He’s not a bad boy

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Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul

Prov 29.17

Discipline is an interesting word. It’s from the same root word as disciple. Disciple is not as scary a word as discipline is. Discipline suggests heavy correction, negative consequences to bad choices. But disciple suggests teaching a better way.

With our kids, we were careful to not call them “Bad boy” or “good boy” when we spoke to them about an action they undertook. Their inherent goodness was unrelated to their actions – they were always good children – they just made good or bad choices. Their identity, first and foremost, was that they were good kids. We wanted them to know they were loved and important and a joy to us. But when they did dishonourable things, they made bad choices, we recognized that this was what we were needing to deal with, not who they were to us. WE were disciple-ing their choice-making ability, not who God made them. They are made in His image.

But there were definitely days I struggled with discipling our children. One of them was particularly strong willed and he was a tough nut to crack. He was a biter, a poo-smearer (yuck!), extremely jealous of others – so much so that he’d bop anyone whom he felt encroached in on a close friendship. He was sent home several times from school for bullying behaviour in kindergarten for that very reason. Man that was a tough season.

But we called on the Lord, we asked for help from Him. We sought out families who raised kids who seemed to be tackling life successfully (this is so important to do) and we talked ad nauseum with each other so Ali and I knew we were on the same page (equally important). We attempted to be consistent in our discipline so our child would know cause and effect. It worked well sometimes but to be honest it was exhausting. There were moments, days, weeks that we would want to throw in the towel and just let him do what he wanted.

But, God never gives up on us, and so we didn’t either. Now, there were times when we consequence our son and we saw he was backed into a corner by us and he couldn’t see anyway out. Even though we were consistent and clear in our expectations, he somehow couldn’t break the cycle of behaviour. As a result, we realized we had to have jubilee moments. Jubilee was an old testament term that meant debts were forgiven. Ali and I would see he was unable to get himself out of a predicament he’d gotten himself into. You could see in his eyes that he didn’t know how to break the rebellion. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” was our safeguard in those moments. We’d pull him out of his never-ending time out (he’d cross the line every time he was given a reprieve so back he’d have to go into another time out). We’d sit him down and tell him we loved him and we’re only giving him consequences for his wrong choices and that life would be much easier if he simply honoured us (Exodus 20.12). And, we’d explain that he needs to know how much more enjoyable life is when you listen to your parents’ instruction. Then we’d share about the mercy of Christ in words understandable to a toddler, and tell him we were letting him off because God loves to bring mercy, but also know that our son will continue to struggle and not enjoy this area of his life until he heeds our discipline.

With our kids, we were careful to not call them “Bad boy” or “good boy” when we spoke to them about an action they undertook. Their inherent goodness was unrelated to their actions – they were always good children – they just made good or bad choices.

It was a good reminder for me that God will continue to allow things to happen to me to discipline me. And, until I learn those things, I won’t have let discipline change me. Disciple-ing will continue until I give up and give into God’s love and better way for me.

I’m grateful to say that my son now enjoys much freedom, no longer poo-smears, no longer bites, and loves life. He’s strong and loyal, but in the right ways. He still has issues but life’s like that. Always an opportunity to experience the grace, mercy and love of God.

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