Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paideia, Part 1

photo credit: Shavar Ross via photopin cc
It seems so easy. Your babe toddles over to something you do not want her to touch. "No!" you firmly intone. Your babe looks at you questioningly, moving her hand toward the object. "No!" you repeat, this time with a hint of challenge in your voice. "My child is testing me," you think. "She is going to see if it is all right to defy me," you assume, horrified. "I cannot under any circumstances let her win." You move toward your little child. As you swiftly, purposefully approach your child, telling yourself you must show her who is boss, you must teach her to be under authority, to listen to your commands, the babe smiles gleefully at you, reaching out, touching the object. "No!" you say. Taking a deep breath to remain calm (while on the inside thinking, "How dare she defy me like that!"), you grab her hand and thump it hard, repeating "No!". Your babe looks at you, surprised. Once again, she reaches for the object. Again, you smack her hand, harder this time. After all, you are teaching her a lesson. She must learn she cannot win against you; she cannot defy you. You are not one to be tricked, after all! You know defiance when you see it. This time, when you smack babe's hand, tears well up in her eyes. She begins to cry. "Good," you tell yourself. "She needed to learn that lesson." You do not allow your child's cries to soften your heart towards her, because when it comes to training your child, you will be swift and sure, and you won't allow emotion to rule. You are doing this for her own good, after all.

Oh, dear momma. You truly want to do right by your child. You do not want her to grow up to hate God, defy authority, be unable to hold down a job, and otherwise be a menace to society. Yet, do you really know what your babe is thinking? Do you realize that your judgment of your child is based entirely on a concept you have been given regarding babies? This concept assumes that children are born "out to get you", and that you must "win at all costs". At the root of this concept is the notion that children are brimful of evil, and it is your job to weed the evil out in order to create a "good" person. Or, perhaps you believe that this child, infested with evil, must be painfully taught that she is desperately evil and wicked. How else, you question, will she see her need for a Savior? Maybe you hope that, if your babe learns to unquestioningly do what you say, you will lead her to unquestioningly do what God tells her to do. Be very careful with this idea, momma! It is more likely that your daughter will grow up in idolatry. She will be unable to see God past your orders, commands and desires for her. She will fear and revere YOU as though you are her god, for that is the role you have given yourself.

God is the creator of childhood. He designed children to be born as tiny, helpless infants. He mercifully designed children to be slowly introduced to a difficult world, a world that would overwhelm them if they had full understanding of its ins and outs, if they were fully aware of the evil woven throughout the thread of society. He gave children guides, teachers, nurturers, protectors called parents to help children along, to give them a foundation in the knowledge of the almighty, loving Savior of the world, so that when the children become adults, they will thrive, living in relationship with the God who can take them through any hardship.

Since God designed childhood as a natural beginning of life, childhood itself is not evil. Children have limited understanding of the world. When they begin to take their first steps, their job is learner, explorer. When your little babe heard you say "No!", she, the perpetual learner, wondered, "Does "no" mean never touch certain objects? Does "no" always mean the same thing?" Baby will go on to experiment with other objects and situations, trying to discover what "no" actually means. This experimenting is not defiance! 

Consider that fear of punishment is not the best way for your child to learn about authority. In the Old Testament, when the Israelites were in a covenant agreement with God regarding the law (if you do this, I-God-will bless you; if you fail to do this, I will curse you), things got pretty bad. Israel turned further and further away from God. Each time, God allowed harsher circumstances to befall the Israelites, and, after turning back to God for a short time, they would fall away again, often worse! God has given us a divine illustration of how the law, complete with rules and consequences, is meaningless apart from a changed-heart-relationship with Him. We do not need to repeat this illustration with our children. 

Dear parent, there is a way to teach, nurture, and guide your child that is gentle, loving and kind. There is a way to parent that will invite your children to join with you in knowing and walking with God. Do not belittle the role of the Holy Spirit by trying to play the role of "convicter" of your child's heart. Pray, pray, pray, and allow HIM to do that work. Too often, when parents attempt to make their children feel the "sting" of sin, parents inadvertently lead their children into lifelong feelings of shame and inner "beatings" when they mess up.

In the case of the exploring babe, instead of seeing the babe as defiant, the momma could have begun by realizing, "My child is using her God-given desire for exploration and discovery to learn about her world. I, as her mom, need to keep her safe, while teaching her all about this world. I can use this situation to teach her many things about her Creator and Savior, too. I can demonstrate grace while teaching that some things are only to be gazed at or gently stroked with one finger. I can instill in her a wonder for the beauty God lovingly bestowed on the world when He filled creation with amazing colors and textures. I can teach her to marvel at the majesty and power of a God who, with only words, created all this for us."

The mom could have walked calmly to where her child was, scooped the child onto her lap, away from the temptation, and begun to gently teach her child how to look at fragile objects, how to admire the colors and textures, and spoken with her child about the Creator God. If the babe's personality was of a more determined bent, the mom could have distracted the child with a fun game of chase, or to an object he or she was able to touch, laughing with her child, loudly exclaiming, "Thank you God, for loving us and for making this beautiful world for us to play in!"

The way we see our children will affect the way we work with them. The idea that children are born with a sin nature is one that is found in Scripture. However, ideas that they are inherently manipulative, defiant, and at enmity in every way with us since birth are not found in Scripture. If we are going to nurture our children towards God, it is important that we see them in a positive light, and not to try to be God to them, but rather strive to lead them towards God.

This post is the beginning of a short series looking at the true meaning of discipline, and how it has been warped by both Christian and secular philosophies and misconceptions about childhood. We do not need to be adversarial with our children--God gave them to us so that we could disciple them! If we do not see ourselves on our child's team we will, I think, come to regret our viewpoint when our children are grown.

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