Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teaching Without Provoking Part 2

A sweet little boy is throwing a softball around outside. Suddenly, unexpectedly, it sails towards a neighbor's window. Crash! The little boy dashes into the safety of his own house. Even though the broken window was an accident, he is too afraid to tell his parents what happened... Inevitably, his parents find out. They confront him about the broken window. They explain to him that although it was an accident, he needs to go apologize to the neighbor and offer to pay for the shattered windowpane. This is very hard for the little boy. He doesn't want to tell the neighbor what he has done! How embarrassing! He would rather that his parents just punish him, and then take care of the mess for him. It is hard to face up to his problems!

This is a story that my husband recounted to me from his childhood. Though it was hard, he says that confronting the neighbor and paying for the broken window was one of his best childhood learning experiences.

As Christian parents, we mistakenly believe that the best way to teach our children is to punish them. Unfortunately, most Christians think that discipline is synonymous with punishment. Discipline actually has a very positive meaning in the New Testament. It comes from the Greek word paideia, which according to the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, means, "(1) active, of rearing and guiding a child toward maturity training, instruction, discipline (HE 12.11); as including Christian discipline and instruction (EP 6.4)." The word paideia is not always translated as discipline, as in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, where it is translated "correction." These verses read, "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting [disciplining] those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth." Some versions also translate the word discipline in certain places as "nurture." Discipline is supposed to teach, to train, to guide towards maturity.

Punishment does none of this; it merely makes a person suffer and pay for what he/she has done wrong. Sure, after being punished over and over for the same offense, a child may no longer repeat the offense, but the child's motivation to do right is fear of punishment, not his/her relationship with you or with God. The best illustration of that fact in the Bible is this: God sent Jesus to take our punishment for us so that we could have a fear-less relationship with Him! 1 John 4:17-18 says this: By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. Shouldn't our children grow up knowing what it means to walk in relationship with someone who loves them unconditionally? Do we want them to honor and obey us out of fear or out of a love relationship?

In the story about my husband, he learned to take responsibility for his actions. This is because his parents used a logical consequence to teach him. I think that natural/logical cause/effect type consequences are an excellent way to teach our children without punishing them. My husband and I recently read and enjoyed a book called Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen. In the book, VonVonderen differentiates between punishments and consequences in this way: "When the process of discipline takes place in a grace-full context, consequences are given to enable children to learn about life... By punishment I mean making people pay for their behaviors as a way to obtain right standing." Later on, he states that "A grace-full family is a place where people can do the job of learning to live without the fear of losing love and acceptance if the job gets too messy."

We are just on the road to learning what it means to raise our son without using fear or intimidation through punishment. When we began studying what discipline really meant in Scripture, and we began to look at how our Heavenly Father deals graciously with us as a model for raising our son, we felt so free! There will be many bumps along the way, I am sure, and we are not perfect, but we are so excited to teach our son!

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