My daddy has a ranch with ponds of catfish, large-mouth bass, and bluegills. When he regularly drives to a pond and throws food to the fish, the fish learn to come to the surface at the sound of his truck’s engine approaching. This is pretty handy if you like to take grandkids fishing. Hungry fish swim to the surface just when you want to catch them.
Of course, the same way the fish learn to come expectantly to the surface at the sound of Daddy’s truck, they learn to dive to the bottom of the pond when they hear a threatening sound. Incidentally, grandkid squeals are one of the sounds that send them back to the depths. But it is fun to see the fish, however briefly.
When it comes to child training, wisdom and foolishness are often responses to what I offer when I drive up to my child’s pond with corrective discipline.
Ultimately, my kids are responsible for the choices they make. They will answer to God for what they believe and how it affects their choices in living. But Scripture gives a strong warning to me when I cause my little ones to stumble (Matthew 18:6-7).
Perhaps this is the reason parents are instructed not to provoke their children (Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:4). Yet there are far too many days when I feel the millstone tied firmly around my own neck as I dip my toes into the edge of the sea.
But there are those days. Constant bickering. Accidental bumps in the hall morph into movie-worthy brawls. Instructions met with eye-rolls. One child biting a sibling while another is coloring on the sofa. I hear myself saying, “I don’t speak Whine, would you like to try that again in English?” Dripping sarcasm. Angry faces. A baby crying in the exersaucer.
All hypothetically speaking, of course.
In moments like these, it is hard for me to figure out who or what to address first. And in these moments, it is really hard for me to remember that eternity is hanging in the balance when I begin to address our mess. I really just want it to stop!
Yet I am learning that effective correction only happens when I seek restoration to obedience rather than restitution for disobedience.
On those occasions when my child has disobeyed and I seek to restore her to a place of blessing and obedience for her good, she learns to swim to the surface when she hears my voice. She learns to accept instruction and to receive correction, both of which are signs of wisdom (Proverbs 1:5, 8; Proverbs 15:5). This is the result of grace.
On the other hand, when a child has disobeyed and I seek restitution for his disobedience, doling out consequences for my satisfaction, he learns to swim to the bottom when he sees me coming. His heart shuts me out and I see a posture of defiance as he prepares to defend himself or to justify his actions. These are signs of foolishness (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 12:1). This is the result of condemnation.
When I remember that the battle is for my child’s heart, and not for my will to be done, I am prepared to empower her rather than overpower her. I see that we face a common enemy – an enemy that is not flesh and blood, but spiritual (Ephesians 6:12).
Sin, not my child, is the problem. And sin is a problem both of us face. If I come alongside him, we face sin together. If I come at him, we face off against each other. Right there – the moment I understand this – I have already won a huge victory.