Self Discipline in Our Lives and Our Children’s

We regularly receive e-mails from homeschooling moms with difficulties who are asking for advice. A common thread frequently runs through these letters: the moms are lacking self-discipline. These moms face many tasks each day, but they are missing the self-discipline to carry them out. Therefore, they suffer, and perhaps their families as well, the consequences for whatever they choose not to accomplish. In addition, the moms experience the accompanying discouragement that goes with not doing what they want to do and know they should be doing. Sometimes in the e-mails, the moms may actually define lack of self-discipline as a root of their troubles, or it may simply be evident from the description of the struggles.

In Children’s Lives

Perhaps a significant factor with self-discipline problems stems from one’s childhood. Our culture has become ingrained with the philosophy of “let children be children.” This sounds great, but what is the long-term outcome? — adult children with little, if any, self-discipline. We certainly don’t want to rob a child of his childhood, but at the same time a parent’s job is to prepare that child for life. If all a child ever does is to play, he will not have acquired the needed skills and the self-discipline that would equip him to be successful in his adult years. This is quite evident in the lives of many moms who are dealing with self-discipline problems. This character, ability, or skill—whatever you want to call it—was not nurtured, encouraged, and grown in childhood.

About a year ago, when we did a survey to collect information for our Managers of Their Chores book, we were surprised by the results. Seventy percent of the moms who responded said they weren’t prepared for their roles as wives and mothers. They attributed that to not having had to do chores as a child. The thirty percent who indicated they were prepared for being wives and mothers said it was because of their parents’ persistence in giving them chores and making sure they were done. When one evaluates this in light of the problems homeschooling moms have with self-discipline, the connection is quite amazing. What would the outcome have been in these moms’ lives had their parents thought chores were a benefit for their children and been committed to helping them learn to handle that responsibility? I believe it is likely that the self-discipline needed to manage a home and homeschool would have been developed in these girls’ lives.

If we want to help avoid difficulties with self-discipline for our children when they become adults, we need to base parenting decisions on a goal of raising a self-disciplined adult. This means we will be giving our children age-appropriate responsibilities and helping them begin to develop the thought processes necessary for self-discipline. It starts from the very simple: requiring the child to get up in the morning when he is awakened plus communicating to the child why this is important.

The children will have chores assigned to them throughout the day. There will be times when they are expected to stop their play to do their chores. We will ask our children to do a thorough job in their chores. We want to challenge them to tasks that cause them to have to apply self-discipline. We will seek rather than avoid opportunities to develop self-discipline because we desire that our children grow up to be self-disciplined adults. These years, while our children are in our homes, provide us with occasions to help them in this area rather than letting them flounder in their adult years without the self-discipline they will so greatly need and want.

I am encouraged to be committed to applying the time and effort into our children’s chore system when I see benefit in it that goes beyond simply accomplishing what needs to be done in our home. When I realize that working toward the children’s diligence and self-sufficiency in their chores is helping them not only with practical skills for their adult lives, but also with the self-discipline they need in any area the Lord Jesus calls them to, then I can view this as a necessary part of our days.

In Our Lives

Does Scripture give us any direction concerning self-discipline? The word “self-discipline” isn’t even found in the King James Version of the Bible. However, I wonder if another word for self-discipline in a Christian’s life might not be “obedience.” Consider this. If I choose not to get up in the morning when I know I should get up, that is in reality disobedience to the Lord Jesus, Who is the director of my life.

I usually view this type of choice with seemingly minor implications—sleep in or get up—as a decision that, as an adult, I am free to independently make. While I might not be pleased with the outcome when I miss out on my morning time with the Lord Jesus, don’t get my exercise in, and start school late because I didn’t get up, I will simply sigh, blame it on a lack of self-discipline, and plan to do better tomorrow. Telling myself that I struggle with self-discipline sounds much better than to say that I am disobedient to the Lord Jesus.

Perhaps disobedience is born out of years of making excuses as to why we can’t do whatever it might be that the Lord has called us to do—whether it is going to bed at a reasonable time, getting up with the alarm clock, accomplishing school, eating a healthy diet, or keeping the house clean. Because we haven’t thought of not having self-discipline as being disobedient, we can easily justify continuing down the paths we have been walking most comfortably during our lives.

Paul encourages us in the area of self-discipline. He says, “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). The word “temperate” in this verse means “an admonishing or calling to soundness of mind, or to self-control” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). The word “subjection” means “to make a slave and to treat as a slave, i.e., with severity, subject to stern and rigid discipline” (Strong’s Greek & Hebrew Dictionary). In these verses and with these particular words, I see Paul living a life with an eternal purpose that causes him to choose self-control and self-discipline—obedience to the Lord Jesus—and implying we should do the same.

In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul tells us, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The Greek word for “sound mind” in this verse is the same Greek word translated “temperate” in 1 Corinthians 9:25. We have been given a spirit of self-control—self-discipline, if you will.

Just as Paul was determined to be temperate and bring his body into subjection to serve the eternal purposes set before him, we should be as well. Everything we do in our homes with our families—from our personal time with Jesus to our homeschooling, relationships, and homemaking—is part of the Lord Jesus’ direction for our lives. We decide whether we will be obedient or not. For example, there are morning tasks that must be accomplished before school is started each day. For some the temptation is to go to the computer to check e-mail, blogs, or message boards, or engage in some other unnecessary task—for just a minute. However, that minute easily turns into fifteen minutes or half an hour, ending up robbing us of needed homeschooling time.

The Spirit has a way of prompting, nudging, and not allowing us to be content in a life void of self-discipline and obedience. For the mom who struggles with self-discipline, it becomes a choice in her life. Will she follow the dictates of her flesh, or will she follow the promptings of the Spirit? Will she be obedient or disobedient? We can be sure that it is the Spirit Who puts the need and desire in her heart to read the Bible and pray. This probably requires her to obediently get out of bed in the morning when the alarm clock goes off so that she doesn’t miss her personal time alone with Jesus. I believe if we evaluate most, if not all, of the areas requiring self-discipline in our lives, we would agree that they are the promptings and directings of the Spirit, and they require our obedience.

Often the jobs in our lives for which we must be obedient are the ones that are truly the desires of our hearts and cause us to feel the most peaceful, content, and happy when we are accomplishing them. At the same time, because they also may be more difficult, more time consuming, less natural, and more labor intensive, we find ourselves taking the easy way out by avoiding them. We create, by our own doing or maybe not doing, the environment that can make us feel like failures.

In our book Managers of Their Chores, we discuss the benefits of chores to our children, their biblical basis, and what is needed in Mom’s life (and Dad’s) to facilitate the process. If the Lord Jesus is putting concern in your heart over your lack of self-discipline or you simply want motivation and help with a chore system to encourage your children to learn self-discipline and obedience, Managers of Their Chores is a starting place.

There is so much said in Scripture about obedience. Therein lay our self-discipline problems. We haven’t realized that self-discipline really isn’t the true issue at all, but rather it is about obedience to what the Lord Jesus is calling us to do.

May I encourage each of us to evaluate areas of our lives in which we don’t have the self-discipline and obedience we know we should have. Then may we take it to the Lord Jesus, confessing it as sin, and asking for His grace and strength to change and grow. Our example is the starting place for our children. As the Lord Jesus is working in our lives, we can begin helping our children down the path of self-discipline and obedience in a purposeful manner. We can give them responsibilities and chores and communicate to them why these are important in their lives now and in the future. We reap what we sow. Will we sow seeds that will reap a harvest of self-discipline in our children’s lives and in our own lives?