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Discipline, Respect, and Obedience

In regards to parenting, most Christians (and most parents for that matter) have a traditional view of discipline, respect, and obedience. That is, children must be taught to obey and to respect their elders. Discipline measures vary, but range from time-outs to spanking. The trouble is, the thinking behind and action from their Christian beliefs often do not reflect their teacher, Jesus.

Many of us grew up in homes where kids were to be seen and not heard. While our physical needs were usually taken care of, our emotional and spiritual needs were trampled. It was lights out because “I said so!” It was “let’s go, hurry up!” It was “sit still!” It was, “stop crying, before I really give you something to cry about.”

What was all this saying? It was saying this: that us kids were not important. That we were not good enough, fast enough, or smart enough. That what we were doing when our parents screamed, “let’s go!” was of little importance. That our feelings and desires were secondary.

As parents we love our kids. We want what’s best for them. But we suffer under the influence of cultural practices, traditions, and expectations. We raise our kids how we were raised. We never question it, dooming us to repeat the same harmful patterns that miss the love and grace of Jesus.

Christians have created a list of expectations of behavior for their children that is quite similar in tone to that of the Pharisees. These include, but are not limited to: going to church, reading the bible, spending time with the “right” people, and voting republican. These are not necessarily bad things, but they’re put on children’s hearts like lead weights.

Parents do not apply the servant heart of their teacher, Jesus, to their parenting. Like most parents, they adopt the might-is-right, authoritative approach to parenting. It’s the “because I said so,” approach.

Alongside the numerous cultural and historical factors at play are other motivations behind Christian discipline techniques, which are perhaps even more disturbing. Again, these apply to anyone, but in light of Jesus’ teaching, they stick out a bit.

Fear – many discipline and demand obedience because they’re worried what others, especially fellow Christians, will think. My goodness, can’t this guy control his kids? Discipline for this reason is worthless. It will do nothing but make kids feel like dirt for being kids. Kids are enthusiastic, inquisitive, curious, excited. The list is long. Can they be expected to sit still in church? I still can’t. I can only imagine the kids were running around in circles trying to see Jesus. Their elders said they weren’t worthy. What was Jesus’ response again?

Control – we also discipline for control. We demand respect not so much to teach, but because we enjoy the control. We take pleasure in it. It puffs us up. We love it when our children do what we say just like when a dog comes when called by name. Yeah! We did this parenting thing right! This desire for control is toxic. It does not allow God’s grace to shine, it crushes the holy spirit, and it’s not what Jesus modeled – not even close.

Superiority – we assume because we’re bigger, faster, and smarter that we must be right. Kids simply can’t know, or be right like we can. Yet kids are the ones who, if we listen, can speak profound truths into our lives. They constantly remind us what’s important, and what our priorities should be. Daddy, why do you work so much? Daddy, can we play? They remind us that people and relationships are critical – just like Jesus did.

Trust – many demand obedience because they do not trust that children will be respectful unless they’re made to be. They don’t understand or trust the natural learning process, nor do they trust God. If Christian parents truly modeled Jesus, their kids would grow up to change the world right alongside them. They would catapult the kingdom of God. Instead, they’re disciplined to “learn” respect. If we respect our kids (e.g., we honor their wishes, needs, and desires daily – we include them in family decisions – we give them a voice – we allow them the freedom to express who they are, rather than what we want or expect), they’ll know respect on a much deeper level.

Misunderstanding – as parents, we live in an adult world burdened with adult thoughts. It’s a rational world. Our kids live in a magical world of wonder, discovery, joy, and curiosity. Yet we use rationality when we communicate. “Honey, you need to understand that you can’t cry every time you get upset.” We might as well speak gibberish. Kids don’t speak “rational” – they speak emotion, passion, feelings, desires, tactile pleasures – and this is wonderful! If we take the time to understand our kids’ hearts, we will discover who they are. We’ll be in a much better position, as partners, to help them on their journey in this thing called life. Rather than punish them for the way they express their emotions, which is often the only way they know how, or can be heard because no one is actually taking the time to listen, we can discover our own misunderstandings of our own children. We can meet them where they’re at – not where we expect them to be.

Jesus did not demand respect or obedience. He exemplified it. Despite what popular opinion states, respect and obedience are not taught. With the right heart and mind, it can be modeled. Then it will be earned. Kids are too smart. They know the real thing when they see it. And it doesn’t look like what most of us are doing. Discipline, respect, and obedience are found in the kingdom – seek that first.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson


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