Friday, August 28, 2009

Pharisaical Parenting: Punishment and Reward

pharisaical (adj.)--practicing or advocating strict observance of external forms and ceremonies of religion or conduct without regard to the spirit; self-righteous; hypocritical.

I was blown away by the response to my last post, both here in Blogger-land and on Facebook. I'm so glad it was a blessing to so many. The nice thing is that Jesus was the One who was doing everything; I just got to be a part! I'm such a novice in the arena of grace-based parenting. I welcome further reading materials and ideas to round out my experience as a parent. The book I read, Loving our Kids on Purpose, is primarily targeted for children from elementary school age to high-school age. None of my children are in school yet, so I did find it a bit challenging to have ideas for toddler/pre-k children. There were some great principles, though, and I was thrilled to see them succeed when I applied them.

Being creative is the hard part.

It's so hard, in fact, that it is much easier to resort to the punishment/reward system. If you do this bad thing, you receive this punishment. If you do this good thing, Mommy will give you a present. Which, in turn, communicates, "When you're bad, bad things happen to you. When you're good, good things happen to you."

Is this a true idea?

The Pharisees thought so. They lived their lives so perfectly (on the outside) because they really believed they could appease God. They thought that God expected men to fulfill the law and obey Him. What we know about God is that He knew that would never happen. He knows us inside-out, and He knows that His creation is completely incapable of fulfilling any righteous law on their own. So, His plan was for Jesus to come, become sin (think about that until your head explodes) for us, so that we would become righteous in Him. Let's break it down:

  • Mankind chose to give up their relationship with God in the Garden in exchange for the knowledge God was holding out on (in their minds).
  • God, in His mercy and grace, deemed that death was the penalty for sin. In this way, mankind would not be eternally sinful, and there would be an opportunity to redeem mankind out of his sin if mankind would choose a relationship with Him.
  • God gave a Law--a law so perfect that none could keep it. In this way, the Law became a teacher, to show mankind that they needed a Savior; they were powerless on their own to become righteous and have a relationship with God.
  • Jesus was the answer. He has a perfect relationship with His Father. Their desire was to reunite mankind with the Father. Jesus gave up His life, became our sin, suffered our punishment, and reconciled us to God.
  • When we enter into relationship with the Father, we often believe He still wants us to keep that perfect Law. But, that is the sort of thing that couldn't be further from His mind. He just wants us to experience His love and live in relationship with Him. He accepts us and loves us and thinks precious thoughts over us, His children.

Now, I often become the Pharisee when it comes to disciplining my children. I say, "Walk this straight line or suffer my wrath!!!" I, to my own sorrow, have often resorted to yelling, shaming, and spanking in anger that my children would dare to disobey ME. This is not the heart of the God of the Universe. This is the heart of the god of this world. This is the god that numerous peoples have sacrificed their children to on altars, hoping to gain favor with the scary volcano god. This is not our Father.

Therefore, this is NOT how we should parent.

There is NO fear in LOVE.

Perfect love casts out ALL fear.

Let's go back to the idea "When you're bad, bad things happen to you. When you're good, good things happen to you." This is how our world works. You see this in employment, in school, in traffic, in crime. This is how the world operates.

But we are not of this world. We are citizens of a heavenly country!

We are to be like Him in all things. This includes parenting.

Parenting without fear. Parenting without punishment. Parenting with Him.

Your kids are participants in their discipline. You are the loving one, the one leading them to Him. And if we're on the same page, you don't want them to think that He is like those gods demanding they adhere to external list of rules without regard to the spirit.

Now, I'm far from an expert on this topic. I'm a novice. I've only been parenting this way for two weeks. I will say this: it is much harder to parent in this way. It is not easy. It requires more thought, more creativity, and more prayer. It requires more discernment and more time asking the Holy Spirit what in the world to do. But, I truly want my children to trust me as their parent, and to learn to protect our relationship. I don't want them to live in fear of me and my punishments for their sin. I want them to feel safe with me, even when they mess up.

A few things to consider:

  • How do I relate to the Father?
  • What do I think He expects of me?
  • Am I afraid of Him?
  • Do I believe when bad things happen that I did something wrong?
  • How do I relate to my kids?
  • What do I expect of them?
  • Are they afraid of me?
  • Do they feel they have to earn my approval?

I pray this is a blessing and not a burden. It has brought me great joy and freedom both as a child of God and as a parent. I pray it does the same for you.


  1. Hi! I came via an email from Melissa Smith :) Thanks for your blessings through your writing!

    Your family is beautiful!

    I agree that it is so difficult to find balance with this part of our callings as parents. God has been teaching me so much in the last several months and that the number one thing I want to teach them is God is love!!! There are consequences for sin -- we reap what we sow, but love covers a multitude of sins. I find that in those moments where I am on the verge of screaming or want to scream a pharisaical command, if I run to the cross and remind them of their need of a Savoir, it is so much more difficult to speak to them in anger and legalism.

    I haven't read through your archives, but have you read "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp? You probably have. I love the Shepherd's Press blog concerning heart-centered parenting.

  2. I got trigger-happy and didn't finish my comment! :)

    Anyway, thanks for these thoughts. I will return and read some more, God-willing, in the future. God bless you!

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