The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds. ~ Jeremiah 17:9-10
There have been SO many times in the Kimsey household where I have had children in every bathroom in our house and some more on their beds, thinking about what they did that contributed to the great conflagration that just occurred! It only takes a little spark to begin to fuel an explosion between multiple factions and next thing I know, everyone is mad, taking sides, screeching and screaming!
Before I interact with any of them, I seek to set my own heart firmly in the truth of the Gospel. I want to begin with seeking out my own heart because more than likely I have been angered, short-tempered, or in some way put out by the disobedience, fighting, or whatever precipitated this time. The same truths for them apply to me. So I want to take a few minutes with Jesus and set my heart on Him, on the truth of my sin, on His love, on His great mercy and His pursuing grace.
I have found that removing children to quiet places works well. In our home, we use the bathrooms most often simply because there is not much in the bathroom to distract my child from the primary goal of this quiet time. I want to create quiet space for my child to begin to hear from the Holy Spirit about why he or she is struggling in relationship with the others in the family. This removal is not a timeout or a timed interval at all; rather, it is a space where emotions can calm down, their minds can stop racing, and their hearts can be tended to.
Can I encourage you to remember all the truths of the Gospel when parenting and disciplining your children? Romans 1:16 resonates in discipline moments, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,“ When I keep this before me, I have greater empathy and patience for my children; when I just want good behavior, I am short tempered and become a part of the problem. Your children are believing the same basic lies that have motivated all sin from the beginning of time – whether the lies are that they should be in control which promotes disobedience and rebellion, whether the lies are they are most important which leads to selfishness and cruelty, or some other lie that declares what they are worshiping. Their heart will deceive them, leading them away from the truth of God and towards the pursuit of loving themselves first. They will naturally seek their own good, their own control, their own protection. They will defend their own “wisdom” despite its futility. When we understand the heart of man, we can understand and not be surprised or offended by their behavior. Our goal is not to stop the heart of flesh. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our goal is to point to the Savior and illuminate their fierce need for Him.
So my bathroom conversations with my lost children as well as my saved children run on parallel tracks, both pointing to Christ. To my saved child, the goal of the conversation is to help them honestly look at their part, to guide them through what was motivating them and what lie they chased, and re-establish with them the truths of who they are because of Jesus Christ and what God is at work doing within them. To my lost child, it is my opportunity to point out their need for the salvation Jesus offers and offer hope to them.
Bathroom discipline often looks practically like this – I sit down, bringing myself down to their eye level and I ask them to stand in front of me with their hands on my knees. Really this just stills their little body and helps them focus their eyes on mine. I want them to hear me speak, which means emotions need to calm if they are upset, focus needs to come, and bodies need to quiet. I try to speak very softly, asking questions that purpose to lead them into a thoughtful examination of themselves, even at the little ages of 2 & 3. Questions like, “Why are you in here?” or “Tell me what happened that made you have to come in here?” let me know what they understand about what has happened. Conversations are the goal initially. I want to hear their heart, both to see what work the Spirit is already doing as well as to see what they may be believing that is not true. Listening intently and seeking to make sure that I have even gotten the complete picture of what offenses took place are very important tasks. Many times I have removed the loudest or the one with the most fingers pointing at them only to find that there are other guilty parties that need to be disciplined as well!
One important truth that steadies my heart in the midst of the discouragement of everyday life with a bunch of sinners is that God pursues us continually. He does not cease. He is a God who values relationship, who declares His redeeming love through His Son, and who is at work transforming us from one degree to another. He does not get discouraged with my stubborn heart or sinful tendencies. He keeps on pursuing. And He is doing the same thing with each of your children and invites you to join Him in pursuit. What an honor!
I seek to chase the lies they are believing and introduce the truth God offers instead. God’s word holds the truth we need. To the one who is saved and walking in new life, this is encouraging; to the one who is lost, this is a holy invitation. Prayer covers the time with hugs and a final blessing is given as they walk back out the door.
The blessing launches them back. They more than likely need to go to the one(s) they have offended and apologize and own their wrongs. They have confessed their wrongs before God but now must confess again to their siblings or others. Just like Paul closed every letter with a blessing to the churches to launch them into the truths he had laid before them, I too want to bless my children. So I spend a few moments reminding them of my love for them and my belief that God is at work in them changing them to be more like Him (if they are saved) or calling them to know Him as their Savior (if they are lost). These are words of life that point to where God is working and moving in their hearts. I know God is working on you becoming a mighty peacemaker for Him (if they have been struggling with arguing) or I see the way God is changing your heart for others and making you a servant of others (if they are struggling with selfishness). Always point them to God’s work in their lives. This time of discipline is NOT your opinion or what makes your life easier today. This is God’s holy work, you are merely an ambassador for Him. Point to Him. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14)