Random Blog Clay Feet: February 03, 2009
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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Discipline and Respect

This is a subject about which I have far more questions than I do answers or even suggestions. But it is also something that I am beginning to sense is far more important than it is ever given credit for or receives proper attention. It is also something that I have almost no experience with from personal mentoring so I have nearly no background from which to draw positive examples from extensively.

But as with many things that I end up writing and thinking about, it came to me earlier this morning just as I was waking up. It is the idea of respect, but from a different angle than how I have viewed it previously. I have a whole series on DVD, a seminar called Love and Respect that has been a tremendous resource for learning how men and women should relate to each other in the plan of God's design, especially in marriage. But as I was pondering the idea of respect this morning I had completely forgotten that seminar and was honestly trying to imagine what this word respect really means at all.

The reason I was drawing such a blank was because I was thinking about it from the perspective of how children are treated instead of how adults might treat each other. Even as I gave a cursory overview in my mind of the way that most adults treat their children or even the way many children treat each other, I realized that the most starkly missing ingredient seems to be the element of respect.

As I think about this concept of respecting children, it almost sounds like a conflict of interests. To suggest that a parent or adult should treat a child respectfully, even when disciplining them, seems to fly in the face of the assumptions most have about the reasons for punishment. Our ideas about punishment are almost always infected with counterfeit ideas from our surroundings and culture and upbringing. They are also heavily influenced by our own emotions and faulty concepts about truth. But what I am now realizing is that the problem here lies in our assumptions and reasons for punishing or disciplining children much more than in just the issue of whether they need respect or not.

Note that I said that children need respect, not that they deserve our respect. At first this sounds almost bizarre or even wrong. The first thing that jumps to mind when even considering the idea of treating children respectfully while dealing with misbehavior is that most people generally assume that children must be taught to always respect adults but almost no one ever sees the need for respect to go in the other direction. Respect and obedience are usually strongly linked together and if we can't get them to respect us we at least demand that they obey us unquestioningly.

The only thing that I can think of that usually comes to mind in most people's thinking about the issue of respecting children is when it comes to their sexuality. It is generally accepted, if not always practiced, that everyone should respect all children when it comes to not sexually abusing them. There is great social stigma associated with people in this country who sexually abuse children. However, this stigma sometimes is so exaggerated that people who are not guilty of real abuse are often accused of such by overzealous witch-hunters.

But I am not thinking about this arena so much as I am wanting to explore the issue of how we generally treat children, either our own or others, who are doing things that cause us discomfort or disagree with us. What is the spirit that infects our feelings whenever we see a child “acting up” and want to see them “corrected”? Is it even necessary to give consideration that respect should be a viable element to incorporate into our relationships with children outside of respect for their sexual safety? Is it important or even possible to have a deep level of open respect for a child while at the same time effectively dealing with misbehavior? Or will respect undermine our efforts to modify their behavior and make them be good?

Can we demand and excite the respect of our children by spanking them? Do we teach them to respect us by yelling at them, by getting angry and impatient with them, by demanding explicit obedience from them without trying to understand their perspective? Can we demand that our children respect us while miserably failing or not even attempting to respect them at the very same moment?

Do you see where this is tending to move? The more the questions come, the closer we begin to move toward exposing some of our own selfishness, pride and dysfunction in the way we relate to children. I am convinced that much if not most so-called discipline is far more about controlling children's behavior in order to make the parents or adults “look good” than it has to do with the beneficial training and character growth of the child. When the truth is more explicit, it becomes much more obvious that far too much of what we call discipline has very little to do with discipling them and much more to do with punitive control and venting of frustrations and anger on the part of adults.

One of the biggest problems in society today but that is seldom recognized is that most adults attempting to raise children or deal with other people's children are not really yet properly matured themselves. Because of this they are honestly incapable of knowing how to raise children effectively for the real nurture and good of the child. But the greater problem is that they seldom realize this fact and believe that they are acting reasonably and responsibly. But all the time they are in fact just passing along the dysfunction of their own messed up childhood to yet another generation and failing to model to their children the very character traits that they claim to be trying to teach them.

When I think about this issue of respect in relationship to children, it becomes evident that most people assume that children should always respect adults but respect in the other direction is seldom mentioned. It seems very much like the accepted norm that this is a one-way street and this assumption is almost never challenged. In fact, it almost sounds like heresy to suggest that a parent should treat a child openly respectful at all times. And to suggest that respect should be unconditional from this perspective sounds even more extreme, maybe even absurd.

But as I thought back over what I learned from the Love and Respect seminar about the fundamental definitions of what real respect is from the perspective of a husband and wife and how much that can improve their relationship with each other, it also occurred to me that the very same dynamics will produce similar results if we would apply the very same principles and insights to the way that we treat our children. If we would model to them respect under pressure – the pressure of their misbehavior and/or embarrassing us in public – then it would only make sense that they would begin to learn by example how to treat us with the same respect that they are seeing in our lives. This, by the way, is what real mentoring is all about. And mentoring is the essence of true discipling.

What I guess I am moving toward is the fact that true learning, when it comes to character development, happens far more effectively and takes place at a far deeper level of the mind when it is modeled. Effective learning is far deeper than demands or instructions. True learning involves demonstrating by example so that the heart can observe what it looks like to act like one's self. So when we insist that children must respect us and our rules or requests, it is not going to be our words that will make so much of an impact as it is going to be the way that we ourselves act whenever we find ourselves challenged by situations that tempt us to not act respectfully.

