Discipline or is it really just control?

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

I made a trip to Greenock a couple of weeks ago to visit my daughter who lives there with her Rwandan husband and my two granddaughters, the younger of whom is Phoebe, just short of a year old. It was to be her ‘dedication’ service.

The church to which they belong doesn’t like ‘christening’ or ‘baptising’, they prefer to dedicate their children as a public commitment to bring up their children in the right path so the when they are older they will not leave it, (Proverbs 22:6), but also the members of the church make a similar commitment; to stand by the parents as they seek to carry out what is arguably the most challenging and important task we can be called to do.

When I see the state of the world I’m glad I don’t have that responsibly any more, although I readily acknowledge that as a grandfather I have four pairs of people looking to me for guidance, support and wisdom.

Anyway, we all went to church on Sunday morning - an odd mixture of Church of Scotland with a splash of Pentecostalism.

It’s an environment I am happy in, for there’s freedom to stand and worship with your hands in your pockets if you want, to raise them to sing, or even a little bit of bodily movement. I prefer to have hands in pockets, and as I say that, I remember being admonished by my late wife for adopting that position. She would have been dancing, unable to contain herself for the ‘joy of the Lord’ as I stood stoically at her side. I had difficulty convincing her that I was dancing inside.

Now, little Phoebe has a big sister called Lois, two years old going on 11. We were of course, sitting on the front row of pews, but she was so engrossed by the singing that she took a couple of steps forward and was spinning around like a ballet dancer. Her little face shone and her eyes sparkled, and then she was joined by a friend of about the same age. They were so free, so happy that I could only gaze at them, transfixed.

I don’t normally have a lot of patience with disruptive children in church, but on this occasion it was so natural, such a joy to watch, until an adult took the child gently by the arm and encouraged her to take her seat. I managed to keep my mouth shut, but I could hear the Master screaming in my head; ‘Leave the children alone, don’t try to keep them from coming to me, because the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this,’ (Holman Christian Standard Bible).

I listened the other day to the Pink Floyd’s song; ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ and it made me think of little Lois: don’t do it this way, don’t wear that, don’t go there, eat this, get your hair cut.

Now I’m not saying that there are no rules and no boundaries to be observed, but is it possible that parents sometimes are building a wall around their children, not necessarily to keep them safe, but to churn our little versions of what they would have liked to be? Or what friends, family and church members might expect?

The writer of the Proverb I have quoted encourages us to bring up the child in the right way, not primarily our way. There’s a difference between discipline and control. Let’s make the distinction, for we do not have the right to control anyone, not even our children. Do we?