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Discipline, Punishment, and Wedding Dresses

Discipline, Punishment, and Wedding Dresses

Bad circumstances in life do not tend to bring out the best theology in me.

For example, I know that the Lord did not cause or allow my baby to die to punish me. I know He is good, and He works for my good, in all circumstances. Regardless, there are times when that Job’s-friends’-retribution-theology creeps up in my mind, like an evil shadow.

Of course it happens when I’m around people who are pregnant or having babies.

Even with all of the forward progress I’ve made along my grief journey, I still get stabbed in the back with jealousy when I least expect it. Jealousy over other women who have or are having healthy babies.

It happened recently when I was in the presence of a sweet woman who is due to have her third child in the near future. Unbidden, as I looked at her, the thoughts began slashing through my mind like a hot knife:

“Why does she get three children?”

“Of course her third child gets to be healthy.”

“I wonder if she’s a better Mom to her children than I am to mine, and that’s why she gets to have a third.”

“Maybe because I yell at my kids, He knows I’m just not trustworthy enough to have another one.”

Even as the needling inuendoes cut, I chided myself for having them, because I knew they were ridiculous. I was also disappointed with myself, because I thought I was beyond this now. It didn’t stop the thoughts from ripping gashes of doubt and bitterness into places I didn’t want them.

All of this emotional and spiritual warfare was going on in my head as I pasted a smile on my face, chatted politely with the mother, and simultaneously castigated myself for being so shallow, self-absorbed, and theologically unsound.

Grief is tiring.

That night, my devotion was in Hebrews 12. Right on, as usual.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”

There is so much in there, it’s hard to unpack it all. I could touch on the fact that He reminded me to run this race that has been marked out for me with perseverance, by fixing my eyes on Jesus. Or the fact that Christ went through His tragedy – the race of pain marked out before Him – because of the joy He knew He would have at the end of it all. Or the issue that no matter the pain I go through, it’s not to the level Christ went through for me.

But what most spoke to me from this passage was that our pain is a way the Lord disciplines us, for our ultimate joy, not a way He punishes us, for our ultimate demise. This passage makes a comparison between the tragedy of the cross that Christ had to endure, and the hardships we go through in this life. And the writer makes it clear that such hardship is God treating us as sons so that we, like Christ, may share in his holiness.

I hate it, but it makes sense. When I punish my children, I do it for their benefit. As much as I love my children, if I never disciplined them or helped them use what they learn from their tough experiences in life to shape their character – I would not be loving them. I would, in fact, be creating self-indulgent monsters. God uses all of the messes of this life, all of the struggles against sin and the pain and hardship…to produce life in us. To bring us further away from the sin-death we are naturally, into the righteousness-life we were intended to be as persons made in His image. In this fallen world, we are lame. We are disabled. Sin and death weigh us down and hobble us, and He is trying to free us from all of that so that we will be, as verse 13 says, healed.

We can’t be healed without His discipline.

I’m going to throw off the lies that entangle me and tell me that I lost my baby because I wasn’t a good enough mother. Or that somehow anyone else’s ability to have healthy children is in any way related to my ability to have healthy children. Or that God wanted Dominic to die, so that he could teach me something.

Instead, I’m going to fix my eyes on Jesus and know that in this hardship, like the hardship Christ had to endure, the Lord is loving me. He is loving me enough to use the brokenness that is embedded in the fabric of this world to discipline me as a daughter…for my good. Always for my good.

He is not causing me pain to punish me so that I hurt; He is using the pain that is already here to discipline me so that I can be healed.

And His discipline has the benefit of bringing about holiness, righteousness, and peace. In other words, true, real life.

Scripture tells us that we, God’s people, are the bride of Christ (Isaiah 62:5, Matthew 25:1-13, Ephesians 5:21-32) and that we will, after Christ’s return, live in unity with Him. Revelation 19 provides a picture of God’s people readying themselves for the wedding, by putting on fine linen. Revelation 19:8 states, “Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.” It is through our righteous actions, our faithfulness through the discipline of living in this fallen, sinful world, that we get to prepare ourselves for our life with the Lord in eternity – and to be able to most fully experience what life forever in Him really is. God’s discipline gives us opportunities to get ready for our wedding to the God of the universe. Randy Alcorn writes, in his book Heaven:

“This gives us a wonderful reason to stay alive, even though we are apart from our beloved. Why? Because we aren’t yet finished sewing our wedding dress.”

I don’t like discipline. But God is using it to heal me from my own selfishness and sin. Through his discipline he is replacing the mess inside of me with the goodness and joy and beauty that is in Him. And by doing so, He is healing me and preparing me for true, full, abundant life as His bride.

So, Lord…ok. It’s hard, and I hate it now, but I trust you. So bring on the discipline. Because I want a really beautiful wedding dress.

3 Responses to “Discipline, Punishment, and Wedding Dresses”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Thank you for caring enough to read.

  2. Heather says:

    So good Rebecca.

  3. Wendy says:

    Beautiful… This understanding and faith and KNOWING doesn’t come outside of a heart open to the loving Father, a heart that trusts in HIs faithfulness to His children. Your transparency as you walk this journey leaves me in awe. Thank you for your honesty and demonstration of courage that I know comes from the Lord. May He give you peace and rest, now, for a time.

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