“Let that be a lesson to you.”
How many of us have heard that line shot at us in the aftermath of some failure?
Did it really help you in anyway. In fact, i can remember moments when somebody snapped those words at me, but i cannot remember what the lesson was. All i remember is feeling condemnation and judgement.
Well, I confess, I recently said these exact words. And it was brutal.
It was my daughter’s turn for show and tell at school. After considering her favorite stuffy, a broken toy, and the family dog we were still coming up blank as far as something interesting for her to take. Her brother has a real beaver skull, nicely cleaned and finished. It is proudly displayed in a glass case on my son’s dresser. Those animals really do have a remarkable set of front teeth on them – beavers (not my children). Through a little negotiation and a small amount of parental pressure it was decided that the beaver skull would be the show and tell item for the day.
The short story goes like this.
Dad – “Just leave the skull in the box on the table until we are ready to leave for school.”
Daughter – proceeds to carry it up and down the steps while getting ready for school.
Son – “If that get’s broken you owe me a thousand dollars.”
Dad – “Put the box with the beaver skull on the table and leave it there.”
“(It’s not worth a thousand dollars.)”
Daughter – heads up the stairs again, box with skull in hand.
Daughter – slips on the step, box falls, skull explodes, everybody feels bad. (and apparently someone owes someone else a thousand dollars?)
And that’s when the real tragedy happened. I looked at my daughter and shot out the dreaded words – “Let that be a lesson to you.”
Now, in the context of my mind this statement makes perfect sense. But to my daughter it is very unclear and opens the door for the enemy to plant all sorts of thoughts and ideas in her mind.
Is the lesson that a beaver skull breaks into many pieces when dropped? Is the lesson that I am a big disappointment to my family because I break stuff? Is the lesson that I am less valuable than a beaver skull? Is the lesson that I should take extra care with someone else’s special things?
All the responsibility for discernment, understanding, repentance, restoration etc.from this event – it was all dumped on her with one flippant phrase from me.
The most likely lesson taking root from this kind of situation plays something like this:
“I was excited about show and tell today. I was doing what I thought best in getting ready to go. I slipped and there was an accident. Now I am supposed to learn something from this. I learned that I don’t really know what I am supposed to learn from this. But I learned that i feel really bad and i feel shame.”
It’s not helpful. It’s not constructive. It pushes toward isolation. And most importantly it’s not redemptive and it’s not restorative.
I am so thankful this is not how God disciplines us. Can you imagine? Something goes wrong and the response we get is, “let that be a lesson to you.”
Unfortunately this is a very common mis-belief in our minds as concerning our heavenly Father.
And as a result we create all sorts of bad ideas, arbitrary rules, and destructive self thoughts.
Often we connect completely unrelated events as cause and effect and lesson.
God has this to say,
“Our fathers (parents) disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however it produces a harvest of righteousness for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:10-11
There are lessons to be learned in failures. And in most cases there are consequences as well. But there is also the opportunity to “share in his holiness” and “produce a harvest of righteousness”.
All discipline from God is redemptive (share in his character) and restorative (produce a harvest).
Rather than push us away to figure out what we may have learned from this. God draws us near to teach us how we may grow from this.
This is the pattern of discipline i want to express to my children. And it only takes a subtle shift of words but the shift in posture is enormous. It should sound something more like,
“What have we learned from this?”
The emotional dynamic of the exchange is different. We are no longer adversaries over the issue but now we are working together against the real adversary. The possibility of honest dialogue is opened up and the redemptive and restorative gifts of Godly discipline are more readily available.
When you feel the pressure of some failure in your life, hear the voice of your Father saying this to you,
“This is going to draw you closer to me and produce a great harvest of something. What have we learned from this failure?”
He is Redemptive.
He is Restorative.