So many things came to mind when I read yesterday’s devotional from In Touch Ministries about how God uses everything to transform us into the people he created us to be. I was particularly drawn to the discussion about discipline—the necessary correction that comes out of love from parents to their children, and from our heavenly Father to those of us who veer off course.
Some of us had to learn the hard way, and after some heavy-duty divine discipline, now present ourselves as rather angelic, going on mission trips and spending daily quiet time with the Lord.
Let me just say that my own halo only appeared a few years ago, and is still mightily tarnished.
Yesterday’s reading on discipline made me think of my mom, a widow who never remarried and who did the best she could raising two little girls on her own. How I wish I could go back and undo some of the fight I gave her as she tried to discipline me in order to keep me on the straight and narrow.
Having my mouth washed out with soap was not uncommon, nor was getting a swat on the butt. Later I’d be grounded, and later still, my car keys would be confiscated until I’d changed my ways—or until Mom gave up the fight, exhausted by the job of single-parenting a problem child. She would say that I started bucking the system by kindergarten, that I was determined to live up to the nursery rhyme she claimed had been written just for me: Mary, Mary Quite Contrary.
The nuns who taught in the Catholic schools I attended agreed, as did the priests I confessed to every Saturday afternoon in order to be cleansed of my sins in advance of Holy Communion the next day. The priests dished out discipline in the form of Our Fathers and Hail Marys—a specified number of each to be prayed as penance for my long, written log of offenses. I seem to recall that ten was my magic number—10 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers—in payment for my usual dozen or so counts of disobedience, a few lies and an occasional impure thought.
I never understood praying as punishment, but was always grateful to see others who were obviously far more sinful than me. I made comparisons based on the length of kneeling that took place as people were released from those little confessionals.
In any event, I never came away fixed, and I kept up my Quite Contrary pattern until I’d crashed through countless jobs and left many nice people in my dust. I didn’t care. In fact, I thought it was fun.
But then it all caught up with me, fast and furious. “Natural consequences,” some would say, but I think there was a lot of divine intervention involved. I see it as God saying,
Enough is enough. This one’s gone off the deep end.
I had. And so He took over, giving my mom and the entire Catholic Church a break…and me, the shake-up I needed to finally pay attention.
Hebrews 12:10-11: “Our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”
My mom did her best, as did the nuns and priests, teachers, bosses, friends and colleagues who tried to help me see the error of my ways before the hammer fell. Sometimes their efforts caused me to dig in my heels even further. But eventually—largely as a result of the brutal School of Hard Knocks—it all came together to cause me to reflect on and learn more about this God who was such a mystery to me throughout most of my life.
Father, thank You for loving me enough to do whatever it takes to stop me from going off the deep end in sin. It’s hard to feel grateful when I’m in the midst of those hard lessons—when it feels as if I’m being pounded by Your corrections in the form of difficult people or circumstances, or by “natural consequences” that continue to follow me, even now.
Thank You for allowing me the time on this earth to see at least some of it with a bit of hindsight. In retrospect, I can see that in those miserable periods when You were shaping me through discipline, those were the times when I learned the most important and lasting lessons—how to forgive those who’ve hurt me, how to remain joyful even in the midst of difficulties, how to love freely and fully, how to depend on, submit to and rest in You.
And thank You for continuing to badger me until I finally started blogging. I pray that being open about my own messy, halo-less life and Your amazing redemption will help others take a step in Your direction, knowing that You are right here, waiting with open arms. Amen.