Friday, February 17, 2012

Truth vs. Punishment

One important aspect of Garden Parenting is teaching our kids that truth in communication is preeminent.  The relationship between child and parent can only be as strong as the communication channels that it flows through.

As I was growing up, one of the major hindrances for me when it came to communicating with my parents was the fear of punishment.  Many times it was just easier to avoid the potential for punishment by either not communicating, causing diversions, outright deceit, or a combination of varying strategies.

Now that I am seeing things from the parents perspective I am realizing that, as a parent, I would much rather have my child willing to be truthful in their communication, even if it means that I have to "let them off the hook" from time to time.  If, in their minds, it comes down to truth versus punishment, I want them to know that truth always wins out.

Honest communication should be the path of least resistance.  Not deceit or hollow obedience.

In our household we have attempted to remove punitive punishment from our parenting journey.  It is a lot more work to harmonize and utilize natural consequences as your main teaching tool, but I would much rather bank on God's created order than my own arbitrary "punishment" menu.

The other night I experienced yet another refreshing dose of the fruit of Garden Parenting.

Abram (age 3) was playing with Hannah's (age 5) balloon.  The balloon was old and nearly completely deflated.  Surprisingly it had survived for a number of weeks in our house. It was used for everything from science experiments (putting it in the fridge to see how things shrink when they get cold) to make believe kites (tied to a string and drug behind screaming kids running through the house).

As Pax (almost 2), Becky and I were sitting at the table talking after dinner, Abram decided to use the small balloon as a chair on the living room floor.  I looked over after I heard the muffled pop, which was really pretty pathetic because the balloon was so deflated, as the balloon finally gave up the ghost.

Abram, with a puzzled look, gazed at the latex carcass.

After a short conversation with me telling him to throw the balloon away and go apologize to Hannah for breaking her balloon, he ran into the bathroom and said "Hannah, Pax broke your balloon!"

At age 3 he seems to understand the idea of the path of least resistance.  Blame his younger brother and he will have an easier time with Hannah. Seems logical. But that is not life in the Kingdom. We are trying to teach him how to live in the Kingdom.

We started discussing this idea of telling the truth without the fear of punishment when something amazing happened.

Hannah emerged from the bathroom and just naturally walked up to Abram.  First she turned him so he was facing her, and then she said in her cute 5 year old big sister voice, "Abram, you should always tell the truth." She continued seamlessly, "Abram, I am not going to get mad at you and you won't get into trouble, I just want you to tell me the truth."

I had no words at that point.  Everything that I was trying to explain to Abram, his little sister just accomplished.  Abram mumbled something about breaking the balloon and being sorry, and then he and Hannah hugged.  I think Hannah said something about getting new balloons as they headed off together to get ready for bed, but I was in a different world rejoicing that Hannah was starting to understand this lesson well enough to explain it to Abram.

One of Becky's favorite verses is I John 4:18
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I don't have time to go into the context of 1 John but in a nutshell John is writing to believers who are living in difficult situations.  They were being bombarded by the Judaizers.  Jews who were either rejecting Christ in favor of the Law (TORAH) or those who accepted Christ but were also preaching that adherence to Torah was required, especially for Gentiles. (Interestingly enough this tension between Jews and Gentiles becoming one new man IN Christ is the focus of most of the New Testament letters.  Both Paul and John point to one universal antidote, LOVE.) 

John is telling his audience to hold fast to Christ because the old world that the Judaizers where holding onto was about to disappear.  It was the last hour of the Old Covenant system.  

The great question that plagued the early church was about to be answered.  Who were the true "Children of God?" Was it those who were of faith in Christ? Or was it those who clung to the OC system of Law as the means to attain a right relationship with God?  Who fulfilled the law?  Those who put their faith in Christ or those who toiled by the sweat of their brow?

With that background, John's encouragement that perfect love casts out fear would strike home with his audience at so many levels.  There was no fear of punishment for not adhering so some external code the Judaizers were demanding.  There was no fear of what the Judaizers could do, even though they were able to persecute Christians even up to death, because the Christians understood that their relationship with God was restored, no matter what.  Live or die, they were with Christ! They were true Children of God. 

We do not live in the same circumstances as John's audience, although there are many attempts to recreate external man made fences to define who is in and out.  The answer to their question came not to many years later with the complete obliteration of the physical Temple in Jerusalem.  Everything that the Judaizers were pointing to as required to become a child of God, God himself destroyed.  The only thing left was the true Temple, the Body of Christ, made up of true and vindicated Children of God!

When it comes to parenting, 1 John 4:18 can become a very strong foundation for building open and honest relationships.  In Christ, God's people have finally "grown up."  We should move past "fear of punishment" as a motivation to commune with Christ and fulfill the royal Law of Love. We no longer are under a school master  because we have graduated!

Translating that into our homes is simple.  Fear of punitive punishment, shame, and guilt should not factor into our children's thinking when weighing the pro's and con's of telling the truth.  The only way that can happen is for us parents to remove it from the menu.

The added benefit of this paradigm shift is that our kids learn true responsibility. With fear of punishment removed, they are free to grow, thrive and mature as Kingdom citizens.  We as parents can come along side them and help them learn from the natural consequences God has built into Creation.  Discipling (discipline) our children in this way will help them learn valuable lessons simply for the value those lessons add to our lives as Children of God instead adhering to an external standard because it is the path of least resistance.


  1. Micah, this was mind-blowing. I literally gaped when I read what Hannah said. You and your family are such... I don't know, an inspiration? I don't know if that's the right word, but you really change my thinking on a deep level. Thank you for this.
    I love you guys.
    Also I love your blog.

  2. Andrea,

    Thank you so much for the kind words. Your family has been an inspiration in my life. I have truly enjoyed watching you guys grow up.

    Hannah took me by surprise too, when she said that, so don't get the wrong idea. We still have fights, friction and craziness in our house just like every other home. It is cool though to see how Kingdom Living changes the way we react and teach our kids. And it is cooler to see our kids catching on at an early age.

    BTW, you are the one that inspired me to start blogging. I mean that sincerely. There was just something about yours and Amy's blogs that pushed me over the hump. Thanks for the encouragement and for leading by example!

    Love you guys too!