concentrated black man reading book with son at home
The Father's Heart

Discipling Hearts vs. Behavior Modification: What I Desire

They have this shell around them, this “outside me” so carefully crafted, so “clean,” so redacted, through fear and applause of men. But I don’t care about that. I’m not so easily content with good behavior. I’m working on something deeper. I look at the heart, not at the outward appearance of things. I’m disciplining at the level of the motivation.

My children. They would rather make a million excuses for why they were not wrong than lose my good opinion of them. Don’t they know they cannot lose my favor? I have given it to them at birth and never took it away. I love them because they are mine, and yet… I watch them as they strive this futile way, making correction so complicated. Building a religious culture based on expectations of outer actions, rather than heart-sourced love and honor, I see their frustration with themselves.

I see how much they want to be worthy of my love, not realizing that it is their identity as my child that makes them worthy, nothing they have done. I did ALL of it for them. I accomplished the labor, toil, bleeding, and breaking open so they could just BE…completely loved.

I see how their pride causes them to be wounded by my noticing of their weaknesses. It’s more important to them to maintain their reputation of “being good” than to actually be good… than to be healed. They would rather look good than be seen. And they think that is a favor to our family? Somehow they’ve learned it’s more important to “act ok” than to actually BE whole and integrated. What makes them these divided people? Fear of rejection? Fear of failure? Fear of disappointing people? “Be whole!” I want to scream. “Be saved! Receive grace! Be loved!”

Two weeks since we had really talked. Finally she cracks. I hold her and all is restored. I ask her why she didn’t tell me earlier how she was privately struggling. “Because I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t trusting you.” was her reply. Her high opinion of my opinion of her made her hide from me. And this is the tragedy of sin…shame and death of relationship.

“Well, were you trusting me?” I asked. “No,” she said. And she started crying. She’s right. That’s sad. Two weeks of stony silence where we could have had joy. And I do care about the fact that the trust was not actually there. It matters. But isn’t that the greatest lie, that my opinion of her could be damaged if she walked in honesty with me about her lack of trust? If she came confessing her doubt, I could have wrapped her in my arms and held her through it. And my love would have been proven true. Instead she spent two weeks in her room, these false accusations of me swimming around in her head. These unfounded fears of my reaction to her reaction. Doesn’t she know me by now?

What she could not see was that her weakness is no surprise to me. She acted exactly as I expected her to act in her immaturity. But oh this sin nature! This preference for hiding instead of being found and forgiven. Repentance is meant to be quick and over, to receive kindness and return to love-driven loyalty. Something in human nature finds false refuge in the anger, the sadness, the fear; so quick to internalize the empty blame and the “lie of darkness” and make it a part of who they are, to take the weight of it into themselves and bear the punishment. There’s a difference in self-hate and self-awareness, for sin must be acknowledged but who can bear the weight of sin. Sin must go, yes. And with it, the shame is past. And the payment has been given by my blood, not theirs. I will cover you. It is finished. Trust me. And now be done with it. The shame before repentance is only meant to make them feel how sin and distrust is hurting them, to push them back into light, to me! To come with relief back under the covering of grace, of my unmerited favor. It is not meant to be draped over them long-term like the night sky to keep them hiding. They were not made for such a weight. They are children of the light. I made sure of it, once and for all. They are 100% forgiven from the moment they believe me. Will they receive it and turn toward me, being done with their rebellion? That’s the question.

I want my children to prioritize actually BEING ok with me over just appearing like they are ok. An honest child can be helped. A prideful one cannot. How many times do they approach me in obvious pain and confusion and shove it aside for the sake of saying the right thing or wanting to appear that they are handling things well. I don’t want a family that appears well-behaved, I want a family that is genuinely honoring and actively loving in all we do. This is not idealistic, this is who I desire to be at the core level, and so it will be who they are as they are a part of me. We do not ignore sins against others or within our family, but acknowledge the danger of unattended guilt. It spreads and infects the whole house. So we ferret out the root cause quickly and decisively, even if it means some late nights. We burn it out like thorns in a garden, like a fever burns out a virus, like a medicine kills a disease.

