Disciplining kids is a really tough job. We are all, to one extent or another, trying to navigate between two extremes. On the one hand, we don’t want to be so strict that we make little Pharisees who are better at looking squeaky clean than actually being clean. And yet we don’t want to be so permissive that they become little hellions who could give Bart Simpson a run for his money.
A question we need to ask ourselves in light of this tension is: Why? Why are we expecting our children to obey our laws and whydo we discipline them when they don’t?
The True Purpose of Discipline
The answer is: we want to teach our kids faith. Our kids break our rules for the same reason we break God’s rules. When our kids disobey, they’re showing a lack of faith in our parenting. In that moment, they don’t believe that what we’re asking of them is in their best interest. They don’t trust our boundaries. They’ve pushed away the parents who are willing to give their lives for them and who are trying to work things out for their good. In every moment of disobedience, the child is choosing confidence in their own judgment and in their own perceived wisdom over ours.
Our kids are under our authority for only a short time. So we expect things from them and discipline them when they rebel to help expose the deeper heart issue: they’re not simply disobeying Mom and Dad, but disobeying their Creator. It’s really about helping them see what faith really looks like. Not a try-harder-next-time-so-God-loves-you kind of “faith.” But a holy-guacamole-you-saved-me-from-certain-death-when-I-was-your-enemy-and-now-you-live-in-me-wanting-good-for-me-I’m-sorry-I-started-gazing-at-my-own-navel-again kind of faith.
Disobedience Is So Much Bigger
This is no different for all of us, whether we live under a parent’s authority or not. Our sin isn’t about breaking God’s rules; it’s about taking our eyes off the Father, forgetting who he is and believing we know better. It’s not a behavior problem, but a faith problem. For us and for them. Not just that, but we get to show the kids through their repeated failures how deeply they need a substitute, someone to be perfect for them since they’re completely incapable of being perfectly obedient. So while helping to train their faith, we’re also pointing them to the Author and Perfecter of that faith, all at the same time. Discipline isn’t the end. It’s a means.
Discipline is hard. We’re going to mess it up over and over with our kids. When we do–for the 87th time that day–it’s our turn to feel the discipline of our Daddy, to repent and let him renew our faith, and to cry on his shoulder with relief knowing that we, failures as parents in every way, are perfectly loved and accepted by the perfect Father. We’re works in progress and yet perfectly redeemed all at the same time. And we also need to be reminded that we share that perfect Daddy with our kids, and he won’t fail them either, no matter how many times we fail them.
When my children have dishonored or disobeyed, they have a fearful demeanor about them. If I’m not aware of what they’ve done, their face, body language, and distance are the dead giveaway of their guilt. They don’t feel shame because they’re not in trouble (yet). They feel responsible because they’ve wronged someone. Their sin not only brings about the consequences of discipline, but also the broken relationship and fellowship with us.
And so discipline that comes not only points them to faith, but gives the opportunity for the reassurance that they’re completely loved and accepted through reconciliation. I’m certainly not the leader by example here, but there should be no time in parenting when we administer discipline and then just move on. The most important reflection of the gospel comes when the discipline is over. It’s the moment we get to talk with our kids to declare our love and acceptance of them, even though they messed up. Again.
Here is our greatest privilege as parents: to display an undeserved yet full adoration and acceptance, to show that we’re not only 100% forgiven but 100% loved.