Given the way I feel tonight (and I’ve felt all day), I know I won’t get through the entire subject tonight. It occurred to me today, that I ought to pick up on the last post and further clarify the issue between mercy and judgement. In the previous posts on this subject I have been free to interchange the word punishment and judgement. I would call the Ezzo/TTUAC parenting method a judgement based method. I have consciously interchanged the words because the two acts are inextricably linked. You cannot punish someone, unless you have judged them and found them to have failed to meet up with some standard or measure (eg. a law).
Now, in the last post I wrote/quoted that from a Christian perspective mercy triumphs over judgement. This means first of all that it is the Christian belief that mercy is stronger or more powerful than judgement. The second thing this implies is that the two are not compatible. If they were in some way compatible, then they would triumph together. They are exclusive to one another. That only one or the other can be directed toward a single object. As it relates to someone having failed to meet a standard, to have mercy toward that person is to forgive them. Forgiveness is a common thread through Christian doctrine.
When it comes to someone having not met the standard (i.e. what Christians call sin), the single choice that must be made first, by an offended party, is whether to judge or to forgive. If a sin is forgiven, then there is no punishment. If a sin is punished, since a form of recompense has already been administered, forgiveness from the administering party is no longer possible (except if/when the punishment is later repented).
In the Old Testament, Israel was instructed to forgive 7 times. The disciple Peter asked Jesus for clarification of that. Jesus replied that he was to forgive 7 time 70 (490) times. Jesus was not telling generations of Christians that they needed to carry around a little note book where they tallied people’s offenses against them. What He was telling Peter was that if he was counting, he was not forgiving. To look for the day or time when you might justly dole out the appropriate recompense for offenses is not forgiveness. Whether the offending party is an adult or child makes no difference because that state of mind (perspective/world view) is yours and not that of the offending party.
While thinking through this subject, there were a couple of things which occurred between Emma and I over the last 6 months or so. The first was a month or so before her fifth birthday. One day, she wanted a treat of some kind and told Andrea that I had said the night before that she could have it. At an opportune time where she could ask in private, Andrea asked me if I had told her that. I hadn’t. I told Andrea to not worry about it and not say anything to her about it. That night it was Andrea’s turn at putting her to bed (reading stories, etc.) Emma had already given me my good night hug and kiss and gone off to her room with mom. She was only there a few minutes and she needed me. When I entered the room, she burst into tears and said, “Daddy, I made a lie.” And through those tears proceeded to tell me what I already knew.
If I were to follow the advice of many, I would have punished her, ‘to teach her that lying is bad/sin’. If what I have described has not already compelled you to see that she already know’s that, I don’t know how to explain to you that children already know that. What I did, instead, was hold her and allow her time to say everything she needed to say. Then, I whispered in her ear, “I forgive you.” This was followed by a few sobs of relief and then she was ready to resume her bedtime routine.
Over the last 3 or 4 months, Emma had taken to saying, “I promise.” and then not keeping it. Until a few weeks ago, the only parental thing I did toward that was remind her that she had promised. What I did a few weeks ago was explain to her that when she said, “I promise.”, she was telling someone that she was going to do something. I further explained that I understood that the reason she was saying it was to get something or around something. (Bear in mind this is not an adult, lecturing a child but a 2-way conversation between us.) Then I told her that I did not want her to say, “I promise” unless she was going to do what she promised. (I want to be clear her that I did not in any way hint or suggest that there was some sort of consequences if she didn’t do what I said. Instead, I told her what I expected of her.) To the best of my knowledge, she has not ‘promised’ since. She definitely hasn’t to me.
I have to be honest and say that what I am describing to you was learned through trial and error. Through all the parenting I’ve come to realize that the Christian parent’s primary duty is to model the character of Christ who said:
Thy sins be forgiven thee.
Go, and sin no more. And
Forgive them, for they know not what they do.
And who among us, moreso that children, know not what they do? I’m not saying that they don’t realize that they are doing something wrong (eg. lying). What I am saying is that children do not understand the implications of what they are doing (it is not as though the soldiers who were crucifying Jesus did not know they were crucifying someone).
As a father, there is only one way for me to teach my children that when they say, “Father,…forgive me my transgressions?” to believe that those transgressions will be forgiven. And that is to forgive them before they learn how to say forgive me, forgive them to the degree and consistency that cultivates a relationship where such a request is welcomed. Secondly, I must model a character that seeks forgiveness from my children. This 2 sided approach is the only way that a child can learn what it is to be both an offended party and an offending party. I can punish until I am blue in the face and my children will not learn nor know forgiveness.