My mother was certainly the disciplinarian in our family. Dad was constitutionally incapable of spanking his three daughters, even raising his voice to us. So Mom was the one who kept us from taking over the household. And she did. The hairbrush and flyswatter were her chosen instruments to keep us in line, with the occasional bar of soap thrown in for verbal transgressions. I have no bone to pick with Mom’s discipline. A pastor friend of ours once said, “You have one child, two children, or a teeming multitude.” We were definitely that. And, ordinarily, she prevailed!

Mom was also a cuddler. She loved to hold us, hug us, read to us. She was tactile and “creaturely” in expressing her love for us – the skin-to-skin love that children understand from birth. So, she was well-balanced. She understood justice and she understood love and mercy. One of my favorite memories of her, though, and one of the most formative for me was, once, when these qualities “crossed over”.

I was, perhaps, five or six, and my older sister, Laura, got a beautiful doll for her birthday. I did not even like dolls, but I did understand that doll was a very precious one, and that my sister was also precious, by definition, to be given that gift. Where did that leave me, then? In my little girl mind, I had not received a doll so, ergo, I was less precious. The fact that it was not my birthday, that I could get one in turn in a couple of months was meaningless to me. The evidence of my eyes, interpreted in my little girl fashion, was just too compelling. I sobbed and sobbed – heartbroken. So….my parents put their heads together, and Dad went immediately to the store and bought me a doll, as well, against my coming birthday. My heart was mended and restored. I could see that they loved me as they loved my sister.

Now I know families can not operate like that as a staple way of existence – always balancing according to a child’s perception of reality. But that time they did, for my sake. In place of the justice of a special gift for my sister alone, on her birthday, they implemented mercy, in condescension to my childish understanding of the situation. It was exactly what my little heart needed.

We know that God is a God of justice, don’t we? And His justice is awesome, majestic, and entirely admirable. But would we love Him as we do if He were not also merciful and gracious? I don’t think so. I doubt many people would go to martyrs’ stakes for a God of justice alone. It is His mercy and love that capture the soul. Like my mother’s mercy did mine, so long ago.

So, Parents, discipline your children well, but be tender and merciful to them, too, right alongside that. One thing I can tell you for sure. Some day, when they are young adults, your children will look at you with wide-open eyes, assessing you very objectively. They will then have to choose. Justice? Or justice tempered with mercy? They may well choose what they have learned at your feet.