The Long, Hard Slog Called Discipline

It’s been one of those days. The kind where only the cockroaches survive. The kind of day that starts off rotten and just gets worse.

ME: Alright… [Scraping the last of the oatmeal out of the toddler’s hair and shoving the stain stick out of sight so the five-year-old won’t try to eat it.] Let’s get our books out.

HUCKLEBERRY: I’m not doing my reading lesson.

ME: We’re doing school.

HUCKLEBERRY: Uuunnnghhhh!!!

ME: That’s rude. Get your book out.

HUCKLEBERRY: Uuunnnghhhh!!!

ME: Fine, then go to your room. You can come out when you’re ready to do your reading lesson.

HUCKLEBERRY: [Rolling on the floor in fits of childhood angst] Uuuuuunnnnggggghhhhh!!!!

Been there? If you can answer no, consider yourself seriously blessed. (Also, you might not need to read the rest of this post.) If you answered yes, hurrah! Join the club. I’m making t-shirts just as soon as I can quell my inner rage. We’ll wear them and drink margaritas. (Also, you can go ahead and consider yourself blessed, too. God gave you this totally awesome human being to spar with, right? Feel the love!)

So yeah. After the third attitude-laden groan, the only creature I was willing to share my home with was the disgusting-but-undeniable-silent-and-attitude-free cockroach. Beware the wrath of a mother scorned. But even worse, a mother sassed. Don’t be sassing mama.

ME: [Thirty seconds later] Not scooting on your butt. Get on your feet and go to your room. [Thirty more seconds] No you may not bring the colored pencils with you. Get in your room. [Thirty…you get the idea] GO TO YOUR ROOM!!!

HUCKLEBERRY: You POOCHADADADOODA!!!!

No? Anyone? Maybe that’s just my kid. For the record, I’ve been trying to work out a translation for the last two years. Call me if you know anyone who can translate fluent sass.

Discipline is some tough love, amen?

But the thing I’m learning, it’s not just about the parent administering tough love. It’s about God administering tough love to the parent, as well.

I’m busy. I’m tired. I’m lazy and fed-up, pregnant or nursing or postpartum. I have other children. I have obligations. I have dinner to make and a house to clean and toilets to scrub and windows to wash and diapers to change and and and and and…

Inevitably, one or more of my kids starts acting up when I’m elbows deep in any or all of the above.

And some days, I just. don’t. want. to.

Or, I want to…just not for any of the right reasons. In any case, I’m fed up. I’m mad. I am doing everything in my power to keep from flying off the handle, and why can’t they just behave because I am no good at this.

As a Christian, I believe that all discipline stems from God. God set the laws of this big, crazy universe in motion, and being a God of order, He wants us to follow those laws. It’s an act of obedience, and it’s also an act of love. It’s important.

This is why I discipline my children. Yes, I want them to be “good people.” I want them to say no to drugs and stay out of prison. I want them to be polite, to know right from wrong. But ultimately, I discipline them so that one day, they will choose to be disciples. I need them to obey me, so they will be prepared to obey Him. Because that’s how you stay in love with the Lord.

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I take my job seriously. But sometimes, I’m too focused on my job. My job.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12, my friends.

It’s not about my job. It’s about Him. It’s all about Him. 

I’m running this race for Jesus with my eyes on Jesus, because of Jesus. And that “sin that so easily entangles,” it’s got no place in this race.

If I’m seeing red, raising my voice, getting my hackles in all sorts of knots, what business do I have doing God’s work?

I am always humbled when I think about the Holy Family. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Remember that one when Jesus is a kid, and he’s off on vacay in Jerusalem with his parents, and they’re starting back for Nazareth (probably tired out because, I mean, have you ever traveled by caravan with your family? It really takes a lot out of a girl) and there’s that total Home Alone moment (“KEVIN!!”) where Mary realizes he’s not there?

Mom and Dad spend three days–three DAYS–looking for him.

And then they find him, chilling in the temple, like nothing’s the matter. I don’t know about you, but in my house, there would be some serious upset going on right about now. I mean, yes, relieved beyond belief and overjoyed that he’s alive, but really? Jesus, come on! Did you not realize the whole crew was leaving, and instead of trying to catch up, you’re just hanging with the rabbis?

“Son, why have you treated us like this?”

That’s it. After three days of searching for her boy, that’s Mary’s admonishment. No shouting. No “go to your room.” No smoke out the ears. Just a question. I imagine her voice is kind. I imagine her arms are open. I imagine she’s got her eyes trained right where they should be: She’s looking at Jesus.

My kids aren’t Jesus. They’re not perfect. When I catch up with them, they’re not preaching in the temple, they’re smearing toothpaste on the mirror or stuffing bath toys in the toilet. (Why is it always the bathroom?) I’ve got a little more work ahead of me than the Blessed Mother. When sass is in the mix, a simple question is not going to suffice.

But the truth is, it doesn’t matter. Do you know what I discovered? Discipline means learning. It isn’t about punishment. It’s about learning right. Teaching my children right and wrong, yes, but also about God teaching me how to dole it out.

In discipline, we’re all learning.

I’m not here to tell you how to parent your kids. Permissive, authoritarian, spank, don’t spank, spare the rod or wield it. I hold no PhD in child development. I’m not even particularly gifted at this stuff. I’m just a mama in the trenches, like you. You know your kid best. I’ll leave the details up to you, but if it’s alright, I’d like to share three things I’ve learned (so far) along my way.

  1. Right attitude. You want your child’s attitude to be right. That’s why you’re disciplining. Unfortunately, monkey see, monkey do. We teach more in what we do and in how we say it than in what we say. If my attitude isn’t right, they’re not learning right.Take a breather if you have to. Step away and pray. The right attitude can make all the difference in the world.
  2. Right reason. Am I disciplining because God put me in authority over my child and I, in love, know it’s important to guide her in understanding and recognizing that authority? Or am I just ticked off because she’s undermining my authority?Remember, it’s not about me. My job. It’s about Him. Loving Him. Obeying Him. Always, always Jesus.
  3. Right away. I don’t just want my children to obey. I want them to do it the first time, the right way, and without lip. The annoying thing? God expects the same of me. “But he was the one smearing toothpaste on the mirror, not me!!” I know, I know. Oh, trust me, I know.I’ll be honest, this one is so, so hard for me. I mean, the other two points are too, but this one–oooh! This one really gets me. When I am up to my ears in, well, life! The last thing I want to do is stop everything, hunker down, zero in and deal with discipline. I really don’t.“It’s not my fault about the toothpaste!! And anyway, I’m the one who’s going to have to clean it up. Now you’re telling me I’ve got to discipline, too?!”

    Here’s the thing: God gave me authority as a mother. He expects my children to obey that authority. But there’s another side to that coin. He expects me to demand obedience. With the right attitude. For the right reasons. Right away.

Discipline is some seriously tough love. It’s tough; it’s hard work. And it’s also love.

I don’t know about you, but without a shadow of a doubt I know God made me for this vocation. I can’t think of any walk of life that could possibly do more to uncover my sins than marriage and parenthood. I can’t think of any gig that would ever give me this many opportunities to practice being better than I am.

Motherhood is my stairway to Heaven. And discipline is the tough love that keeps me climbing.

I know it’s not easy. This is no quick-fix jog; it’s the long, hard slog. I know I have a lot to learn. I have a lot to teach. I have important work. So I’m working. I’m running. I’m keeping my eyes on Him.

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