"Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children -- 'My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him, for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.' ... Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled." -- Hebrews 12:3~17 (in part)
Something must be in the air. I am seeing, or hearing about, a number of people behaving badly. I'm not talking about lapses of behavior due to ignorance or just not thinking. No, I'm talking about significant willful transgressions. Now, I know that you really don't have to look very far afield to find examples of people willfully behaving badly. It's just that I don't usually hear or see it in my own small world very often. Life has been very unusual lately.
First, a friend tells me that her daughter's ex-husband wants to skip out on paying child support because he's planning on becoming a priest. Seriously?? On what planet do those two things -- a deadbeat dad and a priest -- go together? Thankfully, the judge had very little patience with this "man of God."
Later that same day, I saw the driver of a Hyundai run into a parked Honda while at a "Safe Driving" event at my son's high school, damaging the back bumper of the Honda and its own front side panel. Accidents happen, of course, but the thing is, when I went back to my car after the start of the program (it was much too graphic for my younger children, so I needed to take them home and then come back), I noticed the Hyundai parked in a different parking space, away from the damaged Honda.
I was amazed at this obvious attempt to avoid doing the right thing. I felt the injustice of it. So I took down the license plate information of both cars, and later gave the details to the principal. (Unfortunately, I didn't think to leave a note on the Honda!) At the end of the program, as I listened to the principal speak about the student Code of Conduct, which includes respect and responsibility, and "doing what's right, not what's easy," I hoped that the driver of the Hyundai was listening and would reconsider his/her evasive actions. I did not envy him or her the difficulty of doing the right thing, but I thought the guilt of not doing the right thing, and the lies that would have to be told, would be even more difficult to bear and more corrosive, in the long run.
Then, at our council meeting earlier in the week, our pastor spoke strong words against forwarding
council business emails to other people. I have never seen our usually
easy going and humorous pastor so seriously angry. But the forwarding
of private emails had happened more than once and was causing more than a few
Then, yesterday, at my youngest son's elementary school, I witnessed a child, possibly five or six years old, throwing a royal temper tantrum, stomping feet, crying, and yelling rudely and very loudly, at a young, petite woman who seemed to be her mother. The child wanted to be carried. The mother stood there meekly, quietly trying to calm her furious child down, not arguing with her. And the child did eventually quiet down. But then the mother carried the child (who was more than half her size) across the parking lot to the pick-up/drop-off lane, setting her down to wait for a ride. At that the daughter again began to yell, cry, and stomp her feet, even pulling on the mother's shoulders and trying to jump into her arms. The mother again stood there quietly as her daughter ranted and raved at the top of her voice.
I prayed that the mother would resist, and stay strong, for clearly she was trying, at long last, to wean her child from being carried. But the daughter's behavior and rudeness to her mother was more than I could ignore. I wanted to help this mother. So I walked over to them and asked the woman if this was her daughter, and she said, "Yes." Then I asked the daughter, very calmly and politely, "How old are you, honey?" The daughter didn't answer, but continued to abuse her mother, now hitting her on the arms. I said, "You know, if you are older than about three, you really shouldn't be carried anymore. Are you older than three?" The child barely looked at me before returning to yell at and pummel her mother. I said, "Please stop hitting your mother. She loves you." However, nothing I said was going to stop this child. I finally gave up and walked away, not envying the mother the difficult road ahead for her, but hoping she would find the strength to discipline her child.
As I wondered if I could have done more to help the driver of the Honda or the woman and child, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I was turning into an interfering old woman. My husband had looked at me in surprise when I told him about speaking to the mother and child, as if to say, "You did what??"
But then, after writing of my concerns in my journal at the end of the day yesterday, I read the above passage from the daily lectionary. In the middle of the passage are these words: "...for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children... Now discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." So, I believe that God is trying to tell me something.
We all need discipline. We need self-discipline; we need to listen to God's discipline for us; and, sometimes, we need to help discipline each other. For truly, if you love someone, you will care enough about them to make sure they stay on the right path -- for them and for those around them.
This is much easier to do when it's your own children. It becomes increasingly harder with other family members, and friends, and co-workers, and acquaintances. It can be downright dangerous with strangers. However, the same truth applies to all. If you love someone, then you must care enough to offer a word of correction, as gently as possible but as forcefully as necessary. If you can watch a person willfully harming another person, or animal, or property, and not intervene, then you cannot love them, or the other people or animals involved.
Jesus came to show the world this kind of love. Through gentle words and not so gentle words, he brought insistent correction. He was willing to suffer every criticism, and pain, even to the point of shedding his blood, to demonstrate his abiding love for everyone. We also are called to love our neighbor, even the stranger, as much as ourselves, in this same way.
The last sentence, verse 17, in the passage above is crucial, whatever we do. Somehow, every correction must be completely wrapped up in mercy. For we too commit transgressions, and we too need mercy. That is what distinguished Jesus from those around him. There was judgment but it was wrapped-up completely in grace.
I was talking to my children about the mother and child today. My oldest son thinks I have a superman complex -- first the car incident, and now the
mother and child. And I have to admit, I do sort of have a superman complex. I always have -- although as a child I would have called it a Wonder Woman complex. In third grade, I remember fighting a bully who was picking on my friend. Like Wonder Woman, I jabbed and kicked as fast as I could, to teach him a lesson.
I have lost some of that fearlessness, as I've gotten older, but, thankfully, not all of it.
Still, perhaps God is telling me to have even more of this kind of courage. Believe it or not, I often quiet my desire to correct other people, for fear of hurting their feelings or sparing myself the repercussions. Perhaps this passage is God's word of discipline for me: more words of correction plus more mercy equals more love.
Dear God, you challenge me to do your will in all areas of my life. Please fill me with wisdom and strength, as always, to meet every challenge with love. Always yours, Pam