You May Name Your Boy "Sue" but...

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

"A Boy Named Sue" was created by Shel Silverstein and popularized by Johnny Cash. If you've heard classic country music at all, you probably know it. The song hit #1 on the Billboard Country charts in 1969, and it was Cash's only top 10 single on the Billboard Top 100.  The song tells the tale of a young man's quest for revenge on his absent father. The father's only contribution to his entire life was naming him Sue, a girl's name. The name resulted in regular giggles and bullying at young Sue's expense. The moral (if you can call it that) is found near the end where Sue's father reveals that all of the suffering Sue endured was by design:

And he said: "Son, this world is rough And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough And I knew I wouldn't be there to help ya along. So I give ya that name and I said goodbye I knew you'd have to get tough or die And it's the name that helped to make you strong."

There is an element of truth in that. As much as we may try to pursue comfort for our children, the book of Hebrews teaches that the Father disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6), and this discipline certainly does have a purpose: "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11). Like Sue's name, the Father's discipline does toughen us up.

In spite of this similarity, there are other obvious ways that Sue's dirty, mangy dad is nothing like the Heavenly Father. 

For one thing, our Father is present, and he is speaking to us from a heart of love. Sue's dad "disciplined" his son by abandoning him. But the Heavenly Father's discipline comes with a present and comforting word. The author of Hebrews reminds us of this fact when he asks, "Have you forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons?" (Hebrews 12:5). This "word of encouragement" isn't just any word of God to Israel, but it's God's word through the mouth of of the sage father speaking to his son (Proverbs 3:11-12).  The father's loving presence and words make all the difference. Even in the song, Sue walks away with a (somewhat) different point of view after hearing his father speak. The Father's words make sense of our suffering. When we suffer alone, we only become bitter. But when we suffer in the presence of our Father's comforting words, there is purpose.

As a dad, I wonder how often I'm more like Sue's father than the Heavenly Father. I'm not dealing stud in a Gatlinburg honky-tonk, but I do sometimes dole out discipline with gruff distance and silence. Correction can take the form of punishment and 'go to your room!' instead of  gentle "discipline and instruction." I'm present, but I'm not present. I speak, but my words of correction contain no love and comfort.

Those times reveal how cynical I am about the Father's love. I think that I deserve respect from my children, but I fail to honor God for the way he uses parenting trials to discipline me for my good. The author of Hebrews reminds us, "We have all had human fathers who discipled us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!" (Hebrews 12:9).  The discipline we endure as parents is painful, but the Father desires for it to draw us closer to him and make us more like him: "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness" (Hebrews 12:10b). He wants us to come to him.  We don't have to hunt Him down in a spirit of revenge. We can draw near and experience both his guiding staff and his correcting rod as a comfort (Psalm 23:4).

This is the way that our Father's discipline makes us tough. When the Father has his way with his children, we won't kick like a mule or bite like a crocodile. Instead, our Father's training produces in us character like his own--a harvest of righteousness and peace.

Thursday Book Club: The Proverbs Driven Life: The "how" of discipline.

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

A Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and RelationshipsAnthony Selvaggio. A Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships, "Chapter 12, Still Sinners, A Parents' Need for the Grace of God." (Shepherd Press, 2008) In Proverbs, "discipline" means education and training in a broad sense.  Moreover, Proverbs does not prescribe one single method of discipline but an array of methods (179-80).  In his second chapter on parenting, Selvaggio looks at two broad categories--verbal discipline and corporal discipline:

Speak the Truth in Love: Verbal Discipline

While corporal discipline can be justified in the book of Proverbs,  the overwhelming biblical emphasis is on training children by speaking to them.  "In fact, Proverbs teaches that parents should seek to become so effective at verbal discipline that corporal discipline eventually becomes unnecessary" (180).  Verbal discipline involves encouragements and warnings.

Encourage Good Behavior

Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.  Though it cost all you have, get understanding.  Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.  Proverbs 4:7-8

A primary method of discipline throughout Scripture is verbal encouragement that explains to children the benefits of pursuing what is good.  Parents should express verbal incentives in language that a particular child can understand.  In Proverbs 4, the father calls on his adolescent son, who is obviously interested in the opposite sex, "to embrace wisdom as he would a beautiful and godly wife, urging him to see that this will bring him honor in the community" (181).  Effective parents tailor incentives to the unique interests and desires of their particular children.

Discourage Bad Behavior

My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them.  Proverbs 1:10

The wise man also takes time to explain the consequences of disobedience.  "Verbal discouragement of bad behavior involves both warning and explanation, exposing the sin for what it is...  A boy of seven playing with matches should be told not to do so, but he must also be shown the destruction that can result.  A girl of thirteen flirting with pre-marital sex should be told to stop, but she should also be informed about the painful consequences  of sexually transmitted diseases, the burdens of teenage pregnancy, and the benefits of abstinence prior to marriage that would be forfeited" (184).

Speak Purposefully

Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  Proverbs 27:5

"The words of discipline we speak to our children need to be clear, true, and loving.  Those words that encourage godly behavior must be full of the joy and promise of God's blessing.  Those words that discourage sinful behavior must seek to warn and persuade in no uncertain terms, for there is much at stake" (185).

The Exception, Not the Rule: Corporal Discipline

Corporal discipline is the second biblical method within a parent's disposal.  "Normally discipline should begin with verbal correction, and often that is enough.  But especially when children are younger, most parents will find it necessary on occasion, to couple verbal discipline with corporal discipline" (186).

