The last thing I (Jason) want to hear from my wife as I walk through the door at the end of a hard day are these words: "We have a situation. You need to deal with it." But it happens.
I remember one evening when one of our sons was 7. I had given him a pocketknife, thinking he was ready to handle that kind of responsibility (in my defense, it was a very small knife). I even gave him explicit instructions, telling him that if he abused this privilege in any way, the knife would immediately be taken away from him.
For several months, there were no problems. Then my wife found that the headrest of the leather seat in the back of her van had been "wounded." We asked our son if he had used his knife to cut the seat, but he adamantly denied the charge. He almost had us convinced that it might have been someone else.
We brought in some CSI forensics experts, took fingerprints, and interrogated all of his friends under a hot light at our kitchen table. Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but we did do a bit of detective work. We deduced that the new pocketknife was indeed the weapon used in the crime.
When we confronted him a second time, he broke. Tears flowed as we talked to him in his room. We left him there for a few minutes so we could discuss our plan for discipline. And we needed a little time to cool down.
As upset as we were that he had destroyed the headrest, we were more concerned about his lying to us. We had experienced a couple other times when he had lied, and we knew that this needed to be corrected, for his benefit and for the good of our family. We decided that the best option was to give him a spanking and walk him through a process of reconciliation.
We went back into his room and talked through his actions. We shared with him how his lies had hurt everyone in our family because they had destroyed our trust. We explained that lying is a sin, and because of his sin, he had disobeyed God and dishonored us, his parents. We asked him if he wanted to ask God and us for forgiveness. He said yes, and we led him through a prayer asking God for forgiveness. We told him that we forgave him too.
Then we informed him that he was going to be spanked for his disobedience. After I spanked him, I hugged him and told him I loved him. I reminded him that a father disciplines a child he loves, and that was why I was doing this. We left him alone in his room and asked him to let us know when he was ready to come back and join the family.
He stayed in his room for at least 30 minutes and then asked to join us. We reassured him that we were glad he was back with us. And we continued on with our night. We didn't mention it to him again. As difficult as it is for us to follow through in times like these, we knew it was the right thing.
There are a few things I'd like to highlight from this example with our son.
First, if you haven't experienced this already, you will soon. When a child is disobedient, it is difficult to remain calm. Most parents get angry with their children at some point, and the flesh—the sinful nature in all of us—reacts selfishly rather than responding in love. In these moments, a parent needs to regain composure, pray, and step back from the situation before disciplining the children.
You'll also notice that we addressed our son directly and told him specifically how he had been disobedient, in words appropriate to his age level. We reminded him that we loved him, and we made sure he understood that we were disciplining him because we wanted what was best for him. We took the time to walk him through the process of forgiveness, both with us and with the Lord.
All of this took a significant amount of time and energy, but it's critical to the discipline process. After this, I administered the appropriate discipline that my wife and I had decided on, and we both hugged him and reassured him of our love for him.
Finally, we left him in his room to give him some time to think about his disobedience and consider the consequences. This gave him a chance to calm down, to let his emotions settle, and to reflect and learn from what he had just experienced. We made sure he knew that he was free to rejoin the family when he was ready, that the discipline was over.
The harvest of godly discipline
In Hebrews 12 there is an amazing word of encouragement. God promises us that if we are willing to walk through the hard process of discipline, there is a wonderful result: "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (v.11, emphasis added).
A farmer has to wait months before his crops are ready for harvest. Whether we're talking about apples or oranges, growth doesn't happen overnight. But today we live in a culture of instant gratification. We lack the patience to wait for things that develop over time, preferring immediate results.
The harvest of discipline doesn't come immediately after we administer correction to our children. It takes time. You may not see the fruit until tomorrow, a year from now, or even 10 years from now. That's why you'll need to have faith in God and His promises. You'll need to believe that the result God promises is better, in the long run, than any immediate result you can gain from other ways of responding to your kids.
But there is an added blessing in this! You see, God is also cultivating patience in your life, one of the fruits of His Spirit. And trust us, you will need it.
You will also see the benefit of discipline as God's character grows in your children. You will be leading them to the Lord, helping them understand their sin and their need for a Savoir. You will be cultivating the soil of their heart and planting the seeds of godly character by teaching and modeling the gospel to them. It may take several years for these seeds to bear fruit, but God is faithful.
She wanted to be in charge
As a toddler, my niece, Kylie, would have made James Dobson's "strong-willed child" top 10 list. She created chaos in her parents' lives. One time, she finger-painted an entire wall while her parents were in another room.
They were a young couple, and she was their first child, and she was determined to prove that she was in charge. Kylie always wanted to have things her way, and if that didn't happen, she would clear the room with an epic meltdown. Her parents were desperate for peace, so they sought wise biblical counsel and developed a plan to discipline their daughter. They faithfully discipled her through discipline, and eventually she came to understand and submit to their authority.
Today Kylie is one of the most joy-filled followers of Jesus I know. She is walking with the Lord and trusting him. She has an infectious smile, and she reflects the goodness of Christ in such a beautiful way. The Lord has put a special fire and passion in her spirit, and she knows that it is best expressed under the authority of her parents.
I believe that the Lord has gifted her to lead others, but her stubbornness and rebelliousness needed to be reshaped—changed from selflessness to the meekness of Christ—to make her more like Jesus.
Every time I go to Joshua and Linda's home now, I feel the peace of the Lord.Their home is a great reminder to me that God faithfully produces a harvest as we plant the seeds of godly character in the hearts of our children. It encourages me to be faithful as I work through the unpleasant aspects of discipline in order to enjoy the harvest of righteousness.
Reflecting the Father's loving heart
Discipline is a challenge, but it is vital. And godly discipline is a combination of love, wisdom, and consequences. We are best at disciplining our children when we reflect our Fathers' loving heart and His desire for holiness.
Most people tend to think of God as overly lenient or overly strict. But God is neither of these. In Romans 11:22, Paul describes how God's holy love can be express in different ways—as kindness or as severity, depending on the situation: "Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off" (ESV).
As Christian parents, you will need to exercise wisdom to practice discipline in a balanced way that reflects the discipline of God. Sometime you will need to emphasize the severe consequences of rebellion; at other times you'll need to highlight the kindness and mercy of God. In every situation, you must learn to point your children to the grace of God, showing them that like your discipline of them, God's discipline is for their own good, to help them become more like Jesus.
Article excerpted from Dedicated copyright ©2015 by Dr. Bobby Harrington, Jason Houser, and Chad Harrington, Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. www.zondervan.com.
1. Rob Flood says in his article “The Power of Our Words” that parents should use words that can heal and restore when disciplining their children. Read his article with your spouse and discuss how you can apply some of Rob’s suggestions in your family.
2. Read some of FamilyLife’s most popular parenting articles.
3. Listen as Jason Houser talks to parents on FamilyLife Today® about the importance of training their children in the ways of God. And order his book, Dedicated.