Written for The Christian Science Monitor.
It wasn't until long after I'd left the nest that I understood fully what my parents had meant when they spoke of discipline as "a springboard for growth." I loved swimming and diving (which is why they chose that image), but I failed to grasp the growth part of it. And I wasn't even aware of the discipline I'd received. My parents were firm with me as a child, and later as an adolescent-but there were no regrets, no bruises, not even a rule that I could remember!
Later, as a parent myself, I valued one definition of discipline, "training that corrects, molds, or perfects . . . moral character," and I extended that definition within our growing family to include steady adherence to the laws of God. I learned that consistent discipline, together with the unconditional love Jesus encouraged us to express, is the best combination any parent can bring to nurturing a family. And it does not restrict anyone's expression of individuality.
The word discipline relates to the word disciple, and I suspect my parents were patiently nudging my siblings and me toward discipleship of the highest order. One of their guides was Mary Baker Eddy's book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which says: "Parents should teach their children at the earliest possible period the truths of health and holiness. Children are more tractable than adults, and learn more readily to love the simple verities that will make them happy and good" (p. 236).
Every morning our father read to us from the Bible, and the characters in those Bible stories became close friends. What now strikes me as remarkable is not just that I have remembered those stories so well, but that they penetrated so deeply. They are at the foundation of my convictions about God, love, loyalty, family, giving, caring, safety, forgiveness, and more.
My father was always prepared to listen to our points of view. But when challenged on such matters as honesty, unselfishness, Sunday School attendance, doing homework, writing thank-you notes, and obeying curfews, he was unflinching. He validated his decisions with illustrations from the Bible, whose wisdom he knew we had come to respect. He loved J. B. Phillips's translation of a passage from Second Timothy: "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for re-setting the direction of a man's life and training him in good living. The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God, and fit him fully for all branches of his work" (3:16).
To help us gain even deeper insight into this "training . . . in good living," my father read to us from Science and Health, the textbook of Christian Science, which Mrs. Eddy discovered in 1866. I can still recite many passages by heart and remember the practical help they gave me while I was growing up.
My father led by his example, rather than by correcting the behavior of others. He encouraged self-discipline and sought out ways of strengthening our sense of self-worth-something vital to growing children. He was clearly overjoyed when I scored fifty runs one afternoon in a school cricket match, and he told me so. But even more important, I recollect, was how I felt when I overheard him saying to another parent who had congratulated him, "Yes, he does a fine job, and I'm proud of him. But I'd be just as proud if he had never played the game at all."
I have always been grateful for that indication of his unconditional love for me. He reassured me regularly that I didn't have to follow in anyone's footsteps-except to follow God. He understood that God was my only true Parent, the source of all inspiration, achievement, and true satisfaction. Clearly my father knew that when encouraged with love, children learn effortlessly. They accept God's laws as naturally and indisputably as they accept the laws of mathematics or the rules of a sport.
And this receptivity is not confined to children. Each member of a family, including the parents, can show the same eagerness "to love the simple verities that will make them happy and good." We all need the springboard of discipline, allowing God to correct, mold, and perfect our character and behavior.