Today I read an article on CNN.com entitled, "To Spank or Not to Spank, Where Do You Draw the Line?" Talk about a controversial topic that will not go away! The article was written to draw attention to another CNN.com article summarizing a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics about the effects of physical punishment on mental health. Whenever and where ever this topic is brought up it sparks strong opinions and heated debate.
In the past, I have worked in social work settings, public schools, and for nonprofit agencies that work with young children. As such, I have been a mandated reporter of child abuse for many years out of my life. One social work program I worked for had a sign on the wall of their building that said, "You have entered a NO SPANKING zone." In many people's minds, spanking (of all manners) is equated with physical abuse of a child, and witnessing it would be a reason to call Child Protective Services. I remember once when my son was close to 3 years old and I took him to see our family practitioner for a rash that he had developed suddenly. He had never had a problem at the doctor's office before, and I had no reason to expect that he would COMPLETELY FREAK OUT on this particular visit... but he did. He didn't want anyone touching him, talking to him, or even looking at him. He went so far as to kick (hard) and scream. I was flabbergasted and distressed. I had NEVER seen him react this way and I was more than a little bit stunned by his uncharacteristic behavior. In the middle of my son's kicking and screaming fit, the doctor calmly said to me, "How do you discipline him at home?" "EXCUSE ME?!?" I said, over my son's shrieks. "When he misbehaves at home, what do you do?" the doctor persisted, calmly. Completely taken aback, I mumbled something about time outs, while inwardly, I was reminding myself that this doctor was a mandated reporter, and that I needed to be very careful about how I answered him. His next question floored me, "Do you ever use force to correct him?" he asked in an elevated voice to be heard over the wails. "I think we are done here," I said emphatically, "We are leaving!" and I picked my son up and took him outside. At this point I was shaking inwardly and outwardly. I was shocked at my son's behavior and more than a little concerned about him, and I was also shocked at the doctor's words. What was he implying?!?! I didn't want to strap my son into his car seat while he was still making such a fuss, so I stood outside the doctor's office talking calmly, but firmly, to him about both the doctor's office visit, AND his inappropriate behavior. As he was calming down, the nurse came out, apologizing and joined us to look at my son's rash (as he started screaming again), and she quickly gave me some basic medical advice and I thanked her and got the heck outta there. I got home from that visit and put my son down for a nap. I called my husband at work in hysterics and anger, and described to him the doctor's visit. He said he would handle it and we hung up the phone. Later that night, around 6pm, well after the doctor's office had closed, I got a phone call from our physician. He said that my husband had called him and then the doctor surprised me by profusely apologizing for the incident. He explained to me that in that moment, while my child was kicking and screaming, he felt that a good swift spanking would have worked wonders, and while he couldn't recommend as much, he was trying to subtly give me the option to be able to say, "Yes, I occasionally discipline him by spanking and if you'll just give us a moment alone, I think we can handle this and get on with this visit." What a miscommunication! I was convinced the doctor felt like I was probably physically abusive at home and that my son wouldn't be reacting that way if I didn't have a history of beating him. Meanwhile the doctor was thinking nothing of the sort, rather he felt that at my son's age and with the way he was behaving, a swift physical reprimand would be best.
Let's just clear the air:
As a child, I was spanked on more than one occasion, both by my parents and by a teacher at my public elementary school when I misbehaved. It wasn't the only method of correction I experienced, but it was one of them.
As a mother, I have spanked my son. it isn't the only method of correction I have used, but it is one of them.
There, the cat is out of the bag. You know my spanking history and my opinions about the topic - OR DO YOU? The word "spanking" means different things to different people. It conjures different images based on people's past experiences. Is spanking wrong? Well, what do you consider spanking? If you believe that flying off the handle and hitting a child in anger over their frustratingly bad behavior is spanking, then I will tell you that by your definition, spanking is abusive. That is NOT, however, how I define spanking, nor is it how I have ever treated my child. Spanking, in my vocabulary, is a swat (one or more) on the backside that a child knows is coming and knows why it is coming, followed by an embrace and sincere reassurance of love. It is not done in anger, and it is not done without careful control on the part of the parent. It is not done without first discussing the willful disobedience thoroughly with the child. Just like any other negative consequence for bad behavior, spanking is to be carefully thought out and used as a tool to correct and restore a child - not to shame or berate them or harm them in any way. If that is how you define spanking as well, then I will tell you that spanking is not abusive in the slightest.
The study published by the Journal of Pediatrics relates things like slapping, hitting, grabbing, pushing and shoving of a child (by a parent, as a form of discipline) to a 2-7% greater likelihood of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and personality disorders later in life. This description has nothing to do with spanking as I know it and define it.
Bottom line, the study had nothing to do with spanking as I know it and everything to do with out of control parenting. Parenting is hard work. No. Doubt. About. It. If the world is going to go the way of CNN, then I hope the Christian church does NOT. Let's focus on supporting parents and giving them tools to better shepherd their children's hearts, and stop throwing around poorly defined, controversial topics in an effort to garner a reaction.
Galatians 5:22-23 NIV "But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things THERE IS NO LAW."
This morning I woke up with the topic of true love on my mind. Seriously... I woke up thinking about it.
The world has wonky ways of thinking about true love, and most of them center on how love makes us feel. Terms like "soul mate" are tossed around by people who spend little-to-no time nurturing their own souls, and yet somehow expect to know when they've found someone whose soul meshes with theirs (neglected and unknown as it may be). Many times it seems that what people are searching and longing for is not so much love as it is the byproduct of love. We want the benefits, the perks: We don't want to be alone. We want someone to witness our lives and accomplishments. We want to know the experience of a family of our own. We want to be known and accepted. We want physical intimacy. We want to explore a side of life that we can only explore with someone who loves us.
It seems to me, as I process all of this, that none of that is love at all. None of it. The things we seek and long for are not the core of what love is. Sadly, we can fabricate the byproduct of love without much effort, we can even build a relationship around the byproduct of love without real love having any part of it (for awhile anyway).
Love = Whole-Hearted Commitment
The Bible tells us that God LOVES the world; He loves His children. Christianity involves accepting that love and seeking to build a relationship where we learn to love God by reflecting the ways that He has first loved us. When God first loved us, we didn't even know Him, let alone love Him back. He loved us sacrificially (to say the least).
Sadly, I have found myself settling for the benefits and perks of a love relationship with God without actually pursuing love itself. I get heady over the byproducts of being His child, and skim over the depths of the committed relationship itself. This is an easy thing to do. This is why whenever someone is struggling or dissatisfied in their "relationship with God" one of the first questions we should ask is, "How much time are you spending in prayer?" With the close second being, "When was the last time you read your Bible with intentionality?" Followed by the third, "Are you consistently involved in a local church?" Then rounding things out with the fourth, "Are you reaching out to others to meet their needs and invite them into a relationship with your Father?" Those four acts - prayer, reading scripture, engaging with other believers, and reaching out to others - show commitment. They are the building blocks of a love relationship with God. What makes those four acts meaningful is the attitude of our hearts when we engage in them.
True love is knowing what translates as commitment to the person you are trying to love and doing those things, over and over again, over a long period of time (with the right attitude to boot). Over the years and through the ups and downs, this leads to a sweet spot that is far better than anything you could conjure up on your own. This is true with a spouse and it is true with our relationship with the God of the Universe.
Check these out for more to chew on:
I John 4:16 - 5:2
I Corinthians 13:4-7
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!