Selvaggio points out two important differences between verbal and corporal discipline.  First, corporal discipline is always corrective.  Parents should apply corporal punishment only "in response to a specific instance of sin or foolishness" (186).  Corporal discipline is intended to prevent future sin, but it is only to be used in response to past sin (189).  Second, each instance of corporal discipline must be combined with verbal instruction "so that the child understands as clearly as possible why the corporal discipline is being applied" (186).

According to Proverbs, corporal discipline is reserved only for the obstinate. "Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is found on the back of him who lacks judgment" (Proverbs 10:13).  "Children who will not receive verbal correction must receive a different, more direct, form of correction" (188).   For the obstinate, "the rod of correction imparts wisdom" (Proverbs 29:15), but the punishment must fit the crime.  As the apostle warns, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).  Parents must never discipline their children out of frustration and anger.  They should guard their hearts against desires to maintain their own righteousness or authority.  Rather, "corporal discipline should always be motivated  by love for the child and exercised in a spirit of self-control" (189).  God did not intend the rod for retribution or pure punishment but as a corrective and restorative measure.

God's Discipline

When we consider how God the Father disciplines us, this highlights the restorative nature of parental discipline.  God disciplines us verbally.  "Hear, O my people, and I will warn you--if you would but listen to me, O Israel!" (Psalm 81:8).  And he disciplines his children corporally.  "My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in" (Proverbs 3:11-12).  God uses pain and suffering to correct and discipline us--to restore us and help us to grow.  God disciplines us corporally "because we are his children, and therefore he loves us like a father, extends mercy to us, and desires what is best for us--even when what is best is not what is most pleasant" (193).

Thursday Book Club: A Proverbs Driven Life: The "why" of discipline

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment
A Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships
Two chapters in Anthony Selvaggio's masterful work on the book of Proverbs are dedicated to parenting.  In my next two additions of the Thursday Book Club, I'll summarize and interact briefly with these two chapters. The first gives biblical evidence for the "why" of discipline--helping parents discover a biblical motivation for disciplining their children:

Anthony Selvaggio.  A Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships, "Chapter 11, Born Foolish, A Child's Need for Discipline." (Shepherd Press, 2008)

In the book of Proverbs, "discipline" has in view a range of activities which includes instruction, teaching, training, and correction.  "Stated very briefly, instruction and teaching involve imparting knowledge; training involves all sorts of coaching and preparation; and correction involves identifying errors and urging their removal" (170).  In this sense, the whole book of Proverbs is about education and the discipline of children.  And the book provides more than just biblical methods  It gives a biblical motivation for this discipline.  So, why discipline?

For Our Kids' Sake

He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.  Proverbs 13:24

"The book of Proverbs tells us that the primary motivation for disciplining our children is love" (172).  Since all of humanity including our children are naturally sinful and wicked, it is clear that children need discipline.  "Left entirely to themselves, children will follow harmful paths.  Unless they are given discipline, they will not gain discipline" (172).  Undisciplined children become undisciplined adults who become a danger to themselves and others.  Discipline can even save a child's soul from death (Proverbs 19:18; 23:13-14).  Surely it is no exaggeration to say that the more neglectful the parent, the more unloving; and the more loving the parent, the more that they intend to discipline with great care" (172-73).  "How easy it is to ignore a small child's act of sin and rebellion.  How simple to favor a short-term peace over the time and effort necessary to correct and teach.  But to build a habit of these compromises is to prefer yourself and your momentary comforts above the entire span of your child's life" (173).

For Our Neighbors' Sake

Better to meet a bear robbed of his cubs than a fool in his folly.  Proverbs 17:12

"When a foolish, undisciplined child grows into a foolish, undisciplined adult, the circle of trouble widens.  Such adults often go through life towing havoc behind them, and are incapable of influencing society in the direction of anything except shallowness and corruption... On the other hand, what greater service could a parent render to society than to raise children whose character will testify to the truth of the gospel for the rest of their lives?" (174). Seeking to raise godly children helps to fulfill the second great commandment--the command to love my neighbor as I love myself (Luke 10:27).

For Our Own Sake

Discipline your son and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.  Proverbs 29:17

Well-behaved children are a great reward, and godly children are a source of great joy to their parents.  "To see a child increasingly learn to control his or her sinful impulses and to become polite, kind, humble, and respectful is truly a delight to a parent's soul.  In addition, having obedient children also allows for a life that is--relatively speaking--more peaceful and orderly than if children are unruly and rebellious.  With less time needing to be spent on enforcing discipline in the home, more of a parent's time may be given to serving others" (175).  On the other hand, "a child left to himself disgraces his mother" (Proverbs 29:15).  "A wise parent, according to Proverbs, reaps the rewards of discipline and avoids the pain that comes from parental neglect" (176).

For the Glory and Pleasure of God

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.  Psalm 115:1

Ultimately, "godly children are a walking testimony of the truth of God's power through the gospel of Jesus Christ" (176).  "When children are well-disciplined, it's a win for everyone.  The children benefit by reinforcing good habits and growing in godly behavior.  Parents are blessed and their lives are made easier.  Society benefits because more mature, responsible individuals are joining its ranks.  And above all, God is glorified as the behavior of our children points to Christ's redeeming love" (177).