Introductory Note:

Parenting is not for the faint of heart and never more so when we must correct our children. Both our own childhood experiences and outside popular opinions on correcting litter our mental landscapes like trap doors in a haunted house. We parents often find ourselves wracked with confusion and falling into shame. Did we discipline too harshly? How do correction and love coexist? Did we let them get away with too much? Who is to blame for this? Much to my regret, early on in my own parenting journey I took the “my way or the highway” approach to correction. I saw my children’s need for correction as a time to “set them straight” rather than the opportunity for restoration and growth. For certain this was not what I intended to get across to my children, but my lack of vision betrayed us.

As God’s patient love has transformed me it has also transformed my parenting—maybe most obviously in the way I correct my children. Fourteen years ago when I read the following passage in Dallas Willard’s, The Divine Conspiracy, I caught a vision of correction that not only sets children free from condemnation and blame, but also sets parents free to love without abandon, to love through correction into restoration.

Holy Lord Christ, let it be so.

Lacy Finn Borgo

Excerpt from The Divine Conspiracy

Judge Not

If we would real­ly help those close to us and dear, and if we would learn to live togeth­er with our fam­i­ly and neigh­bors” in the pow­er of the king­dom, we must aban­don the deeply root­ed human prac­tice of con­demn­ing and blam­ing. This is what Jesus means when he says, Judge not.” He is telling us that we should, and that we can, become the kind of per­son who does not con­demn or blame oth­ers. As we do so, the pow­er of God’s king­dom will be more freely avail­able to bless and guide those around us into his ways. 

But when we first hear this we may feel as we did when we heard about lay­ing aside anger, con­tempt, and cul­ti­vat­ed lust­ing — dis­be­liev­ing. Can we real­ly live that way? Could we suc­cess­ful­ly nego­ti­ate per­son­al rela­tions with­out let­ting peo­ple know that we dis­ap­prove of them and find them to be in the wrong? Con­dem­na­tion — giv­ing it and receiv­ing it — is such a large part of nor­mal” human exis­tence that we may not even be able to imag­ine or think what life would be like with­out it. 

At least we need the choice of giv­ing oth­ers a good dose of blame and con­dem­na­tion when it seems appro­pri­ate, don’t we? We have great con­fi­dence in the pow­er of con­dem­na­tion to straight­en oth­ers out.” And if that fails, should we not at least make clear that we are on the side of the right — no small mat­ter itself? 

But what is it, exact­ly, that we do when we con­demn some­one? When we con­demn anoth­er we real­ly com­mu­ni­cate that he or she is, in some deep and just pos­si­bly irre­deemable way, bad — bad as a whole, and to be reject­ed. In our eyes the con­demned is among the dis­cards of human life. He or she is not accept­able. We sen­tence that per­son to exclu­sion. Sure­ly we can learn to live well and hap­pi­ly with­out doing that. 

Who Can Cor­rect” Others 

To be fair, we rarely intend such total rejec­tion, but that is usu­al­ly what comes across. To cor­rect anoth­er with­out mak­ing this hap­pen requires great spir­i­tu­al and per­son­al matu­ri­ty. That is why Paul wrote to the Gala­tians, Broth­ers, if some­one real­ly is caught in a sin, the spir­i­tu­al ones among you are the ones to restore him. Do it in a low­ly and non-pre­sump­tu­ous spir­it, con­sid­er­ing your­selves, lest you too be put to the test. Feel the weight oth­ers are feel­ing, and thus you will ful­fill Christ’s teach­ing” (6:1).

The wis­dom that comes from Jesus to us through these words of Paul is aston­ish­ing­ly rich. First, we don’t under­take to cor­rect unless we are absolute­ly sure of the sin. Here the lan­guage of 1 Corinthi­ans 13 comes into play: love believes all things, hopes all things.” If there is any lack of clar­i­ty about whether the sin occurred, assume it did not. At least, don’t start correcting. 

