Friday, July 24, 2009

Perception & Reception

An essential lesson that most parents learn - and one they hope their children learn, too - is that while we may correct or restrain our children from doing something dangerous, unethical, selfish, or harmful, those very corrections and restraints aren't received by our children as "love." Their reactions inform parents of their displeasure: temper tantrums, sulking, throwing toys, stomping, door slamming, sibling fights, and the like. As adults, we know the consequences that our children do not. We perceive correction, restraint and discipline as intrinsic to loving our children. We don't want them to harm themselves, others, or suffer the consequences of their bad actions. We want them to consider their actions well before they act. (As they age, the actions assume greater significance, involve more serious consequences, and attain life-changing proportions.) Parentally-imposed consequences of correction, restraint, and disciplinary action when children continue to act destructively, harmfully, selfishly, or carelessly, therefore, are essential to appropriate parental love. The Biblical definition of Love incorporates all of this. God's Love includes truth, justice, consequences, mercy, and the promotion of just actions. (The biblical definition of Love is distinguished here from the folk-religious understanding of love by the use of capital "L".)

The folk-religious, popular and facile definition of love relates love to feelings (e.g., "happiness"), emotions, and self-centered perception. Even the delivery of factual information regarding the inevitable results of one's choices, words and actions, is considered to be "unloving" and "judgmental." Consequentially, any correction, discipline and restraint are out of bounds between adults (even within voluntary organizations such as churches, or in corporations). Correction, restraint and discipline are also increasingly considered inappropriate, even unlawful, between parents and children in many areas.

It is certain that humans would prefer never to be informed that our actions are harmful to ourselves or others,
never to be corrected, and never, ever to receive consequences for any act we commit, omit, or any errors we make. Thus, we misuse our reasoning abilities in order to externalize all the results we experience; i.e., we blame other people, circumstances, generalities, and Godself for the natural results of our choices, actions and words.

Pearl Mary-Teresa Richards Craigie (writing as John O. Hobbes): "Men heap together the 'mistakes' of their lives and create a monster they call, 'Destiny'." [NB: the quotation marks around 'mistakes' are mine, and reflect my understanding that many actions we retrospectively call, "mistakes", were intentionally committed at the time.]

The transformation we hope to see in our children, while continuing to parent appropriately and carefully, is the transformation in reception. Children growing into teenagers, and then into adults without this transformation will always tend to misperceive Parental Love. This Love includes boundary-setting, information, reality-checks, and then correction, discipline, consequences and encouragement to exhibit behavioral changes. Children receive that Love in a lump as Judgment. In actuality, judgment is not found in Loving (or even unloving!) discernment of error and warning of consequences. Judgment is realized consequences, whether good or bad. The Hindus name this result, Karma. "What goes around comes around." "You reap what you sow." Christians should not depose God as Judge by becoming judges ourselves, imposing consequences for one's situation, unless we're exercising godly authority in an appropriate position and setting, and being Spirit-led. (cf. James 2:1-7) In fact, without God, we may naturally misread another person's situation itself to be a verdict and judgment, when it's not that at all. (cf. John 9:1-5, or the Hindu caste system, or classism, or racism)

The transformation parents long for is in the reception: "can't you see that I discipline, correct, and restrain you because I love you?" We want our children to be re-wired to receive us as "loving" not as unloving Judges. In the parental role, we should impose just consequences on childish and selfish behaviors. Yet, we need to be judges within the context of Love, and we need to contextualize, interpret, and apply the reality of consequences to their level of understanding. We realize that our children need to grasp that there are good/bad bodily, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual consequences to every action, reaction, word, harbored thought, behavior, and habit. A friend who worked in an inner city high school for troubled youth once told me that all he did, day in and day out, was try to teach teenagers that there are consequences for every action. The older we get, the more baggage we accumulate, the stronger we resist correction, the harder it is to experience the transformation in reception.

There comes a time in each of our lives, though, when the "safer" and limited consequences that healthy parents impose are laid aside because they're overtaken by the harsher consequences that outsiders will carry out or that we receive in ourselves and our families. These consequences occur because we refuse correction in the name of a "happiness" which is marked by a presence of pleasure, with an avoidance of discomfort, responsibilities and self-discipline. Schools and teachers may impose disciplinary procedures upon children. Children may bully, ostracize, and physically hurt others because they don't know appropriate boundaries. Police, courts and prisons may get involved as children become disorderly, uncorrectable young adults. More unwise and untransformed adults form families. Dysfunctional marriages and maltreatment of spouses and children may result, creating a whole new generation of unreceptive, untransformed, unloving people. These people are not only unable to receive or offer Love, they simply cannot even perceive Love. Because of this inability to face themselves internally and assess the real consequences of their own choices, they externalize the blame - they "create a monster they call, 'Destiny'."

They've missed the message of God's holy and holistic Love: "Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature." -- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

We grasp the despair of God lamenting over his children when we lament over untransformed, unreceptive and unwelcoming people around us: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.'" (Matt. 23:37-39)

Let us welcome Love, today!

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