I do not know if it is the age or the stress of the last 6 weeks, but my almost-three-year-old has been particularly unruly for the past few weeks. He’s been getting into things he knows he shouldn’t and loudly vocal with his disapproval of certain activities and decisions. He climbs, throws, dumps, pushes, bonks, steals, shoves, destroys. A little over a week ago, he decided to throw- with a sufficient amount of force to cause utter devastation- a toy train at our two year old television (this is actually fairly new for us, as that television replaced a big old box TV that was at least 20 years old). Now we don’t have cable or satellite or an antenna or anything like that, but we do use our television to stream Netflix, to play our Wii, and to play DVDs. And at this time, with so recently dealing with un- and underemployment and then a move, and with expensive dental care and car repair needs in our immediate future, we do not have the finances to replace it. I felt very angry with my son after this little episode and my personal sense of justice was offended. He needs to pay for his crime, I thought. But as I said it, a still small voice reminded me of a vital truth that I had forgotten in the heat of the moment. Of course, Jesus has already paid for all crimes. Justice has already been served.
So I’ve been thinking lately about children, consequences, and forgiveness. Because as a parent, I must both train my children in righteous living- which includes discipline and consequences- and also forgive them and show God’s glorious grace to them. Most of the time, this is easy to do. My love for them and my understanding of their young stage of life and immature thought processing helps me to easily forgive and not desire revenge and therefore execute appropriate consequences. But sometimes with these bigger things or often on bad days when I’m tired or grouchy or stressed, it is more challenging to keep a good balance. Sometimes, it honestly is difficult to forgive. With how this little son of mine has been behaving lately and the high cost of the item he destroyed, I found I needed a little refresher of God’s opinion on forgiveness and discipline.
1. Forgive Fully- as Christ forgave usAnd you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. ~Colossians 2:13-14 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, fogiving each other, as the Lord has fogiven you, so you also must forgive . ~Colossians 3:12-13
Christ canceled our debt by nailing it to the cross. Therefore, any debts against me have been paid in full.
2. Forgive Every Time– no matter how many times a week, a day, and hour offense is committedThen Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin agains-t me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times but seventy times seven.”
Just this morning, while my husband was putting hot oatmeal into bowls for the children, my little preschool rascal absconded with the just-opened-cannister of oatmeal. Next thing we knew, it was empty, having been liberally scattered throughout his room, on the floor and the beds and in the crib. While I was cleaning up that mess, he happily dumped almost the entire shaker of cinnamon-sugar into his oatmeal, rendering it unedible. I removed the shaker from his possession before he could finish his self-appointed task and went to finish cleaning up the oatmeal. When I returned, he had poured all of the rest of my special pure maple syrup (that I use a teaspoon at a time) into my uneaten bowl of oatmeal rendering it also unedible. Before I took the kid’s head off, I tossed him in his room for a time out.
It took a few minutes to cool off. I went and talked to him about not dumping food out and he apologized. And then 90 minutes later at snack time, he dumped his whole bowl of applesauce out onto the table. Thus, it was very important that I read this verse to myself today. I needed the reminder!
3. Forgive Because God Intends it for Good…”Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you….” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but GOd meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” ~Genesis 50:17, 19-20
Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery, hoping to get rid of him forever because of their jealousy. They meant great evil to their brother. My preschooler does not –generally– mean evil towards me, he just wishes selfishly to do as he pleases. Even so, God intends all of these things for good. He will work all things together for the good of those who love him! (Romans 8:28) This morning’s fiasco called our attention to the fact that our kids are likely starved for our attention- with the stressful and very busy season of moving, we haven’t had our normal routines or that much time for individual attention. My husband and I have decided to schedule in regular dates with each of our children once a month. There was a special Daddy/Z-urchin date this evening to the park. Good came out of our struggles.
With our television disaster, I saw God’s gracious hand at work. I was immensely thankful that He did not allow its destruction while we were in the process of moving. We needed it often to keep the kids occupied while we were rushing to pack up and then unpack our home. It came at a time when we honestly needed a time of detox from watching videos. It came the weekend before the first week of school, when I was going to need their attention. Not having the TV as a temptation to either them or me was probably the best thing. And, to give you the happy ending to this story: my generous in-laws arrived at our house this past weekend with a birthday gift- a new TV! We plan to mount it on the wall to discourage further attempts to destroy it.
4. Discipline for their BenefitThey disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. ~Hebrews 12:10-11
This was the point that I spent the most time pondering. How to know that the discipline I hand out is appropriate when I am steaming mad about it? This passage is contrasting God’s discipline with that of human fathers. But I figure, we should model God’s discipline as best as we can. And it’s true- we don’t discipline out of a sense of revenge or retribution, but out of a desire that they grow up well. We want them to live righteously, responsibly, and at peace with God and man. This is the test for my motivations when disciplining my children: Does it benefit them?
I do want to teach my child to not dump food or other things out. That wastes food and money. He does need to be taught wise stewardship. So, food that he dumps does not get replaced. Food that he liberally seasons with a great excess of cinnamon is not replaced. His minor pangs of hunger won’t hurt him in the long run and lessons can be learned in the meantime. Even at amost-three-years-old.
I also want to teach my child not to destroy property. He destroyed an expensive piece of property that was not his. I do realize that my very brief daydream of taking sharp shears to his blankie was not an appropriate discipline, aimed at benefitting him. Though I admit to indulging the thought for a moment. But it was appropriate that he did not get to watch any videos for the whole week. He broke the television, these are the natural consequences- even though technically, he could have watched a video on my computer. Every time he asked to watch a video was an opportunity to discuss with him what not to do to televisions.
I know that this is the age for constant activity and for rebellion and the first noisy bids for independence. The Terrible Twos and the Tyrannical Threes, right? So a daily dose of God’s word to fill me up with patience and grace and forgiveness is necessary for me to do a good job in training my precious children. It is the most important job I’ll ever have. And thankfully, God’s grace and forgiveness is there for me when I fail. I really do need it!