Sec­ond, not just any­one is to cor­rect oth­ers. Cor­rec­tion is reserved for those who live and work in a divine pow­er not their own. For that pow­er is also wise, and it is lov­ing beyond any­thing we will ever be. These are the spir­i­tu­al ones” referred to. Only a cer­tain kind of life puts us in posi­tion to cor­rect.”

Third, the cor­rect­ing” to be done is not a mat­ter of straight­en­ing them out.” It is not a mat­ter of ham­mer­ing on their wrong­ness and on what is going to hap­pen to them if they don’t change their ways. It is a mat­ter of restora­tion. The aim in deal­ing with the one caught” is to bring them back on the path of Jesus and to estab­lish them there so their progress in king­dom char­ac­ter and liv­ing can con­tin­ue. Noth­ing is to be done that is not use­ful to this spe­cif­ic end. 

Fourth, the ones who are restor­ing oth­ers must go about their work with the sure knowl­edge that they could very well do the same thing that the per­son caught” has done, or even worse. This total­ly removes any sense of self-right­eous­ness or supe­ri­or­i­ty, which, if it is present, will cer­tain­ly make restora­tion impos­si­ble. To aid in this direc­tion, the restor­ers are to endeav­or to feel the weight, the bur­den,” that the one being restored feels as he or she stands trapped in the sin. 

Of course these teach­ings were nev­er intend­ed to apply only to church fel­low­ships and com­mu­ni­ty. They are most impor­tant for human life as they apply to our clos­est rela­tion­ships, to our mates and chil­dren, our close rel­a­tives and asso­ciates of all types. This is the place where, in our twist­ed and upside down con­di­tion, famil­iar­i­ty is most like­ly to breed con­tempt. Most fam­i­lies would be health­i­er and hap­pi­er if their mem­bers treat­ed one anoth­er with the respect they would give to a per­fect stranger. 

C. S. Lewis’s dis­cus­sion of storge, famil­ial love, is end­less­ly instruc­tive on this point and is required read­ing for all who intend to have a decent fam­i­ly life. He notes that he has been far more impressed by the bad man­ners of par­ents to chil­dren than by those of chil­dren to parent.” 

Par­ents are seen to treat their chil­dren with an inci­vil­i­ty which, offered to any oth­er young peo­ple, would sim­ply have ter­mi­nat­ed the acquain­tance.” They are dog­mat­ic on mat­ters the chil­dren under­stand and the elders don’t, they impose ruth­less inter­rup­tions, flat con­tra­dic­tions, ridicule of things the young take seri­ous­ly, and make insult­ing ref­er­ences to their friends. This pro­vides an easy expla­na­tion to the ques­tions, Why are they always out? Why do they like every house bet­ter than their home?” Who,” Lewis inquires, does not pre­fer civil­i­ty to barbarism?” 

Saint Dominic, who lived in the thir­teenth cen­tu­ry and found­ed the great Domini­can Order of Preach­ers with­in the Catholic Church, beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trates the ten­der way of Jesus. His broth­er Paul of Venice, among oth­ers, bore tes­ti­mo­ny to it by relat­ing, He [Dominic] want­ed the Rule [of the Domini­can Order] to be observed strict­ly by him­self and by the oth­ers. He rep­ri­mand­ed offend­ers just­ly and so affec­tion­ate­ly that no one was ever upset by his cor­rec­tion and punishment.” 

Broth­er Fruge­rio also said of Dominic, He him­self observed the Rule strict­ly and want­ed it to be observed by the oth­ers. He con­vict­ed and cor­rect­ed offend­ers with gen­tle­ness and kind­ness in such a way that no one was upset, even though the penances were some­times very severe.” This is the nat­ur­al effect of a non­con­demn­ing spirit.

Excerpt­ed from The Divine Con­spir­a­cy: Redis­cov­er­ing our Hid­den Life in God by Dal­las Willard (Harper­One, 1997) and used here with permission.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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