“The less we have, the more we shall have in Heaven. Thank God for the things I do not own.” (Saint Teresa of Avila).
When my children were very young my husband and I tried various different things to try to discipline them. We did not wish to crush their spirits with punishment, but we also wished for them to understand that in the world there are rules and it is imperative that we follow the rules if we wish to live fulfilling and meaningful lives within the broader social context of our community.
Things have changed since the old days of spanking and physical punishment. These days, parents are encouraged to look at alternatives when disciplining their children. As such, we often used the “Timeout” method for discipline. Many parents have probably used this or a similar modification of this method themselves.
“Timeout” means that when a child breaks a rule, they are placed onto a chair or inside their room, for a “timeout” to reflect on what they have done and to calm down and apologise for their previous choices. We combined this with positive reinforcement, which meant that when the child was quiet in “timeout” for a certain period of time (3 minutes for a three-year old, and 10 minutes for a ten-year old, for example), then we entered the room, and they would apologise for their actions. The time that they sit out of the fun of the family was designed to allow them to reflect and calm down so that they could re-join our family positively.
Now 3 minutes is nothing to an adult and the time flits on by, but when you are only three years’ old, 3 minutes feels like eternity!
At first, when we first introduced it, it could take 30 minutes to have the child stay in the timeout for the specified time because during the entire 30 minutes the child resisted sitting and waiting for their time to be up. This meant that the process needed to be started again and again and again until the children learned the correct response. You see, at first the children resisted because they wanted to see what they could get if they pushed back, but eventually they realised that the answer to that question was – NOT MUCH. Very soon though, the children learned that I was more stubborn than they were and I would not be giving up at all and so when they had a “timeout”, they had better sit quietly and wait for their time to be up.
Now, I am no psychologist, and I am not even a terribly good mother – though I dearly try to be. I am simply trying my best to get it right – as most mothers and fathers do – and praying fervently that things will work out for the best… So, I am in no way advocating my method of discipline over someone else’s method… And yet, I was thinking about this process of “timeout” the other day during Mass for it is very similar to the way things turn out between our Heavenly Father and us – His children…
For we are sinful by nature, and so, God allows us this lifetime to learn to be good and to learn how to please Him and He does this not be punishing us – but through discipline.
And we – like my children used to when they were young – often resist at first. We do not wish to suffer – it is not fun and often we cannot even understand why these terrible things happen to us. We ask ourselves and God why these terrible things can happen to us. In fact, one of the most commonly asked questions in psychology and philosophy – alongside, “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is the purpose of suffering?” – is “Why do terribly bad things happen to good people?”
I figured that out the answer to that curly little question in an instant – surely through the intercession of the Holy Spirit – during Mass the other day.
And the answer is very simple… Bad things happen to good people in this lifetime, so that bad things will NOT happen to them in the next one…
In this lifetime my baby died – and that is my suffering. No matter what I do it will hurt now and until the day I die. And yet, it was no punishment. It was no judgement on me as a person or as a mother… it was a discipline from God. For God does everything for the GOOD, and even in this terrible terrible loss, God disciplined me to teach me to surrender to Him and trust in Him. And to do this, He allowed my beautiful child to die in this lifetime so that I would lose him temporarily in this lifetime. But the miracle is, that such a discipline as this – if it causes me to embrace the path of the good thief – will mean that if I can only merit eternal salvation, that child will be with me eternally in my next life...
For other people, in this lifetime they bear their own sufferings. Their loved ones die before them, or their children are born sick or with special needs, or their spouses destroy their lives and families, or their vocations are taken away from them, or they are addicted to drugs, or their children are…
We each of us bear our sorrows and our suffering in this life – not because we are being punished – but because we are being disciplined. And discipline is only possible out of great love. I have never loved my children more than when I am enforcing discipline that I can see is making them uncomfortable, because when I am disciplining them, I know that they are learning to be better and it is GOOD FOR THEM.
In this way – through such loving discipline – we learn to place our trust in God that He will repay us a hundred fold! “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29). Therefore, sometimes we suffer because without the suffering, we would not be able to leave what we have. And so – to HELP US – God allows us to suffer to discipline us so that we can let go of what we must for our own good…
Saint Teresa of Avila was a doctor of the Church, who said, “The less we have, the more we shall have in Heaven. Thank God for the things I do not own.”
And so – as a most unworthy soul – I imitate the example of this great saint and I dare to say…
Thank You my Beloved for what you have taken from me in this life. I place all my trust in You – for did You not promise to repay me for all I have lost one hundred fold when I reach Your Father’s house?
Thank You for my suffering, for what You have taken from me now is lost in this lifetime… but I know that You will repay me for all I have lost in ETERNITY and FOREVER.
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.