The Disciple in Discipline

 

‘We think it’s time that we start to discipline Tommy’, the mother of a toddler told me.

I’d been enjoying watching Tommy play: pushing cars around after each other, over mountains and tracks, running into traffic obstacles and finding alternative ways of getting around them. Every now and then Tommy would look up and give his mum a very cute, cheesy grin, which his mum would return. Tommy would then continue with his very serious work of play — complete with the obligatory ‘brmmm…brmmm’.

‘What do you mean by discipline?’ I asked Tommy’s mum.

I thought back to several months before when I was presenting a six-week course. The fourth session is about ‘discipline’. For as long as I’ve been presenting this course, I’ve been intrigued that formerly absent dads appear out of the blue for this particular session. This course proved to be no exception.

On this particular night,  I felt reasonably confident that most of the parents were Christian. So I began with a big, empty whiteboard and wrote the word ‘discipline’ at the top.

‘What do you think of when you see this word?’ I asked.

Very quickly the whiteboard was covered with words: time-out, thinking time, spanking, distraction, self-discipline, self-control, naughty corner, removal of privileges, punishment, consequences, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’, control … you get the picture.

I’m sure the list could have continued, but the space on the whiteboard didn’t. It was fairly obvious that we each had our own ideas about discipline.

I then crossed off the ‘ine’ from the end of ‘discipline’ and replaced it with an ‘e’. ‘Disciple.’

‘Does anybody recognise this word?’ I asked and I watched the faces change as I continued.

‘We know that Jesus had disciples. Let’s have another look at our list and decide which of these words describe how Jesus ‘disciplined’ his ‘disciples’.

Together we crossed off three-quarters of the words on the whiteboard.

With my own energetic and inquisitive children, I really struggled with discipline. People told me that my particularly ‘enterprising’ child needed a good dose of medication. That child certainly copped a fair degree of the only thing I knew then — a ‘good spanking’. But all that achieved was to rob that particular child of a sense of adventure and creativity.

Eventually, having heard a lot from authoritarian, hands-off ‘experts’, and feeling like a failure, I sat down in a library with my Bible, alongside a Hebrew and Greek Bible with translation, and searched every reference to discipline I could find.What did I learn? That discipline means ‘to train’ and that a ‘disciple’ is a follower who follows a leader — the ‘disciplin-er’.

When I saw discipline through Christ’s example, I saw a demonstration of love through patient leading, through example, through instruction, story-telling and the use of analogies, as well as through pre-empting and warning of what to expect. When I looked at discipline as what Christ did with his disciples, I saw that it was not punishment or retribution. Even though he had all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus did not use discipline as a form of power or control.

So my approach to discipline changed.

I realised that I had treated discipline as a reaction to my kids’ actions, and, mostly, the kids were getting into trouble because they’d do things I didn’t expect or want them to do. There was a lot of ‘don’t’ without instructing what to ‘do’. With a fair bit of practice, we were able to turn it around.

Discipline became proactive rather than reactive. It meant that we would try to stay ahead of the kids — to plan that our days would begin and end in a more predictable fashion.

Our kids responded really well to being told what to expect each day, or every moment.

For example, we told them: ‘Today is Monday. You need to get dressed, and have breakfast and then we’ll take you to pre-school. We’ll come to get you after pre-school, and then we’ll have lunch and a rest and then we’ll go to the zoo for a little while.’

Then, having given them a virtual map of the day, we would navigate them through it according to their age.

Our five-year-old could manage all that information, while our three-year-old needed step-by-step information, and our baby needed to be taken through it all.

We used charts so that they (and their mother) could have visual prompts for routines such as getting dressed and going to bed. The children knew what to expect and what was expected of them.

Life became more ordered and therefore predictable, as did our children’s behaviour.

When the lives of our children turned upside-down when we moved from the USA back to Australia, the reminder charts and routines were portable and offered reassurance that not everything in life had changed.

We also needed to appreciate our kids’ individual differences.

For example, being aware that each of them would dawdle at a different stage in the morning, we used that to our advantage. We used breakfast as the motivation to ‘hurry up and get dressed’ for the child who took ages to dress but loved breakfast. We made the child who took great pride in personal appearance eat first because of the tendency to dawdle at breakfast.

We smiled more and said ‘Yes!’ much more often.

Since then I’ve also learnt to say, ‘Yes, when you have …’

For example, when our ten-year-old asks to use the computer, our response might be, ‘Yes, when you’ve finished your homework and taken out the rubbish’. It gives positive instruction, gets the job done, and everybody wins.

The Parenting Place in New Zealand uses the motto: ‘If a kid feels right, they act right’. If children can go confidently into a situation, knowing what to expect and what is expected of them, they are more likely to act right. If they are confident that they are loved unconditionally, they are likely to follow instructions and return to the safe base of their parents’ arms in between adventures.

Did Jesus’ disciples always do as they were told? Did they always understand what Jesus told them? Did Christ punish them when they got it wrong? A look from him was all they needed.

Parents have the perfect example of discipline from Jesus, and the incredible, humbling opportunity to look into the eyes of our children to see the reflection of our example to them.

