There were five of them. They sat straight up, head forward. At first, I thought it was because they had to be the most amazing kids ever. But then I saw the strap. It was leather and thin. The mama held it in her right hand. A child whispered to her sibling. The strap slipped out like a snake and . . . thwack. A small red mark appeared on the child’s arm. Her brother shifted in his seat. The strap snuck out again. . . thwack. Right on his thigh. Another red mark.
If I hadn’t been right behind them, and at the angle that I was, I wouldn’t have seen it. It was quick. It was almost silent. If you’ve ever been abused, you are hypersensitive to it. I didn’t know what to do.
This story happened nearly 30 years ago. Rather than speak to the woman directly, I privately sought out someone in leadership and shared what I had seen. They promised to talk with her and counsel this family.
Shortly after that the strap went away.
I don’t often write things that I believe will cause controversy. It’s not who I am. This really isn’t a conversation about spanking or not spanking. It’s really not even about the story I shared from 30 years ago.
It’s that we are turning into a thwacking society — even among those who love Jesus. We aren’t thwacking people with our fists or a leather strap, but verbally.
You don’t believe like me? Thwack.
You are on this side or that side of politics? Thwack.
You share that you are struggling to know what is true. Thwack.
You post a picture on social media of your kids, or that trip you took and loved, or you express a thought, and thwack, it’s open season.
The other day I saw a post on someone’s social media site crop up in my feed. This person is someone I really respect and look up to. The picture was unflattering, and the words that captioned it broke my heart. It was meant to be funny, but it wasn’t.
It was a solid thwack.
Someone, somewhere felt the impact. Not only that, that one thwack had the potential to leave a red mark on many who weren’t even sitting close.
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Maybe we think that if someone is famous, they don’t feel it. Maybe we think if a believer or Bible teacher is in the public realm, they should take a good thwacking to keep them humble. Perhaps we believe if our words are on social media, that only people who understand our sense of humor or our opinions will see it.
None of this is true.
I imagine, so many years ago, that the mama’s goal was to keep her kids quiet in church. It worked short-term. But I wonder what long-term lessons were imprinted on the heart of the children, such as:
You never know when you’re going to get it.
Church is an awful place to hang out.
Even if you’re doing pretty well, it’s not good enough.
What are we trying to gain?
If thwacking feels normal, let’s clarify this. It may seem normal culturally, but it’s not reflective of our Savior or our faith. Hurting people rarely draws them to Jesus, or to our side of the table. It’s not going to sway someone to believe, or change their heart. Instead, we are teaching people lessons about our faith, lessons that don’t reflect the words found in scripture:
A man is not defiled by what enters his mouth, but by what comes out of it. (Matthew 5:11)
In everything, show yourself to be an example by doing good works. In your teaching show integrity, dignity, and wholesome speech that is above reproach, so that anyone who opposes us will be ashamed to have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:8)
Act wisely toward outsiders, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be gracious,seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)
There’s little to gain in verbally thwacking people. There’s so much more to lose. Even as I write this, I want you to know that the first person I pray hears these words is me.
Lord, if I am verbally thwacking people to get my way, or because everyone else is doing it, convict my heart. May my life reflect you, long before it mimics anything else that holds little value.
So, what do we do?
We go counter-culture.
- Our words, life, and actions are never to be bent by culture, but bound by faith.
- We choose grace over gratifying an emotion or impulse.
- If we feel led to speak or take a stand, we first bathe it in prayer. We ask for wisdom. We lead with love.
- We refuse to believe that being fierce equates to being ferocious, and instead define fierce as faith-filled.
Let’s remember this, friends. We don’t serve a God who thwacked humanity, but who sent his Son to stand in our place. Who loved greatly. Who served, before asking to be served. Who prayed just as much as he poured out. We don’t have to embrace culture as our example, but we are invited to follow the One who promises to show us how to live.
Imagine that thwacking is used in everyday life to make you conform.
You hand in a report at work, and there’s a small mistake — thwack.
You fold the sheet wrong (I always do). Thwack.
You do a good thing, but it’s not perfect. Thwack.
Q: How would this motivate you short-term? What is the long-term impact? Which is more powerful in helping you grow or change?
Q: In what ways do we allow culture to tell us what is appropriate? Now, make that personal. In what ways has this influenced you?
Q: Which of the above scriptures spoke to you, and why?
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