I think that all parents want to be good ones. Realizing the enormous responsibility we have for our children causes us to examine our own upbringing, our relationships, our strengths and weaknesses, and do all that we can to give our very best to the precious life that is entrusted to us.
I started reading everything I could in pregnancy. I pored over magazines and books, studying everything from feeding to methods for helping us all to sleep. I asked questions about vaccinations and car seats. My husband didn’t read all the stuff I did, but seemed to know intuitively things that I didn’t get until after hours of research. I remember my surprise when he first mentioned that he would never spank our children.
My first thought was that the Bible teaches parents to spank. I knew that my husband’s relationship with God was the very center of his life. His undergraduate degree was in theology, and he was passionate about his love for the Bible. How on earth could he, of all people, not follow such a clear instruction from God’s Word?
So I began to study the issue of discipline, as well. As a language instructor, I appreciate what a difference the precise word can make, and the ways cultural bias influence translation and perceptions. I was intrigued to learn that the Hebrew words in the Proverbs passages did not refer to spanking at all. The more I looked into it, the more I was convinced that the Bible does not specifically teach spanking anywhere.
While learning that the Bible doesn’t command us to spank was a turning point, I still didn’t know what I should do. As I prayed, I felt that the Holy Spirit asked me to stop and think about how God disciplined me. How, exactly, did Jesus make me a disciple?
Until then, I was still looking at things from a punishment viewpoint. If physical punishment was out, then I would have to rely on other forms. However, I couldn’t recall a single time in which God had punished me. He had corrected me many times, and there had been times when my stubbornness had resulted in unpleasant consequences. But never had God specifically done anything to hurt me.
As I looked back at His discipline, I was overwhelmed by the grace, mercy and patience that He had showered on my life. From the very beginning, with the Cross, every action seemed designed with one purpose: to restore relationship, to draw me to Him, and to change my heart. In areas where I messed up, He was patient and persistent in lovingly drawing me back.
I had memorized Romans 6 as a child. I know that as believers we are called to holiness. Suddenly, though, something was illuminated in my heart. Freedom from sin didn’t come from being afraid of punishment. I didn’t stop sinning because I was scared of what God would do to me. It came as He filled my heart with love for Him. I had something so much more satisfying in Him that the sin lost it’s appeal.
Jesus commanded me to treat others the way I would wish to be treated. I would want correction if I were making a mistake, but I wouldn’t want to be hit. I learn better from His love, patience and instruction, which give me the heart-desire to please Him.
I also keep coming back to the fact Jesus said that whatever we do to the smallest of these, we do to Him. What a transforming thought! Suddenly, everything from nightwakings to diaper changes to patience with age-expected behaviors looked very different.
I’m going to be very honest about another point with shifting to grace-based discipline. It is very easy for me to fall into arrogance and pride, demanding obedience simply because it is convenient for me, and reacting to their mistakes harshly. Spanking would have been an easy way for me to justify revenge on my children for not catering to my pride. Yet that isn’t the way Jesus treated the disciples. It isn’t the way He treats me. His example was one of humility and service. He washed their feet. He explained things over and over, even if they should have gotten it the first time. He taught by example.
It is exciting to see that as I try to follow Him, my children are so much more willing to follow me. Just as I choose to obey God because of the love in our relationship, my children are choosing to obey because of the love and trust they have. They still make mistakes, too, but grace is binding our hearts together.
Parenting is a touchy issue. Because we want so desperately to do the right thing, we become very sensitive to any perceived criticism. When I share with others about our journey in gentle discipline, it isn’t because I think I am a better person or parent. It is because I know that thirsty feeling that there must be an alternative to hitting our children, something that follows the way Jesus told us to treat others. I am so grateful to all the parents who shared with me, and encouraged me to seek His heart in this.
If you are searching for more in the issue of discipline, I want to remind you of Isaiah 40:11. As we seek Him, picture how He gathers our little ones in His arms, and carries them close to His heart, and gently leads us in our parenting journey.
By Dulce Chalé