And what situation is more obvious to a child than how a parent or adult acts in response to the child's actions themselves. When a child makes a mistake or even intentionally commits an infraction of our rules, what attitudes do we demonstrate in our spirit when interacting with them under those circumstances? What emotions do we allow to take over our own words and actions whenever we are faced with people who don't cooperate with us, especially children?

Now I see another element beginning to move into the picture. This is the issue of authority – another very misunderstood word that ignites a lot of intensity in many people's minds including my own. There is plenty of examples of abuse of authority which cause us to seriously misunderstand what it really is or how to relate to it. But aligning ourselves properly to authority in the way that God designs us to live is right at the center of this issue of respect between adults and children. For it is quite evident to most people that adults are supposed to fill a role of authority for children, but at the same time the way their conduct themselves in that role is very often more abusive than it is helpfully instructive.

Because of our own confused ideas about authority and the penchant we have for complaining about the authorities that rule over us in various capacities, we generally fail to give our children any good example of how to understand the true nature of what real authority is supposed to look like or how to relate to it correctly. We complain much about our political leaders, their faults, mistakes and corruption. We complain about the leaders in our church or our families and we generally do this without any regard for the mental images being created in the minds of our children about the nature of authority and how they should view it. Then in exercising our own authority in the lives of our children we often demonstrate the very same corruption that we accuse others of doing; we abuse our own superior strength and advantages for our own benefits in relationship to those weaker and younger than us and think nothing of it. We even ignore the plain commands of Jesus regarding the treatment of children and relegate those instructions to just nice-sounding children's stories told in church.

I want to go back to the issue of the unconditional nature of respect. This was probably the most surprising thing that I learned about respect from the Love and Respect seminar that I have viewed several times. (For more information see my page on Resources) There were many things about respect that I found quite surprising and enlightening, but the idea that respect needs to be just as constant and unconditional as love is to be was at first a real shock to me as I think it is to most people who see this seminar for the first time. It sounds almost like heresy at first to think that respect is not something that has to be earned. In fact, in our world it is openly taught and assumed that respect is something that must always be earned. This counterfeit concept is one of the main reasons why there is so much confusion about respect and now I am realizing that it also infects our thinking about our relationship to authorities as well as to our children.

But in the true principles of reality as God designed it, respect is simply not a nice option to have bestowed on those who are honest enough to deserve it. In fact, now that I think of it more clearly, respect is another one of those unconditional character traits of God that comes as part of His grace which is also something that is clearly not earned. When I begin to consider how God treats us (I am talking about the real God of heaven, not the counterfeit assumptions about God promoted by religion that I have been discarding for a number of years now), I start to see a true model of how a parent should respect their child while working to correct their mistakes, nurture their spirit, encourage their growth and increase their maturity.

I could go on much more about this I am starting to see. But at this point I want to try to capture the essence of what I am starting to understand about this issue. If we want our children to be respectful, it is extremely important for us to demonstrate respect, to model respect in the way we treat them, not just simply demand it. And the most important and effective time to do this is when we are under the pressure of dealing with their dysfunctions, not just when they are acting “normal”.

It might be easier for us to pay attention to how we model respect in front of our children while relating to other authorities in our own lives, and that is also important for their training. But to train ourselves to act with kindness, patience, self-control, true, selfless love and freedom from all anger when dealing with their defiance or rebellion – that is a far more important tool for mentoring our children in real respect and self-control than anything else we might say or do. And failure to be respectful to our children will also plant the seeds that will quickly spring up in their own hearts that we will soon have to deal with even more so in their reactions to our attempts to exercise authority in their lives later on.

This rethinking of the way we all relate to children is not going to happen just by discussing it or making more rules for ourselves or others. This will have little to no effect on changing the root problems of our own heart that betray us when under the pressure of confrontations with our children. We must learn to be much more honest about the real motives and feelings inside of us whenever we are exposed by the misbehavior of children, whether our own or someone else's. Until there is true honesty about our own heart motives and our faulty thinking, there can never be true effective change in the way we relate to children. We may be able to put on a good front, assert strong arguments to justify our actions and words or believe that we can raise obedient children without treating them with respect on certain occasions, but we will not be able to nurture and mentor them in the ways of life.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that there can be no exceptions to this requirement for respecting others. God does not ever suspend His respect for us, and if we think He does this opens up a huge reservoir of issues that needs to be addressed before we will be able to relate to this issue properly and truthfully. Again as I have seen in every other issue of importance, the fundamental feelings and beliefs that we hold deep in our hearts about how we think God treats us and feels about us always determines the way that we relate to and treat each other. So if we want to deal effectively with emerging problems in our relationships with others, it will be much quicker and easier to implement those changes into our lives if we will first expose and challenge our false notions about how God relates to us.

The way that we treat our children may likely be the most clear indicator of our true beliefs about how we think God relates to us. Whether it be permissive, abusive or dismissive, if we have confused, faulty views of what God is like they are always going to emerge in the way that we treat our children. So in addition to being willing to change the way we treat our children we must also address effectively the false notions that we have about how God relates to us. And to our amazement and delight we will discover that the clearer our picture becomes of God's true nature and His characteristics that we never really appreciated before, the easier it will become to treat our children and everyone else in new ways.

Our lives will then begin to reflect our growing appreciation of God's goodness, kindness and love and true justice. And as our own lives begin to reflect the growing truths that we see in the face of Jesus, our mentoring will begin to have its own transformative effect on the next generation and we will begin to fulfill more effectively our role as “temporary gods” in the lives of our children. We will show them in human flesh what God is really like whom they cannot yet see with their eyes. As a result we can have the privilege of translating the truth about God into human language for our children – language that involves our body language, our heart language through our spirit as well as our verbal language.