 

Originally published as:

‘The disciple in discipline’ in The Lutheran, February 2010 Vol44 No1 P32-33

 

 

 

 

God don’t do math

Some of us love numbers!
More than one of us in our home love to play with numbers, whether it be in a Sudoku or more recently, working out equations about the force of water. Unfortunately, in our house, none love to balance the books or pay the bills, reconcile accounts or collect info for the tax man.

But, in more than 20 years of paying bills, feeding a growing family and surviving on grant funding (and very generous family) there has only been one time when we almost went hungry – at the same time that we didn’t trust God enough to give Him a tenth of what we had.

This was only one instance that has helped me come to the conclusion that

“God don’t do maths”.

Please pardon the grammar – but I can hear my African-American friends singing this in chorus! Certainly, God’s method of mathematics is not taught in any conventional business or accounting course.
Let’s look at some examples:

Many parents expecting their second child have told me of their fear of not being able to love their next child as much as they’ve loved their first. Every time, God has shown them that He is the God of multiplication – not division.

Ask any parent of multiple children and you discover an incredible capacity to love more – not less, with each child.

Love grows the more you give it away!

It’s a bit like Elijah and the widow who was about to make the last meal for her son and herself, from the tiny bit of flour and oil that she had. She gave to Elijah, and her flour and oil never ran out. It’s like Jesus feeding the 5000 (plus women and children) from 5 loaves and 2 fish – and collecting 12 baskets of left-overs. God don’t do maths!

What about time? Yesterday was one of those days when I had more things to do than minutes in the day. I had no choice but to stop and take a breath prayer.
I breathed, and God-incidentally, I remembered Elisabeth Elliot’s words,
“I have only one thing to do today. That is God’s will, and He will enable me to do it.”
“OK God!” I breathed and my heart remembered,
“Be still and know that I am God!”
“What’s going to happen about the catering tonight? I’m handing that one over to You, Lord.”
I settled into what I was doing, taking a quick break for lunch when a couple of youth leaders arrived to do some pre-event planning.
“We’re going shopping for supplies for tonight. Would you like us to pick up something?”

The next morning, Jan from my favourite coffee shop, where I’ve been going for four years, offered her un-sold muffins for our youth group on Friday nights. I’d not asked – and she’d never offered before. It wasn’t until then that I realised that God had answered my prayer – twice – without me even acknowledging Him. I’d been so caught up with how much time I didn’t have, that I forgot to notice that God had taken over what I’d asked Him to.

We get so caught up following two little sticks chasing each other around a dial we carry on our wrists that we forget that our best friend is the creator of the universe. God is not bound by the rules of our human-measured concept of time. If our universe was limited to our meagre understanding of how it works, what a small universe we would inhabit.

We live in a very weird period of time in that “If we don’t understand it – we can’t believe it!” There goes the theory of relativity, space, gravity, healing, my lap-top computer, the egg I just ate for breakfast…the children I bore.

We argue about periods of time, about budgets, about our capacity to do things. In our determination to work things out mathematically- logically, we diminish the world’s capacity to see God because we diminish Him.

We limit God’s work to our own imagination.

As Elisabeth Elliot once said, “The God who is small enough to be understood is too small to be worshiped”.

Whether or not it fits into a mathematical equation or our understanding, God’s will, will be done. Our capacity to love Him and achieve great things in His name can only grow as we take the opportunities He gives us to learn to rely on Him, rather than on our budgets and imagination.

I guess it works in reverse too. Look at the lives of the rich and famous who hoard up stuff for themselves and end up having to cocoon themselves away for peace and quiet. Those who gather everything for themselves tend to diminish in what they really have. Life seemingly implodes.

Look at a church that limits itself to the same budget it’s had for years. It makes as much sense as a flower keeping its petals in its bud to conserve energy, or a chrysalis deciding to stay where it is safe and dark, rather that breaking out to become a butterfly.

Mathematically, a butterfly cannot fit into a chrysalis.

Mathematically, a flower cannot fit into a flower-bud.

Mathematically, faith as big as a mustard seed cannot move a mountain.

Mathematically, forgiveness doesn’t add up.

Mathematically, we cannot love and keep giving it away.

What would happen in our homes, in our congregations, in our communities if before we set out to do something, we stopped to take notice of God’s economy?

As I heard in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, “God’s economy is different. It’s upside-down.”

Love grows the more you give it away.

God gives.

God gives everything.

God is glorified in His generosity.

God loves everybody – and His love of everybody enables Him to be generous with His love.

What would happen if we stopped counting the wrongs anybody had done against us, and loved and forgave them anyway? What would happen if we chose to love because God first loved us?

This week, this month, this year, let us together consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and trust God – Rely on Him – and not on our own mathematical equations.

 

Originally published as:

“God don’t do maths” in The Lutheran, May 2010 Vol44 No4 P154-155

Pooped, Purple and Perplexed: Looking to Easter

I’m pooped, purple and slightly perplexed.

Pooped is an accurate description of how I feel right now. Gabby and I decided to go for a walk at Morialta Falls this morning. Well…falls is something of an overstatement. Perhaps they could be re-named  Morialta Puddles.  I’m sure my legs will be reminding me tomorrow and half way through next week of our little adventure.

