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Motherly discipline

October 29, 2012

What is a Christian mother’s discipline?

The reason that all answers fail and all answers always will fail is that discipline is about the development of a person, and the nature of everything personal lies in God, the source and center of all personality. There is no “technique” for knowing God or for knowing any person. You approach God; you find him because he was seeking you all the time anyway. Then you find your vocation, which includes the need to discipline his children. So this is first of all about love for God and then about love for certain persons in your life. Everything else follows; whatever else people say is just bits and pieces.

Here are four bits, in response to the four models I have just rejected:

1.   Love is attentive.

We have the Care Bears all beat on this one. Jesus died for us, and we have to be willing to die for our children. Lots of times, the reason we are inconsistent about correction it’s because we are tired of the effort. Jesus says, “Come follow me.” It’s not an easy path we’re on, but it’s a loving one. You must be attentive to God; you must be attentive to your children. You are like the corner on the letter “L” which stands for Love. You look up and you look beside you and you stay connected both ways.

Be sure you are taking time to pray because that’s where you get the energy and the will to remain attentive. There will be seasons when prayer is difficult; Jesus had those difficulties too. Remember when he went over the lake to have some quiet time and everyone followed and he had mercy on them, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Don’t bother feeling guilty if you have a season when dedicated prayer time seems impossible. But keep trying, in the small ways as well as the large.

  • Pray at night. Talk to God all day, as a father. Talk to our Lady.
  • Step outside the door and pray for a minute.
  • Pray short prayers all day: “Oh my loving Father!” “Jesus, I trust in you!” “Come Holy Spirit! ” “Hail Mary, full of grace!” Do not pray, “Help help!” all the time, but “Father, Father!”
  • Find some spiritual reading that really draws you. Lots of people find time to finish mystery stories when they can’t find time for spiritual reading. You need spiritual reading that pulls you in. Find it.
  • Establish a prayer corner or altar, a room if you have one, a shelf with a picture and candle if there is no room. You need a physical reminder to pray.
  • Take a dedicated half hour if you possibly, possibly can. The day will come when you can; you won’t notice its coming unless you are seeking it.
  • Pray for each of your children. This is not blame time, not defending anybody time; just belonging to Jesus time. Each one: you are just roping them in, and you are making your relationship with them part of your relationship with God.

2.  Love is clear.

We have it all over the thunder men, whose irrational disciplines continually undercut the allegiance of the heart by enforcing an allegiance of fear.

Of course Christians are always wondering how “fear of the Lord” fits in here, because it’s right there in scripture as the beginning of wisdom, and we want that for our children, don’t we?

This is very simple. Fear doesn’t start wisdom if it stops thought. Fear initiates wisdom if it focuses the mind for better thought. This can happen, and it’s your job to pay attention about it. Anxiety is not the beginning of wisdom, but a little adrenalin sometimes helps. A little. Sometimes.

Love is not supine; it is the supreme vigilance. It is awake. It is the dawn of humanity. It is full of light, but it is a steady light, not a lightning strike. Make the rules you need and maintain the relationships they are meant to serve.

“Rules without Relationships breed Rebellion.” (I owe this to Nancy who owes it to someone else. Thanks all.) Your vocation is to be attentive to these persons, who have minds. You are not just here to control them for 18 years. They have to know you love them and are available to their questions and needs.

3.  Love is rational.

We have it all over the cool Dobson types, because we are at rest in God, and our hearts are hearts of flesh, not of stone. That’s why we can think clearly, and this kind of thinking is always important to us. We don’t have to be cold to be rational.

Love is rational? Yes, love is not irrational; it’s rational. Love is the interior act chosen by a thinking person who goes right on thinking all the time. Love desires the good of the beloved, and is glad of a mind that will help her to recognize how to be of good service in each situation.

Love is rational because it is not just a feeling: it is a choice. If it isn’t a choice, it isn’t free, and in that case, it isn’t love. Even a free action still has something behind it; a choice means you thought about it. Random actions are not free; they are at the whim of the nearest advertiser, the nearest pleasure, or even the nearest demon, really.

It does sometimes happen that people get cornered by someone who thinks faster, but not better, than they can. Maybe someone more analytic than you traps you into admitting things that you don’t really agree with but you can’t say why. If this happens a lot, you may come to have  a negative attitude about thinking. You have to fight back; you have to learn to say, “I can’t deny your logic, but I think you have left something out. I am not sure what, but I will think of it.” At midnight, right after the rosary, it will come to you. Don’t get bamboozled into rejecting thought, just because you are not the quickest. Quickest is not always best, but in any case, when people hate thinking, they do not become free; they just become bound by something smaller.

Calling love rational is not to deny that there are important feelings that go with love. Above all, there is an inner sense of freedom and a joy that we have when we live in love and everything seems worthwhile to one who lives in love.  Still, this feeling is the consequence of love, not the nature of love.

In motherly love, then, discipline is an act of guidance, and its justice is never cold, because that would deny the role of mercy. Oh, mercy and justice are not opposed except when they are each made smaller than the way they come from God or when they are misused. Both are pure; both seek what is most perfect.

Good discipline measures itself against the need to restore peace and dignity to all wounded parties – to the child whose dignity is already diminished by having failed in some way, and then further diminished by the need for punishment. A mother also seeks to care for anyone her child has hurt, whose dignity may be wounded if no one takes account of their new needs.

4. Love is responsible.

Anger is a source of energy, and we need it because it takes energy to correct someone. It’s very often easier to let things go. So anger gets us to our feet, and that is necessary.

But we mustn’t rush in without a plan or let our angry feelings take over the situation. Discipline is a responsibility to everyone. We need a plan, not just a training schedule. So we make a plan, but make it bigger than behavior modification. Plan on raising children of God; plan to be attentive, clear, rational, and responsible.

I have one more post in queue. I need to think it over before posting. It’s my plan, and it’s not new, but it was hard to write it out.

I will just close this piece with my favorite scripture about discipline: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, lest they lost heart.” That’s the center of it; it’s actually Colossians 3:21. The children must not lose heart when they are scolded. Their spirits must not be broken! Their trust must not die.

Discipline is hard, perhaps the hardest task in parenting. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get it right the first year or even the first twenty or thirty years. You’re still in good company. Your task is to grow. If you do that, your children will figure out their responsiblities.

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