A recent issue of Parent magazine succinctly and accurately described the underlying message, whether fully intended or not, of the “time out”, sit in your room for 30 minutes disciplinary routine that has been implemented by all parents at one time or another. The magazine was discussing parental language and the differences between what parents say, what they actually mean, and what the child understands. I read with great interest the section of the article dissecting the phrase “go to your room for time out.” In deciphering what parents actually mean when issuing that disciplinary command, Parent magazine had this to say: “go marinate in your own guilt.”
Of course, Parent magazine is a strong proponent of “time out” discipline and did not mean for their underlying message to be conveyed as negative. Yet, for the Christian parent, their revelation should send shivers down our collective backs. Marinating in our own guilt is as contrary to the message of the gospel as we can possibly get and is grounded in a philosophy of discipline that is foreign to how God disciplines his children. Recognition of sin and a clear understanding of how we have failed our parents or our God is, of course, essential. But that recognition drives us quickly to the cross of Jesus Christ where we are reminded that our lives are hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). When God disciplines his beloved, His primary purpose is to bring us back to the cross and our identity in Christ, not back to a previous, guilt-ridden introspective of our own utter inadequacies. To be disciplined by God to the cross is to be reminded that we are victorious. To be disciplined by “marinating in guilt” is to be reminded that we are failures.
Having said that, there are times when a “time out” method is the only available option, and I understand that. At our church, the Family Ministries has a disciplinary policy that involves, to a certain degree, a time out structure until we can get the child in the hands of the parents where the true discipline needs to take place. There are other times, especially when in public or when company is present, that a form of time out might be the best option. But Christian parents need to understand the theological distortion that a consistent, “go to” disciplinary measure of “time out” conveys. I find it very difficult to reconcile with the over-arching message of the gospel and identity in Christ. If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed. Free from what? Guilt of sin. Let’s not have our children marinate in it.