Blog/CYM Blog

Disciplining Out of Love

She might as well have been wearing a sign reading, “I don’t want to be here.” She deliberately removed herself from other teens and watched without enthusiasm. Ministry rookie that I was, I immediately made her my project.

After a while, she had moved from disinterested to actively disruptive. She refused to participate in games, made fun of talks, and distracted others during prayer. I was sitting in a pew when I saw her scoot over and start chatting with another teen. I had already asked her to be quiet – twice! With a surge of irritation, I marched over to confront her.

“I already asked you to stop talking, twice,” I confronted her.

I don’t need to tell to you how that went. Afterward, she would have nothing to do with me. No matter what I did, or how I tried to invite her into things, she continued to avoid me. The last straw was to see her defrost towards another core member who had also disciplined her previously.

That night I stayed up, wrestling with what had gone wrong. Slowly, as I let grace work on me, God made something clear: I hadn’t disciplined out of love; I hadn’t even reached out because of love. I had been motivated my pride.

That was a painful realization, but one I am glad to have hit me early in ministry. It is so easy to discipline for the wrong reasons. I still struggle with how to discipline, but I have become quicker at recognizing the signs of pride in myself. I know I am not disciplining out of love when:

I see an issue instead of a human being. Jesus didn’t die for behavioral issues, mental health problems, or diagnoses. He died for a person, a teen who has a name and needs to know that they are loved. It’s easy to categorize certain teens as a drain on our time and energy. However, St. Paul reminds us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

I throw an interior pity party for myself. I never want to be the bad guy. It’s easy to be irritated when you’re forced you to step up as a disciplinarian. But Pope Francis urges that our ministry should be “willing to abase itself if necessary,” and “touch the suffering flesh of Christ in others.” I must ask myself, do just want to be liked, or do I desire the teen’s growth in virtue?

I worry about how others will judge me for my decisions. Will parents be upset with me? Will teens think I am mean? Will my Core think I can’t control the group? Again, this boils down to the question: Am I doing this because I love this teen or because I want to protect my reputation? St. James gives the solid advice: “Know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

I expect to be thanked. When speaking the truth, expect to experience the cross. Teens might not respond with immediate gratitude to correction. “Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” Being disheartened by a teen’s reaction to discipline means I have made ministry about myself instead of about bringing the teen to Christ.

I place justice over mercy. Clear expectations and consequences are necessary for Edge teens.
However, mercy means a love that is not deserved. Authentic mercy is Jesus sitting down with Peter after Peter’s big failure and asking, “Do you love me?” Even though Peter let Jesus down, Jesus proposes: “Let’s make it right again. I have so much good instore for you.” No teen should have to earn my love by good behavior.

As well as starting fresh (70 x 7!), I make a special effort to connect with teens that I have had to discipline in positive ways. True mercy extends beyond correction; it means walking with the teen and proving to them that you believe God has a plan for them.

Finally, mercy means imitating Jesus’s role of interceding to the Father. If I get on my knees after Edge and specifically implore God’s mercy for the teens who challenged me that night, I will be in a better place to show them love the next Edge Night. My prayer becomes not only, “change them,” but “God, transform my heart to be more like Yours.”

About the Author

Alexandria Lewis

I am an Edge minister in love with the chaos and adventure of serving the Lord. My first wish in heaven would be to get coffee with St. Therese, Bl. Pier Giorgio, and John Paul II.