Punishment vs. Discipline

Last summer, I participated in a group exercise program through my church. Never before have I regularly exercised and made an effort to watch what I eat. I was always one of those girls who could eat anything and sit around and stay skinny. Well, not anymore. Suddenly I am focusing on being disciplined, instead of being the one handing out the discipline. Either way, it is tough.

While going through this new process, I was inspired by something my pastor said in a sermon. “Punishment focuses on the past and what you did, discipline focuses on the future and how you can grow.” After twenty years of parenting, this was a new view for me. As a pastor, he was using this to talk about how God does not punish , but He does discipline. As a mother, I started to wonder which one I use most. As a woman, I wonder if I discipline myself, or punish myself. As a wife, am I punishing my husband for his mistakes or trying to change things for the future? This perspective makes a world of difference.

As a mother, it is important to never go after your child in anger. Any instruction or restrictions on our children should be for their own personal growth. One of my biggest pet peeves is the parent who punishes in public because they are embarrassed by something their child did. I understand how this feels, but that doesn’t make it right. That is punishment for our ego’s sake and a kid can spot that a mile off. Any punishment that is venting our anger is abusive and never in the child’s best interest.

This is not to say that discipline should be sweet or pleasant. It should hurt in a way that is meaningful to the child. Pain is nature’s way of letting us know we should never do what we just did again. Without getting into the debate over spanking, there are many other ways you can get this message across to a child in a firm but loving manner. Find a way that communicates strongly, “for your own good, you should never want to do that again”. Right now, for my eight-year-old son, that is tied up in video games. For my older children, it could mean no iPod or cell phone. I have even threatened to ground my children from church when it is their favorite activity. Whatever they are attached to, leverage it without shame.

As for punishing ourselves, this is a bad habit many women are stuck in. When we cheat on our diets, we throw in the towel. That is not growth for the future. We must stay positive and start over again, a hundred times if necessary. When we fail at something new, we tell ourselves it is just not something we are good at. Certainly we will not be great at everything we put our hand to, but don’t punish yourself out of an opportunity to overcome some obstacles and triumph in a difficult area.

In our relationships, this concept is especially tricky because we are not mother or boss to our loved ones. It is not up to us to discipline them but the focus on the future can still help you keep your goals in a relationship clear. When conflict comes, are you all about venting and raging and punishing or can you take a breath and focus on restoring whatever is broken. Do you pout in silence to make someone you care about pay for what they said or did? This kind of acting out only adds to the stack of junk that would need to be sorted through to maintain a healthy relationship. That stack gets big enough on its own, so don’t add to it.

In all relationships, it is best to give out the grace that has been given to us. We will never catch up to the matchless grace of God, so make grace a habit.  Ask God to show you a place between total dominance and excessive liberty. The beauty part is, His grace will be extended to you while you are learning to sort it out! Don’t forget to extend some grace to yourself as well.

I am interested to see how this new way of thinking plays out in these areas of my life. Any time we move toward the future and away from the past with a positive outlook and a desire to be like Christ, growth is happening. Whatever place you are in your life right now, you can work on growing toward being a better person to the people in your sphere of influence. For me, it is great to know there is always room and opportunity for improvement. Let’s take full advantage of that.

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