Authority loses its moral force and spiritual energy when it becomes authoritarian.” (Peterson, p.36)

A dictator in a home or in a nation chooses the way of quick returns…There can be a subtle parental pride in exactuing obedience, much like bringing a dog to heel. ‘Good’ children can be displayed, to the parent’s advantage.” (Lionel Whiston, quoted in Peterson, p. 38)

When I graduated from college I moved hundreds of miles from home for my first full-time job. I was engaged, but not yet married. I knew only one other person in the city. So I bought myself a puppy and began to teach him with my spare time. It quickly occured to me that if I trained him to be obedient, he could come with me to the YMCA where I was a volunteer soccer coach. It was rewarding to me to see how quickly he learned and how consistently he obeyed. As a result of significant and consistent attention for those first six months we were together before the wedding, I received praise for the rest of his life for how well mannered and well trained he was. I honestly enjoyed that and began to take some pride in what I good parent I would “obviously” be someday.

The Lord had to humble me after I had my first two children. One day He pulled back a veil from my eyes and let me see my pride and my foolishness. I was not training puppies, I was raising children. I had to weep and repent! He was the primary parent, not me. It was my privilege to join Him. I suddenly saw parenting in terms of stewardship and hospitality, not behavioral outcomes!

Peterson gets at this same issue, I think, when he quotes John Updike on the importance of seeing our children “not as our creations, but our guests, people who enter the world at our invitation…”

Do you agree? When we see parenting in terms of stewardship and hospitality instead of behavioral outcomes, how does that change things? Does that impact decision-making within the family? Does this mean we have to be willing to be embarrassed at times? What does this mean for allowing disagreement? How will parenting like this increase our own discipleship?

Erik Erikson suggests that the problem with forcing obedient behavior is that the parent does not have to become an adult to do so. You don’t have to grow up. You don’t have to learn courtesy or deference or understanding. You are in fact authorized to remain arbitrary and inconsistent. It seems to me that if authority is framed by “because I said so!” then the world view being taught is that whoever is the strongest wins. That may be practical in politics, but it is not a Kingdom worldview. And it is destructive to discipleship.

Peterson uses Luke 2:41-51 to demonstrate that authority when challenged does not bluster, is courteous and is not coercive. He also encourages us to meditate on the authority of our Heavenly Father. He disciplines, but He does not push His children around. How do you understand the discipline of the Lord from Scripture? Is the model craftsman with an apprentice a good model? What is the role of training and instruction? Do you agree with Peterson that “the heart of discipline, and the most biblical expression of authority, is careful attention that guides growth“?

(This post is inspired by chapter 4 of Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager by Eugene Peterson. Get a copy of this great little book and check back each Thursday for the next 8 weeks to become part of the discussion).

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