When we purchased our first home four years ago, we inherited a renegade grapevine that sprawled across an insufficient arbor in the backyard. It had become wild, consuming the trees along our property line and devouring at least three different fences in neighboring yards.
The grape clusters were sparse and grew so high up in the trees, my husband had to borrow an extension ladder from a neighbor just to reach them. Worse, the vine was in danger of killing itself. The roots couldn’t produce enough energy to support the out-of-control branches. Without drastic intervention, it would slowly die.
This was a shame because the grapes on this vine are particularly tasty. The person who planted the vine and built the arbor probably knew that. He had great intentions of harvesting bountiful fruit. But that’s where his interest in the plant ended. He did not care to prune or fertilize it, and he never trained its willful vines to grow where they could be strongest.
Whoever planted the vine did not love it enough to help it reach its potential. As a result, the undisciplined vine was not healthy, productive, or even enjoyable. In fact, it was downright annoying. It was growing all over the neighborhood in a tangled mess, and I didn’t know how to begin to bring it under control.
So I did the only reasonable thing: I ignored it and planted two new grape vines. The first year, the little whips needed little attention. But the second year, things started to happen and I had to do something. It had not occurred to me before that I knew nothing about growing grapes. I searched the Internet, read books, and consulted diagrams. My shoots don’t look like the diagrams. So I evaluated each one, looking for strengths and weaknesses. Finally, I had to clip things that might or might not grow back and tried to compensate with an extra layer of compost.
I began to understand why the first grapevine was left to nature. Discipline is tricky business.
It is true of grapes, and it is true of children, only more so. You cannot have truly healthy, productive, and enjoyable children if you do not practice discipline. Notice, I didn’t say “if you do not practice punishment.” Discipline and punishment are two different things. Punishment is one aspect of discipline, but so is praise and encouragement! Proper discipline includes both.
We are accustomed in our society to interchange the terms discipline and punishment, which is unfortunate. Because of this, “discipline” often has a negative connotation. You may even have felt angry, defensive, or anxious when you read the word.
But discipline is anything but negative. It means to teach or train with the intention of developing or improving a desired character or skill. Discipline is the process of weeding out weaknesses and encouraging strengths. It always keeps the best interests of the object in mind. The result of discipline is that a child is able to become more fully himself. That’s something you don’t always see in the books on discipline, but it is a vital truth.
Imagine how different our homes would be if every child was considered a unique and special member of God’s creation. What would happen if each mother and father looked at each child and thought, “I wonder what treasures God has given you that I can help to polish and cut? I wonder what kind of light you can shine if I help you?”
And instead of corralling behaviors and doling out punishments and rewards, as necessary as those things are, each parent made it his or her first intention to seek out the gifts and calling of that child so that the child could pursue it, become equipped to do it, and then delight in it for the glory of God?
What a rich and beautiful world it would be! Instead of rows and rows of perfectly cultivated apple trees growing along perfectly tidy streets, ours would be a world of winding paths through glorious orchards bursting with every kind of exotic specimen ever created. Each and every plant would be grown and trained to reach its fullest potential, each one disciplined to achieve its best, each one trained to be beautiful and productive. Not a single tree would be made to fulfill a purpose for which it was not intended.
How delightful it would be to live in a world like that! How delightful it would be to raise children like that!
If the cultivator of my overgrown grapevine had loved the vine enough to discipline in that way, it would have been pruned so the best vines could strengthen and grow. Instead of wasting energy on unproductive greenery, the roots could have produced and sustained glorious fruit. It would have been trained to grow over the arbor where the beauty of the plant and the abundance of the fruit could be enjoyed. A vine like that would be more fully itself than the one that was left to die in my backyard.
Isn’t the same true of our children? When we seek to cultivate our children in the way they were created, they are healthier, happier, and more enjoyable for it. They get to be the best them they can be.
Our world was formed by an infinitely creative God to be rich and varied, and so were our families. Disciplining our children allows the spectacular individualism of their God-given natures to shine through. If we fail to train them in the way God intended them to grow, or attempt to train them to be something they are not, they will suffer, and we will miss out on the joy of God’s workmanship.
My grandparents raised eight children. Four became missionaries or dedicated themselves to full-time ministry. One became a chiropractor, another a fireman, and another a businessman. And one became a race car driver.
The last one is not like the others, and that is the fun of it. If you ever watch my uncle race, you will see that he is most fully himself when he is out on the track or under the hood of a car. His passions, which have been disciplined into a life-long pursuit, are the part of him that most clearly communicates who he is and what he was made to do. They are the part that shouts out to God’s infinite creativity.
When we discipline our children to pursue the passions put in their hearts by God, they become more fully who they were intended to be. They get to be themselves, only better. And we get to enjoy them as they were meant to be.
Join us tomorrow for Day 7: Constancy
For further thought
1) How is discipline a loving act toward your children?
2) The Bible says God disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6). How is God’s discipline of you a loving act? How does it show His father-heart toward you?
3) Think about each of your children. Write down the good and godly qualities you see in them. How can you discipline those things to bear more fruit in their lives?