My daughter Maggie loves to tell the story to anyone who will listen. However, I must warn you, each time she tells the story it reaches more exaggerated proportions! When she was three, she did not like to cooperate with me in the morning time. She wanted to be the CEO of clothing selections. She didn’t understand why a Snow White dress wasn’t acceptable to wear to school in thirty degree weather. I didn’t want to take the time to explain to her the more conventional choices of pants, shirt, jacket, socks, and shoes. It became a battle of the wills, and one morning I was determined to prevail. I warned. I put her in time out, and finally when that failed too, I spanked her for the first time ever. It wasn’t a hard spanking, but it was definitely intentional. “Daddy spanked me!”, she yelled as she ran down the hall to her room crying inconsolably. Rebecca went in and smoothed things over. As I listened from outside (a bit misty eyed myself) I wondered, “David, did you win the battle of the wills only to lose the war for her heart?” How could I discipline in such a way that connects a child’s understanding of right and wrong to God’s heart?
Proverbs 23:13-14 comments on discipline in the following way, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death.” When I read this scripture from the section entitled “30 Wise Sayings,” I have the following observations. Yes, parents do need to discipline their children for disobedience, for discipline is for the ultimate wellbeing of the child. If children learn right from wrong from a parent, it will not only protect them from situations in which they can suffer physical harm, but it will also insure the pursuit of spiritual health in relationship with God. Parental discipline should reflect that if you disobey God, you will experience discipline too. Not because God is a pugilistic figure who desires to intimidate but as Proverbs 3:12 states, “because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Thus, like God, parents should discipline their children out of their ultimate love for their wellbeing.
There’s just that one glaring issue remaining with Proverbs 23:13-14. What about that rod?! Is that to be taken literally? I believe the answer is yes and no. Yes, each parent needs to find an effective means of discipline that clearly communicates that disobedience has occurred. That can be time out, no screen time, a spanking, or for older children, restriction of phone or car. No, you don’t need to use an actual rod to get your point across! Thankfully, there are many other visible illustrations of a “rod” which better communicate the felt consequences of a child’s inner decision to disobey.
I’ll conclude with a confession. It’s one that Maggie always uses to punctuate the story as she wraps it up. I haven’t spanked her since that fateful day. Have I punished her since then? Absolutely! But never since in the form of a spanking. Truth be told, I haven’t had to. Together, she and I have grown into a better understanding of what discipline means. I’ve learned to better communicate expectations and why they exist. She knows the “rods” I use and understands I don’t use them unless it’s for her own good. As Maggie and I continue to grow in this journey, my hope is that I’m winning her heart by leading her to God. There’s peace in that even though discipline is still an ongoing journey. Such is my hope for you and your children as well!