My wife and I recently had to take away my 7-year old son’s playing cards. He had been experiencing a string of vivid nightmares and we also observed that his behaviour had been slightly odd recently. Having prayed about it, the Holy Spirit revealed to us that the cards were not right for him. So they needed to go. He’s been inseparable from his cards and most of his school friends play with these cards as well. Not only would he miss his cards, but going to school without them was also daunting for him.
It’s been instructive watching him struggle with our decision to get rid of his cards. On one hand, the nightmares are gone and a part of him understands that these cards are not good for him. He also knows that we love him and want the best for him. On the other hand, he misses his cards and feels left out on the playground when his friends are playing with their cards. Occasionally, he bargains with us about getting his cards back. He suggests having the cards back just for a day to see if the nightmares come back. We can also see that he’s a bit apprehensive about going to school.
As parents, it’s painful to watch him deal with this. We have made a deliberate decision not to minimise his experience. We talk to him regularly about what he is going through and do our best to encourage him. I am also struggling with the decision and I have thought about giving the cards back to him. However, I am convinced that the cards are not good for him, and my love for him demands that I protect him from things that are bad for him. I know it’s a season for him which will eventually pass.
In the interim, we are using this opportunity to teach him some life lessons about courage and strength. A few days before we took his cards, he flexed his muscles in front of a mirror and asked me if he was strong. I told him that real strength lies in the courage to do the right thing and to stand for what you believe. I tried to explain that real strength lies in character, not muscles. He didn’t understand what I meant but little did I know that an occasion would arise to drive home what I said. I am proud of the way my son has displayed discernment with his predicament. He hasn’t been troublesome because he knows his parents love him and took away the cards for his good. My prayer for him is that this experience will be seared in his mind so that he can draw on it as he gets older.
I see parallels with my relationship with God. God’s work of redemption in our lives involves conforming us to the image of His Son [Romans 8:29]. Scripture also says that he whom a father loves, he disciplines [Hebrews 12:6]. The author adds these poignant words: “…but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 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 12:10b-11 NIV]. In my experience, that discipline sometimes involves God taking away things that we hold dear or denying us something we desperately want. It’s painful and often we don’t understand why either.
I have encountered these painful experiences. Just like my son, I have tried to bargain with God as I yearn for what has been taken away. I fluctuate between trusting God and missing what I have been denied. It occurred to me that God isn’t indifferent to my struggle just as I am not indifferent to my son’s struggle. If God’s heart breaks when He has to punish sin [Hosea 11], how much more when He sees us struggle as He disciplines us? I can imagine God feeling something similar to what I am feeling for my son. I can see that this experience, though painful is for his good. It is preparing him for the tougher seasons that lay ahead when his courage and strength of character will be tested.
I must confess I rarely consider God’s perspective when I am going through a season of discipline. However, my son’s experience reminds me that God, who is an infinitely better Father than I am, understands my struggles and sympathises with me. As I reflect on my son’s experience, I am drawn to these words: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” [Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV].
If like my son, you are currently experiencing a season of discipline, I’d like to encourage you. Firstly, know that God understands what you are going through. He loves you much more than I could ever love my son. He also desires the very best for us. As such, everything He allows us to experience is for our good. So, just as I am rooting for my son, especially when he goes to school without his cards, God is rooting for you, cheering you on and giving you the grace to stay the course.