When I was a boy, I remember my father pruning a grape vine. It was a very young plant and it seemed to me that he pruned it excessively. “Why did you cut it back so much?” I asked him. “If I don’t cut it back, it will grow to produce wild grapes. To produce good fruit, it must be pruned, and pruned deeply.”
Growing up, it seemed very difficult to get my father’s approval. He seemed a lot more likely to find fault with me then to sing my praises. Often, I feel that my life’s decisions have been dictated by the subconscious desire to please him. Now, that I am a father myself, I have a new perspective on the age-old father-son dynamic. When my son was a baby, all I wanted to do was to make sure that he was comfortable, happy and safe. Now that he is a little boy, I find myself, more and more, wanting to correct him.
“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them,” (Proverbs 13:24). This quote can be easily misunderstood. The writer doesn’t mean that parents who spoil their children literally hate them. He means that to spoil a child is to do him great harm. Life is hard. It takes discipline and maturity to succeed. If children are not disciplined, they usually will have great difficulties coping with the stresses and responsibilities of adulthood. Of course, countless parents have used this passage to justify excessive punishment. Discipline tempered by mercy and rooted in love is good parenting; punishment divorced from love is child abuse.
“Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you,” (Deuteronomy 8:5). The modern Church seems to downplay this very important spiritual reality. I remember when a young Jesuit priest told me, “You can’t punish someone into goodness. You can only love them into goodness.” This is certainly true; however, it can easily be misunderstood. Love and punishment are not mutually exclusive. Not only can we punish out of love, we often must punish out of love.
I’ve had much pleasure in my life and also much pain. I am certain that I grew spiritually much more through the trials then through the pleasure. I shudder to think about what kind of person I would be today if everything had gone my way over the years. I’m sure I would have become much more unloving, prideful, self-righteous and judgmental. The painful episodes in my life forced me to take a hard look at myself and make some serious changes.
“Every branch which is part of me but fails to bear fruit, he cuts off; and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit,” (John 15:2). Contemplate Jesus on the cross. God allowed His Son to be so severely punished, that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46)? Now, contemplate the glory of the Resurrection. Enough said?