Last year I was an Awana Cubby leader. I had some skin in the game (two Cubbies of my own), so I decided it was only right for me to help out. One night I sat in the back and looked over the sea of little blue preschool vests, the kids wiggling excitedly as they listened to the Bible story from their leader. The leader stopped in the middle of the story to address a couple of distracting Cubbies. “No, Cubbies. We don’t spit on each other. Listen to the story and have self-control.”
I smiled to myself. Good job, teacher, I thought. Don’t let those little troublemakers get away with it. They need to learn self-control now while they’re young. They need to be thoughtful of those around them, respectful of their teacher, and—oh, shoot. Those are my kids.
Discipline always seems easier when we are applying it to someone else’s kids, doesn’t it? When it comes to our own kids, we’re a mess. How do we know if we’re being too hard or too soft? Why does what works for kid number one not work for kid number three? We’re too close to the situation. We’re emotionally and physically drained and headed toward burnout.
I clearly remember a day that I disciplined my three-year-old for throwing a toy in anger. I told him to sit on his bed and think about what we learned about self-control. Situation over, discipline nailed. Right? Not so much. He turned around and said, “No. I will NOT think about ANYTHING.”
Oh, boy. I realized then and there that discipline is not something I can check off my to-do list. It’s an inseparable part of daily parenting – whether I like it or not. After having five boys in exactly seven years, I realized discipline was a train I was not getting off anytime soon.
But at the same time God began showing me that that’s a good thing. I not only want to stay on this train, I want to ride it all the way to its final destination: my kids’ hearts. Discipline allows me to connect with my kids in a personal, precious way. Most importantly, discipline lays the foundation for teaching my kids the gospel.
And now I want to come alongside you parents with a personal and embarrassingly raw account of what God has taught me about the “D” word. What does discipline have to do with the gospel? Theology is wonderful—but how does it help me with my screaming two-year-old in the middle of WalMart? How do we strike the balance between too much discipline and too little, especially when we are exhausted and discouraged?
I didn’t write this book because discipline comes naturally to me. I wrote it because my kid pushed your kid into the pool at swim lessons. I wrote it because last week I had to leave the grocery store early when my kids were wrestling in the aisles. And I wrote it because discipline seems exhausting and discouraging only when we leave out the most important ingredient: the gospel.
If you’re looking for a formula that will turn disobedient kids into perfect little angels, you won’t find it. God doesn’t give us a formula. He gives us principles. The Holy Spirit gives us wisdom to use those principles to point our kids to Christ. When your kids disobey, they are telling you something. Strain your ears to hear past the tantrums, the rebellious stomping, and the disrespectful tone. They are saying, “Mom . . . I don’t know how to obey on my own. Can you help me?”
This is our time. This is our chance to point our kids to the only thing that matters: the gospel. God has given us the task of discipline not just so we can survive today but to lead our kids to the cross. Discipline is a beautiful privilege and I want to show you how to find joy in it. There is so much more to discipline than creative strategies, checklists, and behavior management. There’s Jesus.
Sara Wallace is a wife, author, and stay-at-home mom. She and her family live in Idaho where they minister in their church plant and homeschool their five little boys. Sara loves to cook, decorate her home, and write about the crazy blessing of parenting.