“Look, Ma, No Hands,” or The Funny Thing About Consequences

Remember when you rode a bike well enough that you could balance without gripping the handlebars? What if life could be a little more like that—you could balance things without having to maintain a tight grip on control? I believe this is possible by allowing reasonable consequences to transpire as a result of actions or choices. If I welcome consequence as a teacher for my family, and myself, then I am freed from having to run around exerting a tight grip on everything and everyone.

I have just recently begun to appreciate ALOUD the benefits of consequences. As a family, we always had consequences for actions, but only in the last few years, have I understood and welcomed their benefit. I knew all along that consequences were a great educator, but because I am merciful by nature, I did not like the “harsh” appearance of even reasonable consequences. Now I could be accused of being an enthusiastic consequence junkie.

In the past, I was a rescuer. I worked hard to save people and events from themselves. My tendency was to “play God.” I tried to be always available, fill every need, and right every wrong in my path. Of course, I did not realize I was “playing God.” Until in one season of exhaustion, I saw how my obsessive passion for meeting needs, positioned my children, husband, and others to look to me for rescue or intervention. (Counselors sometimes call this habit “enabling,” and while seeming “angelic” in motion; it leaves quite a wake of destruction behind.) I realized that instead of “being God” I needed to be me—a mere human who comes along side to help, AND point others in the direction of God.

It turns out when I rushed to eradicate, or soften reasonable consequences; I cut off a great opportunity for learning. My consequence-extinguishing behavior created an artificial world where I had to maintain tight control and constant vigilance over people and events around me. In contrast, when I cooperated with reasonable and consequence-enforced-boundaries, I found I could live my life a little more “hands off.”

Funny things happened when consequences took effect. I will give you some examples.

Several years ago, I was late turning in a Medicare cost report. I missed the deadline by just one day, yet caused our office payments to be suspended for several weeks. After returning without mailing my report because the post office had already closed, I remember crying in the parking lot where I sat in the car with my kids. One of my kids asked why I was crying, and I had to tell them, “Mommy did not get her homework turned in on time and now Daddy won’t get paid.” After that event, I think they sensed a little more urgency about turning in projects on time. As parents, I believe our kids should know when we mess up, too.

Then there is the “17 smacks-on-the-hand-boundary-tester-child” event. It goes like this. After breakfast every morning for several weeks, our two-year-old child went to the large pot in the family room where a ficus tree grew and proceeded to dig out the dirt, spilling it all over. Every morning for several weeks, Mommy-me lifted the child away and placed her in another area with enticing toys all around. Repeat scenario, day after day. Until one day, Mommy-me decided the child was old enough to understand and respect, “no.” So the child received a verbal, “no,” followed by light “smack” pat on the hand if “no” was ignored. Guess what? The child repeated the offense 17 times before she stopped. She cried loudly and dramatically each time, but she continued to reach for the dirt. I began crying after the 10th time, because I knew I could not retreat. If I gave into her action, and removed the consequence, I knew she would test me to the 10th time and beyond on everything. After it was over, and she knew I was serious, she quit. I called my husband at the office, crying. I told him we had a “doozie”- a “17-smacks-on-the-hand-strong-willed-child.” I was trembling. Today she is a blessing. Her home training is not over, but she enjoys life, and we enjoy her.

Take the challenge. Test this out. Find out for yourself if allowing consequences in your life ultimately results in a more “hands free” ride.

I’ll give you two final thoughts and Bible verses to help you out. They have helped me. One is recognizing that God is the expert on this matter of consequence, or boundaries. Secondly, God will walk through the troubled waters with you. (The water WILL ALWAYS initially become “troubled” over boundaries.)

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you.” Isaiah 43:2

“I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea….. though the waves roar, they cannot cross over it.” Jeremiah 5:22

A good book resource is Boundaries, by Cloud Townsend

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