It’s quiet in this cozy Brooklyn apartment I am still getting used to calling home. This unusual silence is a rare treasure with a 3-year-old nephew one bedroom down from me. Rocco is a lot of things, but quiet is not one of them. Not that I mind the noise. When you’ve had the experience of hearing a 3-year-old belly laugh or had the privilege of listening to his little feet scurrying down the hall racing to save the day or awakened to a wide-eyed, smiley-faced preschooler standing beside your bed with the promise of hugs and adventure… well, your heart warmly welcomes the noise. It’s not the noise of a neighbor who needs to turn down the volume of their stereo system or the beeping of a car horn in rush hour traffic or the piercing alarm despite the use of the snooze button. No, the noise of my nephew is the noise of love… It’s a joy I find myself instinctively leaning into, wanting to learn from and absorb.
This noise is laughter and pretend and exclamations of discovery and made up songs about everything from tow-trucks to superheroes to yes, boogers. Rocco is 3 after all. Boogers are a continual conversation piece in this home. But some days, It’s also the sound of daring defiance and unreasonable protest. At times, I am quite sure Rocco’s favorite word is, “NO!”
This morning he certainly proved his admiration for “No” while getting ready for school. His Mama, my sister, was putting on his school clothes, and she reasonably asked him to lift up his leg to assist in the routine putting on of pants, to which Rocco unreasonably declared, “No!” The “no’s” persisted as my sister calmly explained to him that his protesting would have consequences if they continued. In the end, after some tears, Rocco threw a small toy away as his punishment. My sister sat my nephew down in her lap, wiped his tears, and spoke to him kindly about the difference of “no” and “yes” and when it is appropriate to use each. She taught him the value of honor and respect, and how important a kind response is. My sister lovingly explained truth, and Rocco openly engaged in the conversation. She asked him questions, and he gave her back heartfelt and honest responses. By the time Rocco was ready for school, he was laughing and excited for the rest of the day.
From my room, I leaned in and listened… listened to the noise of love. Yes, the noise of love. Not the noise of bad behavior and strict discipline, but the noise of love.
So often we see love in belly laughter and wondrous adventures and instant pleasures and new opportunities and spontaneous personalized gifts. And of course we would. It’s easy to see love in the things that naturally spark giddy grins and fuzzy feelings. But mistakes and discipline and correction and consequences and forgiveness and hard lessons and growing pains? Could things so cringe worthy also speak the language of love?
Blame it on society’s fixation with instant gratification or humanity’s natural inclination to want the easy road or our own past experiences with either abusive punishment or a somewhat spoiled upbringing… but we tend to resist love that comes in the form of discipline. I don’t care who you are, no one likes to hear they are wrong. And no one, including me, excitedly embraces discipline.
And yet, no one would make the argument that my sister was unloving towards my nephew this morning. We applaud her parenting because we recognize that her decision to discipline her son was not malicious in nature, but quite the opposite. She knew her son needed to learn an important lesson, and she knew he would be unwillingly to learn without having to experience consequences. She didn’t shame, judge, or condemn him for his choice. But she did discipline him. And being the loving mother that she is, she comforted him when he felt the minor sting of punishment. She spoke with him and they openly discussed why this lesson was so important for him. She affirmed her love him and her belief in him. When Rocco left for school this morning, he wasn’t wondering if his mother loved him. He hadn’t suddenly grown fearful of her. He wasn’t filled with deep shame over his earlier disobedience. And he wasn’t doubting his ability to make a better choice in the future. He was happy and smiling and even better prepared for the day he was about to experience.
This too is love. Perhaps, this is one of the most healing forms of love we could ever know… the pure love of a parent disciplining their child. This love is healing because for many of us, we didn’t experience discipline cloaked in love and lessons and comfort and affirmation. Our correction came with a beating or a cold shoulder or shame-inducing words or lingering fears. And so we shy away from any mention of discipline and skip over scriptures dealing with God’s correction and all too quickly label someone judgmental who speaks a mere whisper of constructive criticism and wield grace like a protective spell against the dark magic of past abuses. We run from discipline without every realizing what we are really running away from is love.
