Chasten your son while there is hope,
and do not set your heart on his destruction.
Here we have a verse that is a great kick in the pants for parents. Combined with the command to train up your children in the way they should go, this is a really strong marching order. Get on it parents. If you do not want your children to depart from the way they should go as they grow, we need to be training now.
The part that I find interesting in this is the second half. It doesn’t sound like this is a grieving parent exactly. This is more a situation of a parent who is not chastening, which produces the kind of child that you would like to see judged. I know you have seen a lot of public displays of this kind of thing – parents who are publicly shaming their disobedient teenagers because they would like nothing more than to see their children really get what is coming to them. Sometimes you see it in the making – a parent rolling their eyes at you about the disobedient children who are in their shopping cart. In effect they are saying, “Look at me. Don’t you feel bad for me? Look at what kind of children I got.” Or maybe you simply hear them yelling in overly dramatic tones at a small child – acting hugely put upon that their child was standing up in the cart, and not at all put out that they are the ones yelling like a child in the store. Whatever the case, they never seem to connect their own behavior to that of their children. They aren’t connecting their own lack of chastening to their desire to see their children judged.
But most likely in our circles, this is not the case. Most likely we are disciplining our children, we are wanting them to grow into strong Christians, and we have no desire to see them destroyed. But how might we be tempted to shield our children from chastening? What is a way that we might blindly turn them away from the chastening and toward the judgment? This will doubtless seem like a leap – so bear with me.
I have often thought that one of God’s great kindnesses is the inescapability of illness. The fact that the stomach bug simply descends upon us is a real mercy. The first time that my first baby got seriously sick, I was shocked by the depth of my desire to take it away from her. I did not want her to have to feel this. I realized that if God left it up to us, we would never, ever volunteer our children for sickness. Just take a moment to imagine what kind of people we would make. Imagine an adult who didn’t know what it was like to suffer, to have a fever, or to be wretched sick.
We would never ask God to make the other kids exclude them on the playground. We would beg God to keep that mean kid from saying that to them. We would run interference with coaches, and teachers – making sure that they never did anything that would actually be hard on our children. We don’t want our children to suffer. And while that is a natural instinct, it is a way of setting your heart on their destruction.
Mothers can spend so much time trying to keep their kids from getting sick, that we forget that when sickness comes, it is God doing the refining. Although I don’t imagine any mother ever being excited to hear someone vomiting in the night, we should welcome the spiritual exercise of being sick. When God refines our children through illness, difficulty, a speech impediment, a mean kid, a hard teacher, a scary dream, we need our loyalties to be right. Most often, our first instinct is to side with the dross.
But this is not the way of a wise parent. When our children are in the furnace of trial (however small that flame might seem), we must side with the gold. The dross that is burning off is something that we should not defend. When our children are sick – we need to point them to gratitude. When our children are grumpy, we must point them to joy. When our children are excluded, we need to help them learn the lesson in it for them, not rush off to apply it to others. Motherly defensiveness is not always kindness. A wise mother encourages her children to let go of the dross – to accept the lessons, whether they are trivial or monumental, that is found in the furnace.
Samuel Rutherford said this beautifully “Why should I start at the plow of my Lord that makes the deep furrows on my soul? I know He is no idle Husbandman; He purposes a crop.”
When God is plowing in the hearts of our children, we should not be running along side with band aids and crying about it. We should not be getting angry. God purposeth a crop, and the fact that the field He is plowing is one that we are sentimental about must not keep us from trusting. Trying to prevent that kind of plowing is trying to prevent a harvest. It is setting your heart on your child’s destruction.