, at the core of my being, Maybe I really am a meanie. I’m secure enough not to run headlong  into crisis because of my son’s words.

3. His words don’t diminish my love.

Even when he’s rattling off insults, I can still look at him and absolutely love him. Sure, I get frustrated and disappointed. I want more for him. In fact, I love him enough to hold firm, to continue to provide the structure and discipline he needs. But, even when he’s as angry as a hornet, I love that little boy so much. Nothing is going to change that. None of his words or actions are going to make me love him less.

4. These struggles provide an opportunity for growth.

I actually believe these confrontations are an opportunity for him to learn that no matter what he says, no matter what he does, no matter how many times we go head to head, I’m still going to love him. I’m praying that he learns—and learns well—that he can’t make me love him less.

As I’ve thought more deeply about all of this, I’ve realized some things I believe God has wanted me to learn. This season isn’t just teaching me how to be a better parent, this season is teaching me about my Father’s love. It’s teaching me about grace. I hope I can help to set the stage so Owen can learn the same lessons as he grows. 

You see, I’ve struggled with God. I’ve doubted. I’ve rebelled. I’ve been a prodigal. And, in the process, I’ve thought and said some things to him that even I have been surprised to hear. But, he’s not alarmed. Heaven’s foundations aren’t shaken. His love hasn’t changed. And, each struggle has enabled me to grow. That’s what God’s grace does. It transforms us.

A Father’s love!

My prayer is that I would experience God’s grace even as I attempt to show it to that wonderful young man who’s sleeping in the next room. I pray the same for you as you parent your kids and as you’re raised by your Heavenly Father.

Knowing Our Kids Outside and Inside

We experienced a milestone as a family late this morning. We had a swallow study at the hospital. It’s a fascinating procedure. Owen ate and drank barium-laced food and drinks while a technician, speech therapist, and radiologist watched a live x-ray picture of the chewing and swallowing. They wanted to be sure that Owen—a kid who had a tracheostomy until he was four years old—was able to chew and swallow safely. This was his best swallow study yet. He’s getting stronger and more coordinated. And, over time, it’s getting safer and safer for him to eat table foods.

As I watched Owen’s skeleton chewing a barium cookie, I chuckled and thought, “We know this kid both outside and inside.” For us, that’s literally true. We know every square inch of his body both outside and inside.

I pray that it’s also a spiritual truth.

What do I mean by that?

Parents—us included—know all about our kids’ outsides. We observe and scrutinize constantly. And, let’s be honest, so much of our parenting focuses upon questions like these: Are they playing well with their friends? Are they sitting up straight in church? Do their socks match? Are they using their manners? Are they getting good grades? Are they behaving? Are they disobeying? Are they acting out inappropriately?

All “yes” or “no” questions. All focused upon externals.

What would happen if we spent more time focusing on our kids’ insides? What if we examined the underlying causes for the behaviors we witness? Why are they acting out? Is it because of fear or guilt? Why are they struggling in school? Are they coping with a learning disability? Are their friends teasing them? Why are they rebelling? Is it because they are crying for attention or validation? Why are they refusing to go to practice? Is it because they fear failure when it’s game time?

Questions of this type could be difficult to answer. They require time, careful thought, and prayer. All of them hinge entirely upon the relationships parents have cultivated with their kids, relationships in which the truth can be spoken in love, relationships of trust, relationships of faith.

Why is it so important for us, as parents, to commit to knowing our kids outside and inside?

When we focus exclusively upon our kids’ outsides, their behaviors, we create little legalists. We raise conformists, performers who learn how to look good on the outside while pride and rebellion reign on the inside.

When we focus on our kids’ insides, their hearts, we establish a context in which grace can flow freely. We get to partner with the Spirit in shaping their little hearts, turning them toward their Father.

That’s the entire goal of parenting.

By the way, if we’re struggling with where to begin, we can take our cues from our Heavenly Father. After all, isn’t he more concerned with our insides than our outsides?

Who is Writing the Story You’re Living?

who-is-writing

We are all living our own stories. Our stories can be beautiful. They can be tragic. They can be full of redemption, beauty, love, faith and triumph. And, they can also be full of grief, hurt, pain, fear and sadness. There are lots of chapters, multiple twists and turns, heroines and villains, and plenty of tension, conflict, suspense and intrigue. After all, that is what makes the best stories so captivating.

But, I’ve been wondering about something. I’ve been thinking about an extremely important variable for each of us. I’ve come to believe that it’s vital that we each wrestle through this question:

Who is writing the story you’re living?

The first thing we think is, “Well, I’m writing my own story.” That’s what we naturally believe. But, I’m convinced that, at times, we allow others to write our lives. We can actually become minor characters in our own lives.

What do I mean?

Is that teacher who told you that you’d never amount to something still preventing you from running toward your dreams? Is your absentee parent driving you to seek the affirmation you crave from the people around you? Are the classmates who bullied you still keeping you in the shadows, afraid to stand up or speak out? Is the person who is withholding their approval compelling you to strive harder and harder for a simple approving nod?

It’s a tragic thing when we allow others to write our stories. But, do you want to know something? There is only one person who is qualified to write your story.

And, it is not you!

Confused?

Don’t be. It’s true that we are each living our own stories. But, each of our individual stories are bound up into one Big Story. And, the Author of that story has written a much better story about each of us. It’s far better than what those other would-be authors would write:

If the only One who is authorized to write our stories says those kinds of things to us, what kind of stories should we be living?