The other day, I read the article, “We Ditched the Time Out Chair for the Mercy Seat“, and I felt terribly sad and convicted as a mother.
The writer made such a beautiful argument regarding our need to show mercy for our children, instead of correcting their behavior with any kind of punishment. Her argument seemed to hinge on the idea that God showed mercy to us while we were yet in our sinful state; that God always is loving and never feels disappointment toward us, but always gives us grace instead:
Quoting the author: I close my eyes and I can see the faces of so many children I have seen at the park, the swimming pool, the school drop off line, and the grocery store who never say a word but whose eyes tell it all. “I’m a disappointment”. And I have seen the head-hanging sadness in the posture of my own.
Try to find an example of God’s disappointment in the Bible. You won’t find it. Not once is there a time when He is disappointed in us. Never.
And another quote:
So we ditched the “Time Out Chair” and replaced it with a “Mercy Seat”.
Because honestly, aren’t we naturally good at being hard on ourselves and understanding our faults? But, oh to have an early understanding of the abounding grace of God!
Our boys sit down in the “Mercy Seat” and we talk it out. We gently remind them of what God calls us to do, and more importantly, why. We want them to always know that when we sin, God’s mercy and grace abound. It’s a reminder to me as a mother-when I tell them to have a minute in “The Mercy Seat” it immediately cools me down. My sons are a gift, immature, learning, sinners just like me, recipients of mercy unending. It’s not enough for me to have their outward behavior conformed to what looks good on the outside.
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. Romans 3:23-25
This really made me think that maybe something was very wrong in the way I was parenting. I am certainly not an example of “unending mercy”. I remembered that “the goodness of God is what leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4)”. So I wondered if this meant that I also should expect only to reach my children by being continually merciful and never punishing their sins?
Was I wrong to be disciplining my children… taking away privileges? Making them feel sorry for their sin? Correcting them in whatever manner seemed best at the time? Making them feel the sting of my disappointment with them? Were my words inadvertently stealing the knowledge of God’s goodness and grace from their hearts?
I have always wanted to be able to reach my children’s hearts, and not just their actions…so this method appealed to me because I thought maybe there was a chance that I was blowing everything as a parent by failing to show my children what God’s grace and mercy really looks like. Was I really representing God with my actions toward them by correcting their behavior instead of simply showing them unending mercy and grace?
Another quote from the article:
I’m not afraid that my gentleness equates to letting someone off the hook. I know the effectiveness of mercy. I see it in the fruit of the lives of my kids.
Just two nights ago, one of my boys lay on his bed for some “Mercy Seat” time. He was there for just a moment before I came in to minister to him.
He wept from deep inside his heart. I’ll never forget the tears and the look on his face.
As soon as I got close enough, he threw himself on me. Buried his face in my neck. Little arms clinging tightly, fingers intertwining in my hair. I didn’t even have a chance to speak. “Mommy, I’m SO sorry that I have been naughty and sinned!” he wailed. And oh, the contriteness of spirit he gushed! There was nothing I could do verbally to train him in that moment because the lesson had already been learned. His tears were not out of anger and frustration or from feeling like he was getting punished. They were tears from a heart that knew he had sinned and he desperately wanted to make it right. He knew in his heart that he has a God and a Mom who love him and treat him as his sins do not deserve. And it elicited a deep and heartfelt response. Repentance-the very thing I care most about as a mom.
It took only a few moments of hugs and consolation, and words of forgiveness, and he fell right to sleep. Peaceful as can be. Restored.
When I read this part, I was touched. “I want that!”, I thought. “I want to see genuine repentance, and I want to feel that I have touched their hearts and shown them what God’s mercy is truly like.”
I talked to my husband, James, about the article. I read it to him, asked him his thoughts on it. I asked him what did he think the balance was between teaching the children grace and law? I know that the law is necessary to bring us to even understand grace. So how do I simultaneously show them the importance of both law and grace? Should I give them unending mercy in order to truly show God’s character to them?
I thought about this a very long time and finally realized that, even though I know the mother who wrote it was very sincere and certainly wants to do what is best for her family, I believe this article was teaching a wrong message.
The first thing I realized was that the comment from the author about God never feeling disappointment was wrong. I can think of multiple instances where God feels grieved by human sins. For example:
“The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” (Genesis 6:6)
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” (Luke 13:34)
“After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’” (Mark 3:5)
The second thing was that without the law, how can my children truly even realize their need for grace at all? It is the law that is a mirror that brings us to Christ. The law reveals our sinfulness. The law can never bring salvation to us, however is the very instrument that can be used to bring us to realize our helplessness to be justified by our own merit, and then recognize that the only one who can really provide that justification is Christ.
“What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’” (Rom. 7:7)
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” (Rom. 3:20)
“The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24)
The third thing was God does indeed chasten His children. And the Bible even says that if he doesn’t chasten them, they are not even His sons!
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:5-11)
“For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12)
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)
So the Bible actually says that if you LOVE and DELIGHT in your child, you will correct them when they are wrong. I was very comforted to realize this and to see that I can still be showing my child mercy and grace of the Lord, while correcting them too.
The key, though, is to make sure that I don’t correct them in anger or by yelling (which is definitely something I have to work on many times!). I want them to know that when I’m correcting them, it’s because I love them and not for any other reason. I want them to be restored, and to always know that they are loved. I don’t think showing them mercy without correction will accomplish that.
What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments below.