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FAMILY AND MARRIAGE: Discipline: The good, the bad and the ugly

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Roger Rollins

Roger Rollins

“Most people want to avoid pain, and discipline is usually painful.” — John C. Maxwell

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” — Bible

“But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” — Bible

A young lady I know, we’ll call her Terry, has just entered college. Although she was raised in a very close family and had great relationships with her siblings and parents, she is adjusting to being away at college quickly and favorably. Maybe I shouldn’t use the word “although.” A primary reason for her positive reaction to being away from home and at college is the support and reinforcement she has received and continues to receive from her family.

Terry grew up in a home and environment where she learned about discipline. The word “discipline” has two different definitions, which can roughly be described by two other words: “punishment,” and “self-control.” When we do something wrong we are punished, or disciplined. I like the word discipline better than punishment; discipline implies both suffering the consequences of misbehavior and receiving some sort of corrective action. Punishment does not have the corrective connotation. At least that’s my opinion. But you get the point.

Discipline in the sense of self-control, on the other hand, doesn’t stem from wrong behavior. A disciplined person can be thought of as someone having an orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior.

In Terry’s family both definitions of discipline were reinforced. She was taught from a very early age that there are consequences to improper behavior. When she exhibited such behavior she was disciplined (punished) but she also was given positive reinforcement to behave correctly. She learned early on that there is a right and a wrong. Rules and values aren’t arbitrary; they come from an unchangeable source: first of all her parents and ultimately the Bible. She learned that actions have consequences: positive actions reap praise and negative actions reap “discipline.”

Terry also became very adept with the second definition of discipline. She was given responsibilities around the home and standards that applied to those responsibilities. Her homework was completed on time and her parents worked closely with Terry’s teachers to help her understand the expectations. She was involved in many church and other extracurricular activities and learned to make and fulfill commitments.

Now that Terry is in college she fully understands the importance of rules and discipline codes and has no trouble following them. She also is enjoying her studies and college activities because she has learned to discipline her time and priorities. She arrived prepared.

So many of our young people today are not prepared for adulthood. They have not learned about consequences; they have never been truly disciplined when they exhibited improper behavior. Neither have they learned to discipline their own behavior. Their lives are chaotic.

The family and the world today would be much better off if proper recognition was given to the two meanings of discipline. The family and the relationships therein work best when operated according to design. Operation according to design brings about success and failure to follow the design will inevitably bring about troubles.

In fact we could argue that failure to accept the two types of discipline in our lives is the original sin. Instead of recognizing the existence of a design, not of our own making, and the possibility of consequences if we fail to follow the design, we attempt to be the ultimate ruler of our universe, and our fate, i.e. we are god. We define right and wrong, and the associated consequences.

Marriages are successful when and only when we choose to apply both types of discipline to ourselves. When we make mistakes we must apply self-discipline in the sense of admitting wrong and accepting the consequences and whatever corrective action is necessary. We must also apply the discipline that enables us to conform to God’s design for marriage. Ultimately our marriages succeed when we put God in charge.

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