Loving with Discipline and Disciplining with love
We live in a world of extremes. In fact, quite often, we find ourselves living in the tension of being pulled to one extreme or the other. If we eat too much, we’re uncomfortably full. If we eat too little, we are painfully hungry. If the water is too hot, it can burn us. If the water is too cold, it could, perhaps, cause hypothermia. If the pant waistband is too tight, the button could explode off. If the waistband is too lose, those same pants could fall off. We spend a good portion of our lives attempting to find proper balance, the median between extremes—the golden mean. Sacrificial discipleship, that is, rasing our children to become gifts to God and the world around them, demands that, we fathers, find the golden mean, the proper balance in the art of discipline. The golden mean in discipling and disciplining our children is “loving with discipline and disciplining with love.” Loving without discipline has the character of indulgence and can often lead to a child becoming spoiled, self-preoccupied, and demanding, while discipline without love often has the character of anger, resentment, or retaliation, and can cause a child to become rebellious and eventually unfaithful. The golden mean of discipline is loving with discipline and disciplining with love. A child who knows that he is loved will receive discipline, and a child will know—perhaps only subconsciously—that he is loved when he is disciplined with love.
The enemy is constantly attempting to convince fathers that we are either discipline too little or too much. He attempts to convince us that we need to discipline severely and constantly, lest our children lose their faith. So fear impels us to nag at them, attempt to control them, and make them “perfect.” But imperfect men cannot raise perfect children. Or, the enemy attempts to convince us that we should not discipline the child, lest we lose their friendship. So we remain imprisoned in our fears, afraid to discuss the faith, or lead by example, or correct the faults in our children, lest the child resent us.
There is a strong possibility, with either of these types of discipline that our children will lose their faith in the Father.
To father for the Father
Abraham, our father in faith, was commanded by God: “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there.” (Gen 22:2) We cannot imagine the inner torment and pain that Abraham endured. Abraham, a man of great faith in God, lived in the tension between being obedient to God, or loving his child as a god for his own sake. We must be careful not to make our children idols. We are to love them for God’s sake—not for our own selfish purposes. This is the choice of every father: to love his child for the Father’s sake or rather to love his child for the sake of himself—the human father.
Some people believe that Abraham did not persevere in faith, and would have demonstrated more faith by calling the faithful God to faithfulness to life by requesting the preservation of the life of Isaac immediately. They assume that if the patriarch had stood in the breech between God and Isaac, Isaac and Abraham’s relationship would have been shielded from damage. Because of Abraham’s fear of questioning God, they contend, that his lack of faith and courage caused Isaac’s faith in his father to be lost, causing damage to the person of Isaac, his relationship with his human father, and his relationship with the heavenly Father. Let’s examine this idea.
Faithful fathers produce Faithful Children
What effect did Abraham’s silent submission to God have on Isaac? Examining the lives of the Patriarchs, we discover that only the Patriarch, Isaac, was spared from being sent into exile. Exile was the punishment given to one who demonstrated unfaithfulness to God’s covenant, and often this covenant was violated in regards to fidelity to a God-given spouse. Isaac was the only Patriarch who was not sent into exile, and also the only patriarch who was faithful to his bride. Far from Abraham’s faithfulness driving Isaac away from God, Abraham’s faith instilled faith in Isaac. The act of his father’s faithfulness was forever imprinted upon the soul of Isaac—continually prompting him to faithfulness before God.
Discipline: Friend or Foe
Often fathers are tempted to believe that by disciplining their children, in obedience to God, that they will damage the child, causing the child to become disobedient. From Isaac, however, we learn that the child who witnesses unwavering faith in his father will most likely live by faith. Faith is an act of discipline that begets love, and discipline is an act of love that begets faith. Often, fathers are tempted to neglect disciplining and instructing their child in the ways of holiness, in favor of maintaining friendship with the child. By attempting to maintain friendship, at the cost of instruction, fathers lose true friendship with their own children, as well as the friendship and instruction that comes from God. By means of discipline and instruction in the virtuous life, the faithful father sacrifices “apparent” friendship with his child in exchange for the hope of affording his child friendship with God—which is the ultimate goal of fatherhood. A father’s goal is not to be his child’s “homey” but to get his child home—to heaven.
The father Who receives discipline from the Father
Recall that Joseph was called by God to return to Israel, after being in Egypt for several years, in order to escape Herod and his attempt to kill the Christ child. The command that he received from the angel was, “Rise up, take with thee the child and his mother, and return to the land of Israel; for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” (Mt 2:20) The literal greek translation says, “those who sought the child’s SOUL are dead.” Just as St. Joseph was the Custos, the guardian, of Jesus’ soul, so also, we are called to be guardians of our children’s souls.
To be a true Custos, a guardian of our children’s souls, it is imperative that we become icons of God the Father, effectively transmitting the love of the Father to our children. We fathers are the voice of the Father that our children cannot hear, the face of the Father that our children cannot see, and the touch of the Father that our children cannot feel. The heavenly Father loves with discipline and disciplines with love. But we cannot give what we do not have. We fathers cannot discipline with love if we are unwilling to lovingly accept discipline from Father. To love with discipline and discipline with love, demands that we accept and learn from those occasions when God disciplines us. The golden mean in accepting the Lord’s discipline is not to pout, stop persevering, and believe that we are not loved, chosen and desired by God. His discipline proves that we are loved by Him. “For the Lord disciplines him Whom he loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” (Heb 12:6) God loves us just the way we are, but loves us too much to let us stay the same. Nor is the golden mean in receiving discipline to complain, grumble, shout in anger, or become resentful of God because we are not getting what we want. The golden mean, rather, is detachment from our own near-sighted, selfish wills, and trust that the Father—by means of lovingly disciplining us—will raise us up to be His chosen saints, men of God, fathers of glory, who like St. Joseph will persevere in becoming the Custos of our families.
If we want our children to lovingly receive discipline, we must also receive discipline lovingly. By dong so, we will become more capable of loving with discipline and disciplining with love. A father’s self sacrifice and acceptance of God’s discipline enables his child to accept discipline and become sacrificial.