My reputation is not at risk. I am who I am. So I am willing to be put to shame for my child’s sake. Their behavior is not a reflection on me, as if I care what others think, but a reflection of ME in them. Have I taught them to walk fearless in love? To seek peace and promote it? To forgive? To confess their shortcoming? To ask for help? To help others? To make ammends? To show mercy? To walk humbly? To do justice?

My training of their hearts is to this end-I want to teach them how to maintain a mutually honoring and passionately loving relationship with me and others. I want to see that they understand me as loving and fair, even as I discipline them. I desire that they understand my reasoning, my heart. I do not desire to be a mystery to them. I do not desire to punish them for what they do not understand, so I take the family rule, the law of Moses, and explain their sin from a heart level. This is the law of love. (Matthew 22:37-39)

Your stealing was dishonoring to your sibling (Exodus 20:15).

Your not listening to me made me feel unimportant to you (Luke 8:18).

Your lying was dishonoring and unloving to me. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

Your slander and gossip made them feel small (Exodus 20:16).

Your love and obedience made me feel honored (Exodus 20:12).

Your mercy to your brother makes him want to show mercy (James 2:12-13)

Your honesty makes you feel safe with me. (Psalm 139)

I want you to obey me and serve our family because you love me. If you love me, that will lead to your obedience. (John 14:15)

I risk calling them out gently in hope they will be genuinely healed and restored, rather than just making conversation and always keeping it light. We risk embarrassing conversations so they can know that they are both seen AND loved. What was that look on your face? What is happening in your heart? Can you put that jealousy to death? Can you tell me why you are angry? Can I help you understand why I asked you to do that? What is love without being known?

There are no short cuts to create a trusting, solid relationship. Trust must be maintained through the consistent habits of honest communication, quality time together, mutual love and service, and the constant availability of my unearned favor. It is a mutual moving toward one another. I never force closeness with me, but I am always inviting. It’s their choice to accept the invitation. Their emotions were not given to them to constrain and restrain, but to help them understand their thoughts and motivations, so we could relate in an honest way. Being known.

I want to give attention to the joy and pain because both are a part of fully knowing my children. I want them to be happy, yes, but their happiness is not my goal. Their discipline, healing, and wholeness is my goal, which will make them happy when the training is complete. If this seems cruel, you can ask yourself if a coach is cruel by putting a hurdle in front of an athlete? No! I intend their victory!

There are fast ways to “strongly encourage” my children to modify their behavior. I can punish, I can withhold what they desire, I can drill, I can stress them. And sometimes I’ve done this to help them repent through experiencing the social consequences for their actions. But this “fast” discipline is intended to speed up a repentance from dangerous actions which would be detrimental to themselves and others to keep allowing.

Even when they are punished, I desire that they know my fairness, the rightness in it, the love that is behind it, wishing they would choose love rather than fear-fear of lack, fear of loss, fear of insignificance. There is no fear in love because fear has to do with punishment. When they live in love, they have literally no concern that they will be forgotten, that they will have lack, that they will lose my love. When they see me rightly, they are confident in my love. They love me because they know (by experience) my love and favor. They obey me from that place.

And sometimes they fail. Sometimes they fight. Sometimes they get hungry or exhausted, and they complain in their shortsightedness. But while this frustrates me, because I see this as a lack of trust (faith), this does not change my love for them, it only means that they need growth and strengthening so they can be whole again, so they can grow in confidence of my love again. In every return, every question, every experience together, every yielding to my love for them, they are becoming steadfastly enduring in their deep trust of me and my love for them. A child who knows I delight in them cannot help but shine with the glory of this realization.

In this way, their behavior…it is modified, but only as a side-effect. They do become more like me as a result, but that is not the goal. The ULTIMATE goal is not their legacy, not their perfection, not their independence, but our interdependence- to live together knowing and being known in the glory of mutual, fearless, eternal love. (John 14:23-24).

Caveat:

While this is written from the perspective of God, this was not a “word from the Lord,” but more of a creative role play as I meditated on His love for me and how it connects to my love for my children. In addition, I do not claim to understand or even live all of this out most days. So there’s that. But I’m trying to rest and relax into this way of trust.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

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