Train, Discipline in Love or Dismiss?

Hebrews 12:11

Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.


Recovery work with broken people is hard some days.  There are occasionally rules violations of such egregious nature that our guidelines allow (though do not mandate) immediate dismissal.   Such was the case yesterday with a very young, very immature, but very capable and bright young lady. It was a second violation in the same general set of rules.  Thankfully, it did not involve substance abuse, but it did put others in the house in a difficult situation.  I was upset. They were upset.  She was upset, though clearly more for having been caught than for her actions. I was very hard on our young lady yesterday.  My first reaction was to dismiss her as being too young and immature to “get” what we are trying to do here.  This is not the first time I’ve had to deal with someone so young and inexperienced with the realities of life that she actually, in truth, just doesn’t “get it.”  It has made us wary of admitting anyone younger than 28-30 years old.  There are two ways one can go…..send them back out into the chaos, back to jail, back to possibly years of anger and continued bad decisions in the “streets”  OR  invest the time and intensity in compassionate discipline in the context of loving community so that, hopefully, she can demonstrate that she truly is capable and willing to learn from the process. It requires a LOT of communication, teaching, confirming her grasp of concepts….and all of that takes away time from other things and other students.  As I prayed and sought the Lord’s will, not just for the program’s integrity or my convenience or the impact on the other students, but for the right thing to do, I determined our course of action.  I had notified her father of the issues we were dealing with, as he is paying the program fee and she has very much been in the emotional status of an adolescent (as are many who initiate drug use in their teens.)  Such early drug use impedes emotional and psychological maturation.  I also notified the county drug court administrator from her home area so they would know about the possible pending action to dismiss and agree to arrangements and timing for transfer of custody back to jail.  (These things ALWAYS seem to happen as we come upon a weekend!)

I awakened her early (5:30 a.m.) and we met for a discussion in my office of yesterday’s events, a review of the incident report and correspondence to her father and the court.  She and I went through a process called self-evaluation, a cognitive behavioral therapy tool to help her identify key aspects of her decision-making process relative to a mature and non-addictive-behaviored person’s decision-making process.  It was painful for her to do.  It was painful for me to have to subject her to and just downright difficult guiding her through the process.  But the only way to help her comprehend the long term impact of her meta-cognition (thinking about how she thinks) and her decision-making style (or lack thereof) was to use this immediate and drastic situation to teach her an alternative way of looking at and dealing with life and its attending challenges.  When we had thoroughly worked through that self-evaluation process, we went downstairs and had a house meeting to give others the opportunity to share how they felt about her actions and its impact on them.  That, too, was difficult for her and all of us.  Eventually, with all of that said…. no secrets, no lingering resentments, and a clear understanding of our shared responsibility TO one another, backed up with specific scriptural mandates in working through this matter, we prayed and affirmed our love, forgiveness, and confidence in one another.  The joy in the room was immediate.  I contacted her father and the court to tell them our decision to retain her in the program and asked for the court’s support in allowing her to continue. 

This is training in righteousness for her, for the other students but also for me.  This is my calling.  This is the work for which God has equipped me.  Teaching, discipling, disciplining, honoring God’s will in working through hard situations, teaching and fostering reconciliation, loving and forgiving these women and teaching them to do the same with me and others.  It is hard work.  But it is joyful as I go about each day’s work.  God told me in 1997, as I sought his will for my future and ministry to women for which I knew he was equipping me, “Just do what is to be done each day….I will bring them to you.”   As Elizabeth Elliott, a great women’s ministry teacher and missionary to South America who spoke into the lives of women of my generation, often said,  “Do the next right thing.” 

It’s 7:30 a.m. now.  I’m exhausted. But I am at peace.  The house and its occupants are at peace.  Life recovery is about……..LIFE…….about reconciliation, about restoration, about bringing the peace of Christ and the truth of Christ’s word to real situations so that new life, abundant life, emerges. 

I tell our ladies regularly, there is NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING we can’t work through as long as we are honest with one another and earnestly seek to hear one another and hear and be obedient to God.  God does not desire that any one of his precious children should be lost.  My position in ministry, perched on the edge of the pit of hell is to try to catch some of the ones that are in danger of falling, or jumping off the cliff.  I will never be able to catch all of them.  But if I catch just the one that is in front of me today, I will have done God’s will.  His tether on me is secure.  I have no fear of the risks.  I am simply an extension of his strong arm of salvation and his love for these women.   

I am exhausted.  But the last 26 hours of work have been worth the results…..a prodigal has “come to her senses”….She is, finally, I believe, ready now to begin the journey home.  I will spend some time in prayer before continuing the day.  We have a lot to do and I am confident we will get so much more accomplished today and through the next few days and weeks because God required me to do it his way…..with an eye toward restoration and not dismissal, with instruction, clear communication, loving discipline and forgiveness, not punishment and condemnation.   Reconciliation and peace is always God’s way.  There are principles in Scripture for us to use.  Too few of us use them as written and well.  We defer to others, we avoid conflict, we let personal desires, pride, and ego interfere with God’s guidance.   The guidance is not just for Christians.  It is right and true for all interpersonal situations.  But it takes courage.  It takes vulnerability and risking rejection and misunderstanding.  It takes humility.  It takes time and patience. 

I pray that others will truly hear the words of Matthew 18, Hebrews 12 and various other scriptures that tell us how to discipline and train God’s children God’s way.