The implements of discipline have changed over time. Back in the old days, some pretty harsh punishment was used to keep one’s offspring under control. I can remember my father talking about the barber’s strap being the preferred “rod of discipline” utilized most by his parents. He was raised in a very strict German household. My Irish mother doesn’t remember her parents ever fighting or even raising their voices. That polar and cultural combination is what raised my four siblings and me, it’s a wonder we’re sane. It took a lot to get my mother annoyed. As the oldest, I only remember a few times when she got angry and lost her temper, apparently it is not possible for a teenager to avoid pushing that bright red button on the forehead of a parent. Mom was best known however for her uncanny and timely ability to show-up when we would “accidently-on-purpose” forget our curfew. We would be chillin’ with our current “bf or gf” and “way too cool to play by the rules,” when her headlights would slowly pull up to our location. As she would emerge from the car, you would swear that red hair of hers was on fire. I shall not repeat the words that struck terror in our hearts. My father on the other hand, developed over the years what I like to call a Darth Vader approach to discipline. I recall one memorable evening feeling pretty good about escaping the dreaded headlights as I slithered inside. Closing the door as quietly as I could, my “spider-sense” picked up a distinct presence in the dark room. I froze in my tracks; the hair on the back of neck jutted upright, a deep voice broke the silence uttering, “Give me your license.” Unlike the father in the story of the prodigal son, my dad did not run and embrace me while offering to throw a party. The only fatted calf that was getting slaughtered that night was going to be me. Fast forward a few years to becoming a parent myself. I too was eventually blessed with three zany sons and two free-spirited daughters. Life with daddy working out of state much of the time left me as the primary disciplinarian. That’s right; I wore the “black pointy hat” in our family. My tool of choice became the spatula. When things would get chaotic and out of control I would threaten to “get the spatula.” Now I will admit that nine times out of ten I broke more utensils on the door frame than on backsides. It made a lot of noise, got their attention and served mostly in a preventative capacity. Consequently, several years into my gig, my oldest son and the foremost “pusher of my buttons” connected the dots. (Read Waffle story for a peek into my world) During the height of one particular conflict he goaded me to, “Just do it, come on…hit me.” That’s right he threw down the glove, and called my bluff. What’s a mother to do? In retrospect…the kid was begging for it. At times like that, there are only two responses, “holy terror or deflated anger.” Thankfully, I chose the latter in this case. Let’s apply all this to a spiritual level and ponder our relationship with our heavenly Father. What is the Lord to do with us at times? Does God need to say to us, “Have it your way” when we do not respond properly with “Thy will be done”? What form of discipline do we require? I know when I get frustrated as a parent, I like to remind myself of how God must feel…only times a zillion. We humans can be a fickle and disobedient bunch. Scripture and history prove this over and over. So how does God remind us of our need to die to self, and our own selfish will…basically through the fire of His love? St Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of a purifying fire, The fire that is God does indeed devour but it does not debase: It burns pleasantly, devastates felicitously… a fire that rages against vices only to produce a healing unction in the soul. We must be purged of everything unclean that cripples us, distorts us, and inordinately attaches us to anything that isn’t of God. Like the tools of discipline that parents use, this process is painful and hurts. St Bernard goes on to say, this fire consumes “every stain of sin and the rust of evil habits.” Our trials, temptations, purifications and sufferings are not punishment from God but a means to help increase our capacity to love, trust and depend on Him. Even the greatest saints underwent this process and it is God’s tried and true method. Discipline is a means parents use to help bring children back into right relationship with the family and position them towards the path of goodness. God too knows what it takes to bring us into right relationship with Him and each other, it may sting a bit but it is a “good” hurt and one that we are capable of enduring. During these periods of trial let us keep our eye on the prize and that great reward in heaven. Then the purpose of these purifications will become ever more clear and a means for us to thank God for caring enough about our lives to do what it takes to bring us home.