I don’t even remember what rule my daughter broke.
But it was significant enough that she needed to be punished. Her dad and I knew it. She knew it.
We tried to be creative in the discipline of our children. It was all too easy to resort to spanking or time out. But we quickly found that, at times, those two methods didn’t faze our girls. It was like, “okay, I did wrong. Get the spanking over. Let’s move on” and all of us would forget – until next time.
So we often turned to two other methods. First, we tried to match the punishment to the crime. If they didn’t finish their homework, they couldn’t watch tv. If they dawdled getting ready for bed, they lost the same amount of time doing what they wanted to do the next day. As they grew, we tried the other method of asking how they thought they ought to be punished. We were amazed! They were both creative – and harder on themselves than we ever dreamed of being.
These two methods took more time and conferencing on Mom and Dad’s part. The girls said later, waiting for our decision of what the punishment would be was the worst part. Anticipation of the unknown was terrible.
On this particular day, Jack suggested we try, just this once, a completely different approach. “Let’s teach her about grace,” he said.
We went back into the living to face a very scared little girl. Jack explained what she had done wrong and why she deserved to be punished. Our daughter nodded slightly. We could tell she just wanted to get it over with. “But we’re not going to punish you,” Jack said. “This is grace. You deserve to be punished but we are going to forgive you.” He explained to her in simple language that this is what Jesus did when he died on the cross, that he took the punishment we deserved so we wouldn’t have to suffer the punishment for what we did wrong. “So-” he waved his hand at her. “You’re free to go play.” We hugged her and a baffled little girl ran off to her toys.
She’s now an adult and she has told us that was the moment she understood the meaning of grace. It was a lesson she never forgot.
Our kids can learn grace. It’s a lesson that can be far more effective when it isn’t relegated to a Sunday morning sermon or Sunday School class. It can be taught in the home, along the paths of everyday life, even in the school and college classroom.
I so appreciated the transcript of a wonderful speech, The Lesson of Grace in Teaching, given by Francis Edward Su, who emphasized that we so need to communicate to our students that accomplishments are not what make them a worthy human being. He then proceeded to share how we need to extend grace to our students.
Grace means treating each student equally no matter how well or how poorly they do in school. Grace means treating students with mercy when they fail to meet our expectations. Grace responds compassionately when their need trumps their performance.
Su tells of a time when he approached his professor about needing an extension on his work because his mother died. The professor’s response? “I’m really sorry about your mother. Let me take you to coffee.” Su said, ” this simple act of kindness—of authentic humanness—gave me a greater capacity and motivation to learn from him, because we had entered into authentic community with each other, as teacher and student, who were real people to each other.”
That’s grace. That’s looking beyond the expectations to the true need.
Our kids today desperately need to know they are valuable, not for what they can do but for who they are. I’m not suggesting permissiveness. They still need to know the boundaries and the consequences of poor choices. But once in awhile, we need to take a moment to balance the lesson with the agenda of grace.
Professor Su’s article is long. But I truly do encourage you to take the time to read it. As you read, think of the children and students in your life. How can you teach the lesson of grace to the children you serve?
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