What Plank?

wood plank courtesy of texturex.com“So you can encourage certain student behaviors by putting in place positive consequences,” the speaker at an education conference said. “If you want to encourage students to be on time for class, schedule a quiz at the very beginning of class that is worth some points. This will encourage the behavior you want.” The speaker was a behavioral analyst, and her tips for encouraging certain student behaviors in the classroom (and discouraging other behaviors) were insightful. Her talk made me think about how we often try to control others’ behavior and choices.

This is particularly true for parents, and it’s difficult to let go of the reins as your children mature into teenagers and young adults. I would also say that it is difficult for many churches to permit the free moral agency that God has allowed humanity. When I compare a church’s response to my own response as a parent, I see a similarity in the area of misunderstanding our responsibility.

When our children are small, it is our job as parents to protect them and guide them, but as they grow up, it’s understood that parents must let their children make choices and learn to live with the consequences.The church also sometimes views its members as needing protection and firm guidance; however, the difference is that members of a church are typically adults who need to have the agency to make choices and take responsibility for those choices. When a church is operating appropriately (i.e., supporting and encouraging members), the membership will most likely have a wide representation of moral views on contemporary issues. In this atmosphere of love and support, diversity with unity is encouraged and love for all is emphasized.

Jesus addresses this issue beginning with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Though this is worthy of a much longer blog, I find it helpful to think of the first two chapters (Matthew 5 and 6) of  the Sermon on the Mount as a way of being present and properly judging my own thoughts. In other words, these scriptures help me realize when I’m off-track in my own thoughts and need to re-think my priorities.

Chapter 7 in Matthew begins Jesus’s discussion of our tendency to judge (and consequently, try to control) others. This is where we as parents and as the church tend to go astray because we fail to permit others the freedom to make lousy choices. We assume that our viewpoint is the right one, maybe the only one, not understanding that we are not omniscient. Instead, we are caught up in our own culture, class, upbringing, experiences, and a whole host of other influences.

Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3, NIV). The “plank” is our tendency to believe we have a responsibility to change others by attempting to control them. Once the plank is removed from our own eye, we understand that our primary responsibility is to control ourselves and our own thoughts, not others. Without a plank in our own eye, we “will see clearly to remove the speck from [our] brother’s eye” (Matt 7:5) by being able to see it’s not our job, but God’s. In fact, when we do strive to manipulate others, even by offering gifts or positive outcomes that they want, they can feel resentful and distance themselves from us. Matthew 7:6 says they will “turn and tear you to pieces,” rejecting even a desirable gift because of the motivation to control.

Behavior analysts like the speaker at my conference can provide insight into the way humans respond to consequences of the choices they make. While promoting positive classroom behavior is helpful, it’s important to recognize that we have a plank in our eye that we cannot see, and so does everyone else. Our responsibility is not to change or manipulate others but to surrender them to God, allowing the Father, Son, and Spirit to work wholeness and healing into all of our lives.

~by Nan Kuhlman

photo courtesy of texturex.com

 

 

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