“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 NKJV
I’ve raised three kids, two sons and a daughter. I did so with the mindset that consequences were the way to change negative behavior. So, if my kids were rebellious or behaved badly, they received a consequence like loss of privileges, restriction, or even a spanking. (No guilt!! Remember, this is a judgment-free site).
That coupled with a whole lot of “mom-told-you-so’s” and “you should have known betters” and my work here was done.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my children very much. I prayed for them and cared for them and took them to do lots of fun things. Heck, I even spoiled them! And it all seemed to be working, until it didn’t anymore.
Tough Love or Not?
You see, both of my sons have struggled with addiction. And in the process of trying to figure out what to do and what not to do, the subject of tough love kept coming up. “Throw them out! Don’t bail them out of jail! Have nothing to do with them until they get their you-know-what together!”
Then, there was always the “just love them and accept them until they are ready to change” (If they’re ever ready, that is!). Loving children who seem bent on their own destruction is hard, especially if we want to love them the way that Jesus does. That kind of love is a confusing love. My friend calls it, “Excruciatingly Painful Love.”
My go-to response has always been to pray and ask the question, “what would Jesus do?” It often sounds more like, “Lord, help me!”
Sounds cliché, but I mean it. His will is more important than my comfort. Period. So, I try to seek the Lord’s guidance before, during, and even after I blow it. (Which I do often). Still, I find my weary momma-heart is often the one calling the shots.
The Bible teaches us much about love and about biblical confrontation. In the life of Christ, we see both perfectly demonstrated. So, for me, going to the experts for advice meant first and foremost going to the Expert and his advice manual.
There are many scriptures that talk about love and all its qualities. They teach us that it is patient and kind and puts the needs of others first, but they also tell us that love is obedient.
“And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 1:6 NIV
Walking in love means being obedient to his commands. And we know his commands, don’t we? We know what obedience to Christ looks like and acts like and feels like. Love demonstrates grace over judgement. Grace is beautiful because it allows for the Lord’s redemptive power to step in. But God’s love also expects obedience. Love deserves obedience.
Christ died not only for us, but for our children. His love for us is a redemptive love, one that doesn’t mince words or condone our sin. It is a love that reveals the areas of our hearts that are rebellious and selfish. His love is honest. Speaking the truth in love requires that we be painfully honest with our children.
In the book, Letting Go, Rugged Love for Wayward Souls, authors Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert write about rugged love. "Prodigals need more than tough love; they need a rugged love. A love that's bold yet redemptive, forceful yet forgiving, gallant yet gospel-based. Think of it as love with teeth. For prodigals to change, those who love them must exercise a love that is courageous...To love a wayward rebel, you need a rugged love that is rooted in the hope of God's promises."
“What is rugged love? Love is rugged when it's- strong enough to face evil; tenacious enough to do good; courageous enough to enforce consequences; sturdy enough to be patient; resilient enough to forgive; trusting enough to pray boldly."
To love ruggedly means to love obediently, refusing to be so rigid that I cannot bend under the pressure of the Spirit’s leading. It is the kind of love that understands that love hurts. It is a sacrificing love, not a convenient love. It is also an honest love, one that would never condone or allow sin by justifying it. It is a love that accepts the consequences of sin and rebellion and gets out of God’s way when He allows them.
Letting Go of Tough Love
I have decided to let go of tough love. No more threats. No more staying just a little angry in order to keep the self-protective walls I once erected around my heart from crashing in on me. I’ll let go and let the painful emotions flood in. Instead of seeking relief, I’ll do my best to acknowledge them and then release them back to the One who holds my heart.
Today, I choose a rugged and bold love. A love that risks pain so that Christ may reveal himself to my children in a way that only he can. When I see him allowing circumstances to enter their lives because of their choices, I will resist the temptation to rush in and fix and meddle or to even use it as a teaching opportunity. I choose a love with boundaries, one that loves with grace, but refuses to enable sin.
As I contemplate the rugged love Jesus has loved me with all these years, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt it has always been good, and it has always been right. He has never failed me. Not once. I can trust in that love. It is my prayer that my children will do the same.