Being a parent teaches me a lot about how I relate to God – and vice-versa. I feel like I’m always learning valuable spiritual lessons from my experiences with my son, which is why I wrote my last article entitled Lessons Learned from a Toddler. Immediately after writing that article, God showed me another powerful spiritual truth from an interaction with my son, but this lesson seemed like a big one that I have dealt with many times in my life, and it seemed worthy of an article all its own.Here’s the truth: God cares more about our character and helping us grow than he does giving us what we want when we want it.
This is a spiritual truth outlined in the Bible and taught in church (“Just as a parent disciplines a child, the LORD your God disciplines you for your own good” Deuteronomy 8:5), but it really hit me when I realized that I have this same feeling toward my son. I’d love to give him everything he wants when he wants it because I want him to be happy, but there are times when I have to enforce the consequences of his actions when he doesn’t obey because I care about him growing up to be a healthy mature adult.
For instance, there are certain expectations we have of him when it comes to bedtime. He is responsible for picking up his toys, putting his pajamas on, brushing his teeth, and going to the bathroom before we sit down with him to read him a story. When he refuses to do any of those things (basically when he disobeys) then he loses his story-time privilege. Being that he is young and still learning responsibility, we always warn him when he is about to lose his privilege and encourage him to make the right choice, but once he makes the decision to disobey after the warning, then he is faced with the forewarned consequence.
There are times when he will later apologize for his actions and politely ask if he can get story-time back, and these are the hardest times as a parent because we must tell him ‘no’ (lovingly), because we believe he must face the consequences of his actions. We will thank him for the apology and then discuss with him that even though he apologized (which is a good thing to do) he still has to deal with the consequences. The bottom line is that if he doesn’t learn that there are consequences to bad decisions (whether he apologizes later or not) he could get fired from a job, alienate friends, fail a class in school, or even worse, get arrested.
It’s hard as a parent because in those times of apology, I desperately want to give in and read him a story, especially since I enjoy that special time with him as well. But above all I care more about his character and teaching him to do what is right and to be a responsible person than I do about giving him what he wants in that moment. Frankly, I’d be doing him a disservice by not carrying through with consequences, and I believe this is exactly how God looks at things in our lives, especially as I’ve seen it happen time and time again.
My husband and I have seen this principle play out as we have gone through many difficult circumstances over the past few years, but through them all we have grown so much and God has even recently brought us new leadership opportunities. I believe this is because we have grown through our trials, learned valuable lessons, and have become more mature. Without this growth, we would have been unprepared for these new leadership opportunities. There are so many different ways that God can use our circumstances and consequences of poor choices to grow us, but here are just a few we have experienced in the past few years that have taught and grown us so much.
Paying Off Debt
When we first got married, we had a bit of credit card debt. Some of it was from our wedding and honeymoon, and some of it we each brought into the marriage from before we had even met. We decided that we wanted to pay off this debt, so we cracked down and made a plan to pay off all credit cards before we spent any money on large purchases like new furniture, a new car, or a vacation. It was a difficult process of being disciplined and denying our flesh as we drove old cars and used hand-me-down furniture, but we stuck with it and paid off over $11,000 in debt in our first year of marriage. God definitely blessed us with some extra income during that time, but we still had to be disciplined to put that money toward debt.
After paying off the debt, we were able to buy our first house and buy some new furniture to go in it. The best part was that we paid cash for that new furniture and didn’t finance it because we remembered how hard it was to have debt hanging over our heads after buying things that we couldn’t afford at the time. And since that time, almost 10 years ago, we haven’t once charged anything onto a credit card that we didn’t pay off immediately, and we have stayed debt-free since then, all because we went through the hard work of being disciplined and putting all our extra money towards paying off those bills and we never want to go through that again.
Learning to Say No
Over the years of volunteering in ministry and just living life, we have found ourselves stressed and overwhelmed at times. We have often prayed that God would take away our stressful circumstances, but instead we actually found ourselves having to learn to say ‘no’ to some things in order to simplify our lives. When we found ourselves stressed out over all our responsibilities at church, we had to take a step back and ask God what he was really asking us to focus on, and then to follow through to focus our efforts and time accordingly.
As a result of having to learn to do this (because saying ‘no’ does not come easily to either of us), we are now a lot better at being able to really assess opportunities that come our way, and we take the time to really pray about it. It has made saying ‘no’ easier because we are more aware of the importance of focusing on what God has asked us to do in a particular season, which helps keep us grounded and keeps our responsibilities manageable.
Letting Go of Our Plans and Submitting to God’s plans
I will admit that I have been very narrow-minded in the past, and have gotten stuck on my own plan for life, instead of being open to what God has for my family. In my head I always knew that God’s plan was better and always wanted to be open to it, but deep down I was really rooting for my own plans. There have been so many times we fought for our own plans over the years, but most recently, after some big plans fell through, we have really been able to learn to embrace God’s plans for us instead.
We have tried to sell our house twice in the past few years, without success, and my husband has applied for two higher paying jobs to no avail. The first time we found out our house wasn’t going to sell, and that my husband was turned down for the job, we were devastated. It was obvious to us after that how stuck we were on our own plans at that point. So when both those things happened again a few years later, we were disappointed, but actually at peace with it. We had come to realize God had far better plans in store for us that we were dreaming up on our own.
When I look over my life and see how much I’ve grown up over the years and how God has molded me into who I am today, I can see how a lot of growth came from hard times and learning to deal with the consequences of my bad choices. God is very forgiving and won’t hold things over our heads when we disobey, but he will let our bad choices teach us to make better choices in the futur. Because he cares about our character, just like we do with our own kids.
No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way (Hebrews 12:11).