The true irony is this: the very discipline we run from for fear of not being loved is the very experience of love we desperately need. It’s the discipline of our Heavenly Father that heals the wounds of unhealthy discipline in our past. We all need to experience God loving us enough to tell us “no”. We all need to know every now and again the consequences of our choices. We all need to feel the warm embrace of our Heavenly Father comforting us and teaching us the lessons crucial to our own maturity. We all need to hear His kind words of forgiveness and guidance and affirmation when we make mistakes. We all need the discipline of God, because friends, it is the love of God just as equally as a sunset is or miraculous healing is or a warm hug is or a promotion at work is or the birth of a new child is or the poetic song put to the perfect melody is or the sunlight shining on our faces on a warm summer day is.
We need the discipline of God because it too is the love of God.
To be clear, I do not believe there is anything evil in God. I will never believe there is bad in Him. God is good, and I will believe that till my dying breath and into eternity. God has shown just how good He is in Jesus’ great sacrifice for you and me on the cross. Knowing Calvary and knowing the empty tomb have taught me more than I will ever be able to unpack in this short life of mine about the goodness of God. And so I will never believe God will bring me evil. He does not do things to hurt me or to harm me. He always has my very best in mind. I may not be able to explain why someone gets cancer and why the next person doesn’t. And I will never be able to explain why one person is healed of cancer while another person dies of it. But of this I am convinced, God is not the giver of that cancer. God is not the giver of domestic violence and social injustice and corruption and heartbreak and betrayal and bankruptcy and sickness and disease. He is good, and only good things come from Him.
And yet, I must be careful not to throw all pain into the category of “bad”. It was painful for Rocco to lose one of his toys, but it wasn’t evil. It was a momentary pain he felt for the sake of his long-term maturity. The longer I follow Jesus and the more experience I have with the love of the Father the more I am beginning to see that the discomfort of repentance or the pain of saying goodbye to bad habits or the inconvenience of doing the right thing is not bad. It’s painful, but it’s not bad. It’s actually quite good. It’s a sign of spiritual maturity.
I don’t know much about parenting. I’m not a parent, just an observant aunt. Frankly, I find it rather obnoxious when people openly criticize others’ parenting styles and skills as if one method will suit every family and child. At times, I look at people’s comments on blogs or social media posts, and I am appalled at how easily our culture can play the shame game with parents. I’m not going to waste everyone’s time by spouting out my untried and potentially untrue advice on parenting. Even when I am a parent, I hope I have the wisdom to not be so open and quick about my parenting assessments. That’s not remotely the point of this blog.
I am not a parent, but it is plain to my unexperienced eyes my sister is not raising a son who demands his own way. She is raising a son who will become a great man who will leave a great mark in this world. Perhaps, that is what God is doing with each of us. He raising us to become great sons and daughters, men and women who will leave an eternal mark of Christ’s love in our world.
I suppose the most fitting way to end this blog is to simply speak to you as a fellow sibling in Christ loved by our same Heavenly Father, pondering His perfect parenting. I am your sister who is learning and growing just as you are, sometimes getting it right, and often still getting it wrong. I know the discipline of God. And because I have experienced it, more times than I’d like to admit, I can tell you with confidence, there is no shame attached to His discipline. There is no condemnation accompanying His correction. There is nothing to be feared and nothing to be lost. Truth be told, the very best way I can describe the discipline of God is simply this: it is kind. He is always kind, always comforting and embracing and revealing to us who we really are- loved and for more capable than we could ever have known apart from His tender discipline. So my friend, no, more than that, my brother, my sister, there’s no need to run from the correction of the Holy Spirit or the the words in Scripture that contradict your current approach or the hard to hear wisdom of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The discipline God has for you is always safe. When you stop running, you will discover you aren’t in trouble, but rather stepping into arms of Love.