When I use the word “discipline”, what I am referring to is a method of training that brings order and/or obedience in the lives of your kids. Of course, there are in reality myriads of kinds of discipline – just look at your typical Barnes and Noble or Amazon under the parenting section, and you’ll see dozens and dozens of theories of how best to discipline your children. However, from my experience, there are 3 main categories of discipline: Flesh-based discipline; Formula-based discipline; Faith-based discipline.
As I have walked through years of discipline, way past the theory stage and knee-deep in the practice stage, I have some thoughts about each of these categories. Over the next two posts, I’ll describe what I mean by each category, and what I propose is the strategy to be employed in each circumstance. For today, I’ll begin by describing what a flesh-based parenting strategy looks like.
Flesh-based. It is so easy to parent from a flesh-based starting point. The flesh tells us that our kids are exhausting, that they haven’t obeyed us quickly enough, that they are testing our patience, that they embarrassed us, that they need to be swiftly punished. In the flesh, we have permission to vent our frustrations on our kids, to lash out with our words and hands, to make ourselves feel better by releasing some of the anger that we feel.
However, the Bible warns us against the sins of the flesh and lusts of the flesh. There is always a clear scriptural delineation between flesh-based actions and spirit-based actions. Romans 8:13 “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
Nothing of the flesh lasts. While you may have achieved a momentary goal by shouting at your child, intimidating them with your anger and displeasure, your ultimate goal of reaching their heart has been painfully missed. Even though my kids may have conformed to my wishes, if I have attempted to parent them from the prompting of my flesh, I have put confidence in my sinful self rather than the leading of God’s spirit.
When we give in to the urge to yell at our kids, we are parenting by the flesh.
When we use our authority to control or lord over our kids, we are parenting by the flesh.
When we make our kids submit by force of will and strength of hand, we are parenting by the flesh.
When we gain compliance by threatening or manipulating, we are parenting by the flesh.
While it is so stinkin’ easy to fall into this category, as a parent I had a built in reminder in my family. My elder son simply couldn’t handle fleshly correction – even as a little boy. ANY time I raised my voice at him, or even spoke more harshly than I needed to, he shuddered. An involuntary, visible, and innocent shudder. His body couldn’t handle my wrath or anger with no filters. It was a heart-breaking, constant reminder to me to guard my flesh and watch my tones. I am so grateful for his reactions, because it helped me be aware of when I’d slipped into a fleshly, self-satisfying mode of discipline.
In my next post, I’ll describe the formula-based theory and the faith-based theory, and I’ll discuss which one I believe is the correct strategy to employ.