Purple – well that is a slight exaggeration. Purple is the colour we believed we would be by the time we returned to our car judging from the amount of blackberry bushes we were pushing through at one stage.

And perplexed…well… the maps and signposts along the way were rather ambiguous. There were frequent maps and posts with arrows for particular walks. But halfway along the walk we’d chosen, the signs for our walk became peculiarly absent. Missing was some very vital information … where to go next. So we chose the path we thought we should take – the only one that still had an arrow pointing to it.

Having trekked through unchartered blackberry territory for several hundred metres, we figured that since the path we had chosen was one of the shorter walks, it should not feel as though we needed to get our machetes out to get through the jungle – especially in suburban Adelaide. So we re-traced our steps back to the most recent map and used our powers of deduction.

Though there were no directions at that stage, there were steps that led down to the top of the waterfall (aka puddle), and steps going up the other side. My high-school memories of the same walk prompted us to brave the steps across the puddle and eventually guided us back to the car park.

The walk was great. The weather was perfect, the company and conversation was stimulating and we both feel invigorated. It’s as though we’ve been on a mini-holiday – even though it only takes 15 minutes to drive there.

But the ambiguous instructions got me thinking. One of the most difficult aspects of going anywhere new, meeting and mixing with new people, or trying new things is discovering the things that nobody tells you about; the stuff that nobody explains; the pieces of information that would have made life a whole lot easier if only somebody had said “You need to know this first” or “This is how to do it” or “Ask me. I may know!” or a simple arrow that says “This way!”

I recalled a young man, a friend of our teenagers, who we’d taken to church for the first time in his life. When it came time for communion, he leaned over to me and said

“What is this?”

Try explaining in 20 seconds or less, the meaning of communion! That lesson was a good lesson to me of the things I take for granted; our belief, our rituals, our traditions, the things we do for God and the things we do for the sake of doing them, and the things we do simply because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

Most of us can relate to visiting a new church, going to a new school or moving into a new community. There are some places that make us believe it is the loneliest place on earth. Where is the front door? Am I supposed to sign in somewhere? Is there a toilet close-by? Will anybody talk to me? If I put my name down on this piece of paper will I end up getting a bombardment of emails?

Fortunately, there are some places where you feel as though you are welcomed and feel ‘at home’, straight away. Somebody comes up to you when you arrive because either they are really friendly, have been trained really well and have practised to greet everybody, or they simply recognise that look of “lost” on your face, and have come to rescue you. They introduce themselves with something simple such as

“Hi, I’m Jim. Great to meet you. What’s your name?”

If they’re really well trained, or have practised, they might continue with “How do you spend your time?” or “What’s your favourite ice-cream?” They give you any information you might need, including where to find more information, and offer to sit with you. Or they introduce you to somebody else who they know has a similar interest to you.

“Hey Fred. This is Steve. He’s visiting from Gonunda. He’s interested in the sound system. I thought you might show him around later.”

This last Christmas gave us the opportunity to have some of our friends from different cultural backgrounds celebrate Christmas with us in our home. Because of my experience with the 20 second- introduction- to- communion, I wanted to make sure that our friends would not leave our home without knowing why we celebrated Christmas.

Just as we were about to ask a blessing for our food, which was already foreign to many of our visitors, we brought out our bible and read Luke Chapter 2. I hope we began a tradition – or perhaps, re-instated one. I hope that it will be a ritual that continues in our family to consciously dedicate our time and effort into introducing to our family and friends what is important to us– not taking what we know and believe for granted.

As we look to Easter, there are many people who don’t understand what Easter is about. How many Australians recognise the significance of Ash Wednesday – other than a horrible day of fires in 1983? Do our children understand  the meaning and purpose of Good Friday and Easter Sunday ? It is up to each of us to make sure that those around us know why we commemorate Easter, of Jesus life, death and most importantly, his resurrection.

At a local high-school about 20 years ago, a Christian group acted out the story of Easter. At the end of the play, a student went up to the Principal and said,

“That was a great story. Do you know who wrote it?”

So this Easter, no matter where I am or what I do, I want to be making sure that I do not take knowledge of the Easter story for granted. I do not want to behave as though it’s just a long weekend. I want to make sure that others will know that we celebrate Easter because, as the angels said, “He is not here, He is risen!”

Originally published as:

‘Pooped, Purple and Perplexed’ in The Lutheran, April 2012 Vol46, No3, P102-103

Priority Number One

I read in a leadership post the other day, that in order to get where you want to go, you have to prioritize and let nothing get in your way – especially other people.
Yesterday, I read about putting your ‘future self’ as a priority.
So, today, I made my list of priorities, in accordance with the unwavering directions of the leadership coaches.
I began working towards Priority Number One.

The phone rang. So in the next few minutes, my daughter will arrive here, crying.

Where is leadership then?

In this mother’s heart, mothering is the leadership path I will take; today, tomorrow and into the future.

In the words of John Lennon’s song ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’.
I’ll be truly living – not fighting against the plans I may have made, but believing that what I choose to do today is the best I can do to show love – and that must always be my priority.