"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7
I heard this verse recited about a week ago, and it's been in my mind ever since. Fear sometimes gets me. I'll lay awake at night afraid of one thing or another, not sleeping, and it will go on for some time. But then, just like that, the Holy Spirit breaks through and I am reminded that God is not a God of fear, and then I start thinking on Him, and thinking of some worship songs, and the fear literally melts away and I am able to sleep.
But when I heard this verse the last time, it really resounded for me as an example for us as we raise and train our children to be little men and women. In fact, it resounded with me so much, that I have not been able to stop thinking about it, because discipline can be such a sticky subject for parents. Many parents have strong convictions about why they do things one way or another. But I've never heard this verse used in the context of discussing discipline and what the Bible has to say about it. And yet, it's right there, plain as day.
The thing is, I think many of us are making a mistake when we choose how to discipline our children- (including myself, don't think I'm talking just about others today). The key words in this verse above are at the very beginning- that God has not given us a spirit of fear. And yet, for many parents, that's exactly what we use to try and coerce our children into better behavior. We use fear. We threaten with spankings or groundings or taking away a privilege or something precious. And often times it works,because fear is a terrible thing.
There are so many methods out there for parents to follow- so many books have been written on the best ways to train a child and discipline a child, and I can't help but think that a majority of them should actually be discarded because they are wrong. We should not be motivating our children towards good behavior by using fear.
I think of following God, in general. I don't adhere to His laws or read my Bible daily because I am afraid of punishment by God. I don't "try to be a good Christian" because I'm afraid that God will punish me in some way or another. God isn't like that. I follow God and all His laws because I love Him. I follow His ways and spend time reading His letters each and every day because love drives me to do so- not fear.
Shouldn't it be the same way with our children? Love is what should drive us when raising our children, and when we need to discipline, when we need to set boundaries and rules, they need to be rules laid down with love. I guess I don't really know what the answer here is, because as a parent it's really easy to look over at little Johnny and say something like "if you don't stop doing that, you'll get a spanking" or "if you don't stop hitting your sister, your precious toy will go in the garbage". How does a parent get a child to stop bad behavior without using fear as a motivator?
I can't say I truly know what the answer is, but I can say what works for my children. They hate hearing that their mom or dad is disappointed in them. Disapproval is a very strong motivator for them, because they love us and want us to be pleased with them all the time. And when they display exceptionally good behavior in situations, we make a point to show our pride in their efforts, and we'll reward them with a small token or a treat for a very special occasion. It encourages them and shows them that good behavior is desirable.
This is a verse to think on today, and a whole process to think on. Because the absolute last thing I want is for one of my children to be afraid of me. The last thing I want is for them to behave only because they are afraid of the punishment if they don't. What I want is for them to want to behave out of love. Isn't our relationship with our Heavenly Father based on love? And if our roles here on earth are to prepare us for a lifetime with Him, it seems to me that we should make every effort to train our children in the way that He would have them trained. God has not given us a spirit of fear, and we should not turn around and try to use that very thing to train our children with. Because if God has not given us fear, where do you suppose it comes from? I think that is not something I want to encourage to grow in the lives and minds of my children.