Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Spiritual Spankings

It's simple for the mind to get muffled in Cairo, making the best time to clear my head during my daily walks to and from work. My i-pod going, I can lose myself in my thoughts. Even without music, the view around me easily holds my attention, the streets are full time entertainment. I still get tickled at seeing (and smelling) the hot bread being placed out for purchase across the street from my flat each morning. As I round the corner to work, I always manage to pass a corner vendor unloading their fresh produce on the curb as they prepare the for rush of customers. The morning walk is quiet, tranquil, calming... isn't at it's full functioning capacity until after 10am. My walk home however, is much more eventful, and I never seem to escape opportunities to take in all the hustle around me. The streets are packed with people and animals (mostly cats and donkeys) and I have to really be on guard so as to not get run over. :) Children driving donkey carts through the mad traffic concerns me the most when it comes to deciding if it is smart to cross at any given moment. They just don't have the reflex abilities or experience quite yet, ya know?

This afternoon I suddenly remembered my need to drop by the grocery store. Always drawing attention as the foreigner that frequents the shop, I did my best to ignore the stares and "blend in" HA...NOT happening. I caught myself fully engaged in a situation going on two check stands down from me, a temper tantrum. :) The whole store was captivated by his persistence, but even more so by his mother's allowance of his inappropriate behavior. She was trying to reason with him as he continued to scream and jerk his five year old body around. My eyes got big...so did those of the store worker helping me. Even with my limited Arabic, I was able to pick up that the issue was related to a treat that he was not satisfied with. Without thinking, I began to make the sign for "he needs a spanking" to the woman behind my register who was clearly tickled by the incident. But I caught myself, when I realized it might be misread and misunderstood. We giggled in agreement that the whole thing was beyond awkward, but refocused our attention else where.

I have learned from many of my Egyptian friends that spanking is normally not practiced appropriately in this culture. I am aware that many people in society today disapprove of it altogether, but I am one who supports it when done with love and a gentle spirit focused on the teaching and training that goes with it. I have been in numerous conversations about how children are disciplined in this culture, especially because I work with Egyptian kids and am interested in how families operate here. It's a need to be in the know about what happens behind closed doors sometimes. It is a cultural norm in homes that practice both the religions here to push the physical boundaries of discipline beyond "just spanking". I have heard over and over that it is "just accepted here," and it makes me sad. When I was spanked as child, it was never done in anger, but rather set aside to be done later once the disciplinarian had calmed down. It was then explained to me that I had disobeyed and needed to a receive a consequence to assist in me learning appropriate behavior. I was always spanked with a gentle conversation before and after it took place. I always understood that I chose it, and I did learn.

All of this got me thinking about spiritual discipline in how God deals with his children. Even though it can be painful, He is gentle in walking us through the steps of understanding the importance of obedience. His desire is for us to claim truth leading us to make wise choices. He is patient in teaching us through discipline that He still loves us and wants us to learn from the consequences. His word lays out for us the tools we should use and He doesn't dwell in his anger by closing the door of communication saying, "that's it, I'm done! Why haven't you learned?!" Rather, He takes time to help us understand to trust His commandments. He disciplines because He loves, and He wants us to know the truth of what we are doing to ourselves when we choose sin over His best. We mock Him when we sin, and His passion is for us to see clearly that it is unacceptable and destructive. We are destroying His purposes in choosing the selfishness by believing that certain sins "aren't that big of a deal"...but oh are we wrong. Fortunately, His grace is demonstrated in how He is willing to help guide us, to show mercy, and to teach us as individuals, caring for our personal needs. His love is a rock, not able to be shifted due to circumstances.

He is a God of grace, He is a God who gets angry, He is a God who chooses to discipline to the furthering of His glory. It hurts for a moment, but it gets our attention, and we know that He chooses to love us through our learning process. Because I can rely on Him to know what I need and when I need it, I believe in His moments of disciplining me. The stripping of ones pride can be devastating, but it gets our attention doesn't it? It points us back to Him, and He is always waiting...willing to teach us.

In moments when it is natural for me to lose my cool with a child who is being just plain nasty, I am hoping to be reminded of the planning that goes into my spiritual discipline. What is my purpose in disciplining this child? Training. It is not to "make the child pay" but rather instruction for what is best. Unconditional, gentle love is demonstrated to me on a daily basis, and I am honored to have the opportunity to turn around and reflect the example back so they too can grow. Spiritual spankings are not appreciated in the moment I am receiving the "swat", but the lessons learned, I do find helping me quite significantly, down the road. :)