He was leaning over a fellow classmate when I snuck up behind my teacher and whistled loudly into the back of his hearing aid. He immediately shot straight up, swirled around and gave me a death-glare. “What are you doing young man?!” He then proceeded to take me by the forearm and march me to the vice principal’s office. Without hesitation I was disciplined first by the vice principal and then by my parents.
Ah, those were the days…nothing like being a squirrely 3rd grader. Actually, even today telling that story makes me cringe with no small amount of embarrassment. Yet I learned much from that experience and a whole host of others. These “discipline moments” slowly shaped me into the person I am today.
With no shortage of irony, a dozen years after this misbehaving 3rd grade experience I was starting my first day of student teaching. My mentor teacher asked me, “What is your strategy for classroom management? Specifically when a student is behaving inappropriately?” Clearly the dazed look on my face was enough for him to quickly follow up with, “What I learned the hard way as a teacher, a parent and as a person is the purpose of discipline is not for punishment but for learning. If discipline is not a teachable moment, then it’s a waste of time.”
These timeless words of wisdom were a complete paradigm shift in my thinking around discipline. The purpose of discipline is to learn or as theologian Richard Rohr states, “The little ‘time outs’ and discipline along the way are simply to keep us awake and growing.”
I cannot even fathom now behaving as I did as my 3rd grade self. Why? Because through the shaping by my parents, teachers, and others, along with my own life practices I have grown in my capacity to be self-disciplined. That is the ultimate lesson from healthy discipline – it helps us learn how to be self-disciplined. And the reality is increasing our self-disciplined is life long work.
Archbishop Rowan Williams sums it up well, “We wish there could be a way of developing patience without delay, courage without danger, forgiveness without offense, generosity without need, skill without discipline, endurance without fatigue, persistence without obstacles, strength without resistance, virtue without temptation, strong love without hard-to-love people. But it turns out that there is no other way.”
For all of us who are leaning into Lent my hope is the disciplines we are trying to embrace will grow into self-disciplines that will serve us well as we grow into who we are called to be.